It happens too often. One spouse is frustrated by the actions, or lack of action, of their spouse and wants to understand why. The other spouse feels like they can never do anything right, including answering the inquiries about the motive of their behavior.
Why did you do that?
Why didn’t you do this?
The motive for asking why seems good. The inquisitor wants to understand what their spouse is thinking. “If I could only understand their motivation and thinking behind what they did or didn’t do.”
- Why is backward – facing activity focusing on the past. Why never moves the conversation toward your future together.
- Asking “why?” encourages excuse-making habits When you ask “why”, they begin to search for a good answer. The answer, too frequently, validates their action or inaction to them.
- The answer to “why?” frequently relieves them from responsibility. The answer is usually some form of Defensiveness and blaming others instead of accepting responsibility.
- As they respond to the answer “why?” they rehearse the motivation for their action (or lack of action) which encourages it to happen again.
- Asking “why?” assumes guilt. It is an indicting question that elicits a defensive response.
- Asking “why?” hides your assumption about the answer. The questioning spouse rarely asks why without assuming the motives of their spouse. Instead of stating the assumption, the questioner disguises it with an open ended question of “why?”
- Asking “why?” rarely, if ever, provides a satisfactory answer. As the answer to the question is unsatisfactory, the questioner continues to ask why after every explanation. It can sound like a preschooler’s endless series of “why?” questions.
- Asking “why?” wastes time. The explanation is almost always useless to keeping it from happening again.
- Your spouse may not know the answer. They may not have known that they were making an error when they did it and were not conscious of their motives in the moment of their actions.
- When you ask “why?” you give your spouse the idea that you are really clueless about the answer. This may give the impression that their defensive or creative answer is really believable to you.
Next time when your spouse does something that you did not want to do or fails to do something that you wanted them to do, consider these alternatives:
- Try banishing “why” from your vocabulary for a month and see what changes. Consider, “Tell me about _________.”
- Use the complaint formula:
- Describe the inarguable facts about the problem action (or lack of action) you observed. When I (saw, heard, noticed) ___________.
- Describe the impact to you. How did their action or inaction affect you? I felt __________.
- Specifically ask for what you want from them going forward. Tell them what action you want from them going forward. What I want ___________.
- Ask them if they are willing to do that from now on. Be open to compromise or renegotiation of the request.
- Focus on building a future together. Keep the conversation solution focused.
We love to hear from our tribe. Tell us what happens when you try a new approach instead of asking “why?” Let us know if you find something that works that is not on the list above.
This article was written by Roy and Devra Wooten, authors of “The Secret to a Lifetime Love”. Learn more at www.LifeTogetherForever.com © Roy and Devra Wooten 2015. All Rights Reserved. You may replicate this article as long as it is provided free to recipients and includes appropriate attribution. Written permission for other use may be obtained at Secret@LifeTogetherForever.com.