Sometimes I hear from one member of a couple that their partner is making a mountain out of a mole hill. This usually is said dismissively. A justification is then given to cast the partner as unreasonable. I’m going to review some of those reasons in brief, refute each of them, and end with a general idea that you can use if you think your partner is making a mountain out of a mole hill.
She’s a Woman
There are a lot of ways that this comes up in session. Sometimes, a person accuses their female partner of being “emotional” or sometimes the reaction is blamed on “that time of the month”, or on the woman’s perimenopausal symptoms, or sometimes a simple dismissal like, “She’s being irrational”. These same accusations are very rarely leveled at male partners in my practice.
Whether a woman is highlighting challenges in her relationship at one time in her menstrual cycle or during one phase of her reproductive years is an entirely insufficient means of dismissing the complaint. Just because a woman might bring something up at one time in her cycle doesn’t mean the complaint doesn’t have merit. In fact, this time in her cycle might be well suited to attended to the challenge. In many cases, pointing to a menstrual cycle or perimenopause often becomes an excuse for dismissing any complaint and therefore, it has no substance. Connected partners listen to the complaints, grant complaints validity (emotional and otherwise), and attempt in earnest to seek a remedy if one is possible.
She or He is Just Stressed Out
When we experience stress, there are two things to keep in mind. First, a person under stress of pressure from one domain in life may seek solace and comfort from another. So, a person facing stress at work may ask for more support, assistance, comfort, or investment from their significant other(s) to help them reduce the overall load of stress and responsibility. In some cases, this may mean that the person under stress makes a bigger issue out of something than it has been in the past. It is much more compassionate for the partner to validate the need, identify what isn’t working, understand the interrelationship of the stress and the need (without dismissing it) and then to try to find a way to resolve the challenge.
Second, a person who is under stress from one domain of life may become more sensitive to minor problems in another domain of life. So, your partner may have always been bothered by how you don’t put dirty socks in the hamper. When there was less residual stress, it may have been easy to let this annoyance go without bringing it up. Now however, with added stress coming in, there is less energy available for tolerating dirty socks. compassionate response is to validate the concern and make an effort to respond to it (at least while the stress remains high).
This Never Used to Be a Problem
Things change in relationships all the time. After 5 or 15 or 35 years in a relationship, you aren’t the same person that you were when you began the relationship and neither is your partner. The discovery of a new complaint is a good time to find out how your partner, their value system, or their needs have changed. If you take the time for this discernment you may find and preempt additional challenges. For example, the socks may be what is being talked about, but what really is going on is that your partner’s sense of aesthetics have changed and the entry way, and the color of the drapes, and the way they dress is all going to change too. In other words even if, “This never used to be a problem” it may now be one and denying the reality of it now isn’t going to help anyone.
This Isn’t a Big Deal
One definition of love that I heard recently is that the things that are important to your partner become important to you too. So the statement, “This isn’t a big deal” cuts directly against that connection. If your partner is making a big deal out of it, then it is a big deal to them. If you deny the validity of the need, you create an instant separation between you. Instead find the generosity to identify that though this isn’t as important to you, it is important to your partner. Get curious about why this is the case, and learn to adapt.
Mole Hills Matter
The upshot of this entry is that as soon as you find yourself thinking, “My partner is making a mountain out of a mole hill” you have entered into an invalidating stance toward your partner. Most often, in my experience, mole hills become mountains because they weren’t paid attention to while they were just mole hills. The word that appears over and over again in the paragraphs above is, validation. Even if something isn’t as important to you, you can bring your relationship closer by validating your partner’s experience, learning what the value underneath the mole hill is, and then figuring out how to support your partner in that value.