Is Appreciation Deficit Disorder Ruining Your Relationship?

By | challenging, dating, Food for thought, how-to guide, marriage, movie, relationships

Contrary to appearances, Netflix’s hit movie Marriage Story is not a story about divorce. It is, as its title indicates, a story about marriage. More specifically, it is the story of how a good marriage goes bad for one simple reason: Appreciation Deficit Disorder.     

What is appreciation deficit disorder?

While Appreciation Deficit Disorder isn’t a clinical disorder, if it was it would be defined as something like this: a “disorder” characteristic of the character we meet individuals like Charlie (Adam Driver) and Nicole (Scarlett Johansson)– who are in decent, functional relationships, but who are “appreciation-deficient” with regards to themselves, their spouses, and their relationship as a whole.

In fact, the failed marriage between Charlie and Nicole could be considered a textbook example of this as-yet undiagnosed “disorder” because it displays all the classic symptoms of this brand-new, made-up malaise.

Here are the symptoms of appreciation deficit disorder:

1. Physical and emotional withdrawal 

Example: Charlie and Nicole have been living parallel lives for the last joyless and sexless year of their marriage.

2. Criticism 

Example: Nicole repeatedly criticizes Charlie for being selfish, whereas Charlie repeatedly criticizes Nicole for being… Nicole;

3. Contempt 

Example: harlie claims that Nicole hated him during the last year of their marriage, whereas Nicole feels Charlie has been contemptuously ignoring her core needs; 

4. Negative sentiment override 

Example: The spouses are both so flooded with negative emotion that they each accuse one another of rewriting their shared past, as when Charlie insists that Nicole has only decided, after the fact, that she wasn’t happy with their life in Brooklyn, when at the time she was.     

Fortunately, appreciation deficit disorder contains, embedded within itself, its own obvious cure: appreciation. 

Indeed, the renowned couples therapist Terry Real considers appreciation not only the single “most effective” strategy for improving a relationship, but he goes so far as to say, “This one principle is equal to all the others combined.”  As we will see, most of the top couples therapists in the world agree.  

How to avoid appreciation deficit disorder:

Step 1. Appreciate one another

Marriage Story opens with tender and heart-warming expressions of mutual appreciation between Nicole and Charlie. At first sight, it certainly doesn’t seem like they suffer appreciation deficit.

The world’s pre-eminent marriage researcher, John Gottman, would say (with one important reservation) that Charlie and Nicole both have good “love maps,” a term that evokes the amount of “cognitive room” one has for all the little quirks of their spouse’s personality and personal history, as well as the marriage itself.

Gottman’s research shows that having good love maps is the very foundation of the seven-story “sound marital house” that constitutes a strong, sustainable relationship. His research also shows that having good love maps is a necessary prerequisite for building the next level up in the sound marital house, “fondness and admiration.”

Step 2. Be grateful for the things you appreciate

Researchers like Sara Algoe, Amie Gordon, Emily Impett, and Samantha Joel would also be impressed with the way that Charlie and Nicole express gratitude for how their partner invests in their relationship– a tendency that functions as a “booster shot” for relationship commitment and overall happiness.  

For instance, even when Charlie complains about Nicole’s untidiness – “It’s not easy for her to put away a sock, or close a cabinet, or do a dish” – he nevertheless expresses his gratitude for her effort and attributes it to her fondness for him: “but she tries for me.” 

Likewise, Nicole peppers her appreciations of Charlie with generous expressions of gratitude, singling out, for example:

He takes all of my moods steadily, he doesn’t give in to them or make me feel bad about them.

As the marriage historian Eli Finkel explains in his widely-praised book The All-or-Nothing Marriage, “In the long run, people who experience elevated levels of gratitude also experience stronger relationship commitment and are less likely to break up.”

But if Charlie and Nicole are so good at appreciating one another in all of these ways, then why do they break up?

Step 3. Express your appreciation 

While they feeling appreciation, Charlie and Nicole don’t express their appreciation out loud to one another. When we finally hear Nicole’s appreciation of Charlie articulated out loud, we come to understand that one of the main factors that causes both their marriage and their divorce to unravel is the unwillingness to give voice to appreciation. 

Most of the top couples therapists in the world – John Gottman, Sue Johnson, and Terry Real – emphasize the crucial importance of not just appreciating our partners but expressing that appreciation. 

For instance, Terry Real writes, ”When I speak of cherishing, I do not mean just feeling warm and fuzzy inside. I mean doing something to let your partner know what you are appreciating.”

Gottman makes the same basic point:

When you acknowledge and openly discuss positive aspects of your partner and your marriage, your bond is strengthened.  

Why is expressing appreciation so important?  Perhaps for the same reason that it’s so important not just to appreciate a house plant, but also to water it.    

Step 4. Appreciate one another’s life dreams

Why does Nicole refuse to read her appreciations out loud to Charlie?  While there are many answers to this question, they all ultimately boil down to another, more fundamental symptom of ADD.

Nicole is both hurt by and angry at Charlie because he has failed to listen for and appreciate her deepest needs and most-cherished longings.

According to Gottman, whenever there is a gridlocked conflict in a relationship the thing to do is dig down to what he calls the “dream within the conflict.” 

By “dream” he means the hopes, aspirations and wishes that are part of people’s very identity and that give purpose and meaning to their lives. In Gottman’s experience, the best way to drill down to the dream beneath the conflict is to explore the underlying symbolism of the surface-level desires at play in the disagreement. 

If he had taken me in a big hug and said ‘Baby, I’m so excited for your adventure and of course I want you to have your own piece of earth’ then we might not be getting divorced.

The marriage researchers Shelly Gable and Harry Reis have shown that when partners communicate and celebrate their individual successes with one another they both feel greater positive emotions and mental health, and also experience increased feelings of trust, intimacy, and satisfaction in the relationship.

As Eli Finkel explains, “Enthusiastic responses are beneficial because they convey the listener’s shared joy in the event and appreciation of the personal significance of the event for the discloser.”

Step 5. Appreciate (or, at the very least, accept) your partner’s influence

In Marriage Story, Nicole complains that all of the furniture in their apartment was Charlie’s taste. She bemoans the fact she didn’t even get to pick their apartment but just moved into his.

More generally, and perhaps most significantly, she remarks that during their marriage:

It would be so weird if he had turned to me and said ‘And what do you want to do today?’

In their long-term study of 131 newly-wed couples who they followed for nine years, Gottman and his fellow researchers found that even in the first few months of marriage, men who allowed their wives to influence them had happier relationships and were less likely to eventually divorce than men who resisted their wives influence. 

“Statistically speaking,” he writes, “when a man is not willing to share power with his partner there is an 81% chance that his marriage will self-destruct.”

Marriage Story Adam Driver Scarlett Johansson

Step 6. Appreciate and assert your own needs and dreams

It seems fair to say that Nicole also fails to appreciate her own dreams and assert her influence in a way that Charlie can understand.

She says, “I made noises about wanting to move back to LA, but they came to nothing, but “making noises” is a far cry from clearly and insistently articulating your dreams and desires. And unfortunately, as Terry Real writes:

You cannot create an extraordinary relationship unless you’re willing to do the hard work of identifying what it is that you want and pursuing it.

It is for this reason that, out of the many possible forms of appreciation that exist, Real prioritizes the cultivation of self-appreciation. 

“First and foremost,” he says, “I want you to cherish yourself.  I want you to value your own wants and needs. I want you to value your voice.”

Real has a confrontational way of encouraging people to appreciate and express their own wants up front. He invites them to swallow this bitter pill:

You don’t have the right to complain about not getting what you never asked for.

Step 7. Appreciate relationality

If Nicole had discerned and appreciated her own dreams more fully, she might have been able to summon the courage to not only stand up for herself but to speak up for herself and ask for more out of Charlie and for more out of their marriage. 

This is the very essence of what Real calls “fierce intimacy” or “daring to rock the boat.” Grabbing your partner by the collar and saying, ‘Such-and-such is really important to me. You better take it seriously. I’m not kidding.”  

Unfortunately, because Nicole doesn’t fully appreciate her own needs, she cannot articulate them to Charlie, let alone roll up her sleeves and fight like hell to make sure he meets them. 

Rather than moving from disempowerment to what Real calls “relationship empowerment,” she moves directly from disempowerment to what he calls “personal empowerment.”  

In Real’s view, “traditional femininity” teaches women disempowerment (i.e. “shut up and eat it”).  In contrast, third-wave feminism teaches women “personal empowerment” (i.e. “speak out and leave it”). But the next step is what he calls “relationship empowerment,” which encourages women to “stand firm and mean it.”

Marriage Story appreciation

What is real “relationship empowerment”? 

Something like this: “How are we going to be together in a way that works for both of us? How are we going to negotiate our needs? This is what I’d like. Tell me what you’d like.  And tell me what you need from me to help you deliver.”

Of course, there’s no guarantee that if Nicole and Charley had had the guts to have this kind of conversation they would have been able to work things out. But it certainly would have upped the odds. And it certainly would have been better than either staying in a marriage plagued by Appreciation Deficit Disorder, or complaining after the fact about never getting what neither of them ever asked for. 

By identifying the problem and addressing it maturely with these tools, you’re well on you’re way from moving from “appreciation deficit” to “relationship empowerment.”

Where to go from here:

What the Frozen Movies Teach Us About Living With Mental Illness

By | empowering, Food for thought, frozen, goalcast originals, mental health, movie, stories

It’s not uncommon for dramas to depict what it’s like to live with mental illness — but to paint a picture of mental illness in a compassionate and realistic way for the big screen is no easy feat.  That said, such films do exist — and surprisingly enough, Disney’s Frozen is one of those them.

Six years after Disney’s Frozen melted the hearts of audiences of all ages, its much awaited sequel — Frozen II is finally upon us.

Introducing us to Princesses Elsa and Anna, the original 2013 movie became the highest-grossing animated movie of all time, which could easily be attributed to its standout song “Let It Go” or its unique story about a princess coming into her own power.

On the surface, Frozen appeared to be just another of Hollywood’s feel-good fairy tales, which in a lot of ways it is, but it offers something more than your average Disney movie.

The movie tells the story of Elsa and her younger sister Anna, the two orphaned princesses of Arendelle. Elsa and Anna aren’t your typical Disney princesses. They are relatable, complex, and flawed.

Here’s how Elsa’s storyline, more specifically, gave young and old audiences alike a glimpse into what it is like to battle mental illness, while delivering powerful messages of acceptance, empowerment and hope.

What Frozen teaches us about mental health

Elsa struggles to accept herself

Elsa is born with magical powers that she cannot control. Everything she touches turns to snow and ice, and she feels different and excluded because of it.

Just like someone who lives with mental illness struggles with their personal demons, Elsa fights to control her unique powers.

She is taught to keep her powers a secret

After she accidentally hurts her little sister Anna with her powers, the King and Queen advise Elsa to keep her powers hidden so that she never hurts anyone again. She is given gloves to hide her fingertips and is taught to suppress her feelings:

Conceal, don’t feel, don’t let them know…

Even with the best intentions, parents often neglect to validate what their children are experiencing, leading them to bury their emotions instead of working through them and developing healthy coping mechanisms.

She lives in fear

After their parents die at sea, when the girls are teenagers, Elsa continues her isolation, shutting everyone out, including Anna. Not only does she fear hurting others, but she fears herself.

In the same way people experiencing mental illness often fear judgement because of the stigma that surrounds their condition and choose to isolate themselves, Elsa kept in solitude for years.

She feels shame

She was able to keep her dark secret until, on the day of her coronation, Elsa unintentionally sent her Kingdom into never-ending winter. Filled with shame and fear, Elsa flees Arendelle, seeking refuge in the icy mountains, where she can be alone.

For someone living with mental illness, stigmatizing attitudes can lead to deep feelings of shame, which can be as hard to cope with as the symptoms of the disorder itself.

She has a breakthrough and learns to love herself

Alone in her beautiful ice castle, Elsa eventually removes the gloves that hid her magical powers for so long and lets her hair down, embracing her true self.

Feeling empowered, she belts out “Let It Go” as she releases her past and the fears that have been holding her back. People who suffer from mental illness often struggle with accepting themselves for who they truly are.

Frozen’s biggest lesson

The Frozen franchise has done a great job of representing the experience of living with mental illness in a way that children can accept and adults can relate to.

In seeing a hero like Elsa struggle with her emotions, kids learn that they too can be heroes, even if they– or their parents– are dealing with mental illness.

Elsa’s story is one that so many of us can relate to– but by accepting her weakness and opening up to others, she unlocks her true strength and accepts what makes her most powerful of all: her ability to feel.

More inspiring movies:

You’ll Never Outgrow Toy Story — but That Doesn’t Make You Immature

By | essay commentary, Food for thought, hopeful, movie, nostalgic, Self-Improvement, stories, Toy Story

Many adults who grew up with the Toy Story franchise as children are rewatching the series in preparation for the fourth entry in the movie series. While this may be partly motivated by franchise loyalty or a desire to bring their kids to the cinema, nostalgia also plays a big part in it. As Toy Story 3 has shown us, it’s always hard to say goodbye to an old friend.

Christine Fonseca, an author, consultant, and licensed educational psychologist, believes that Pixar and Disney are “counting on” the very powerful effects of this nostalgia.

“The brain takes our most meaningful experiences and ties all of the contextual information to the memory,” Fonseca explains. “This means that we have “affective” memories — or ones in which we strongly connect a specific emotion to the emotional context (the feelings), as well as the sensory imprints of the event.”

Think about how a warm batch of chocolate chip cookies may make you feel — for some, it brings strong feelings of happiness as you remember your mom or grandmother baking them. For others who have unpleasant memories around baking, it may bring sadness.

Happy memories and Toy Story

“Many of today’s millennials  (including my children) grew up watching these stories during the middle of their childhood,” said Fonseca. “They grew up with the character of Andy — they could relate to boxing up the toys in Toy Story 3, crying along with the scene,” said Fonseca.

With the release of Toy Story 4, we can revisit the nostalgic memories of our childhood.

“In addition to the emotional ties between memory and emotions, recent research in the field of positive psychology says nostalgia positively impacts the brain — creating feelings of optimism and hope, and even block[ing] negative emotions,” said Fonseca.

Nostalgia affects our decision-making

In these trying times, we could use more optimism and hope. Nostalgia impacts our decision-making, often compelling us to recreate that feeling of “simpler” times.

And why would a media powerhouse like Pixar risk everything to push us another Toy Story movie after such a brilliant end to the franchise in Toy Story 3? Because Pixar is brilliant.

“They understand that millennials, one of their main consumers, need an uplift right now — need hope. And this franchise, with its stories of unconditional love and loyalty and beginnings, will pull up all of those feelings AND allow parents to re-introduce the series to their children. It’ll activate both the memory and the emotional sides of the brain — something Pixar fully understands,” said Fonseca.

This is exactly what the Star Wars franchise did… twice. And it has worked both times!

Childhood memories often have a magical quality to them

“They are imbued with a more vivid and emotion-connected element that causes us to also remember other aspects of childhood — like loving family relationships and feeling cared for, nurtured, unaware of the complications of the adult world,” said Dr. Gail Saltz, an Associate Professor of Psychiatry at the NY Presbyterian Hospital Weill-Cornell School of Medicine.

Specific memories of childhood traditions — like yearly holidays or movie franchises that were viewed with family or friends — come to represent childhood itself. “That time period may become somewhat idealized, such that recalling it feels especially nice,” said Dr. Saltz.

The children who viewed the original Toy Story franchise have grown up and are now facing complex, anxiety-inducing issues. The release of Toy Story 4 will give us an opportunity to reconnect with our childhood memories, and re-experience the simple joys and wholesome messages of the franchise.

By staying connected to the optimism and hope of our youth, while maintaining our mature, adult perspectives, we can apply the energy of youth to the wisdom of age.

If you’ve made it this far and you’re craving a transformation of your own, we can help you get there.
Jumpstart your personal transformation and get on track to build your best life with Goalcast’s new inspirational ebook, Explore Your Potential: Start the Journey to Your Dream Life.
Transformation doesn’t just happen. It takes a plan and a support system. This how-to guide is full of the top wisdom, tips, exercises, and success stories to inspire an old dream or create a new one.
Check out a teaser of what’s inside.