Relationship epiphany: Ask more questions.
Do. It. Now.
None of us can read minds – not our children’s, not our spouses, not our boyfriends’ or girlfriends’ much less the boss or the cranky neighbor. However, I exempt you from the aforementioned list if you are Carnac, or steal your loved one’s personal diary.
I would be amused by the former and do not recommend the latter.
Here’s the gist: If we think that something is wrong with a person we love, we need to ask – gently, explicitly, persistently.
Need to Know? Ask a Question!
With my kids?
Getting one of my sons to open up during adolescence was a real chore. Then again, this is incredibly common with tweens and teens. But what do you do when a kid just won’t talk?
My son was rarely forthcoming, and whatever was bothering him required that I poke, prod and ferret it out. That process was iterative, required all my patience, and my success rate varied with my willingness to keep at it.
Remarkably helpful? Picking my spots: no questions in the morning, getting him out of the house, and sitting him in front of a big plate of food.
And then I went into question mode – asking, asking differently, asking again – careful not to overstep where I could feel the resistance, and knowing I would have to circle back from another angle.
Teenagers can be especially challenging in the communication realm. And parents, of course, worry about all the trouble they can get into.
Everyone Is a Challenge When Walls Are Up
But we’re all challenging in our own way. And we shy away from asking questions in so many contexts, not just relationships.
We worry about sounding stupid. We worry about being judged. We worry about hurting someone simply by asking a question. We worry that we will be misunderstood. We worry that we will overstep. Sometimes, we are afraid of the answers. So we keep mum – when we would do better to talk.
If you find yourself at a standstill in a project, in a friendship, with someone you love – ask questions!
It isn’t easy, it isn’t fun, and we need to be prepared for responses we might not want to hear. But more often than not, what we imagine is far worse than whatever is actually going on. Besides, if we don’t know what is expected of us or we don’t know what’s wrong, how can we possibly help set things right?
And Now for the Question Portion of the Program…
Sometime back, my Man Friend had seemed to pull away. Emotional distance being rare between us, I noted it in short order. At the time, I was deeply involved in deadlines, so I deferred discussion, but not for too long. I sat down with him (after a good meal), and thinking it was something completely different from what it actually was, I asked him what was troubling him.
I had to ask, then ask again, then ask differently, then listen, then change rooms, pour wine, and ask again.
The three hours that followed were illuminating. (Yes, you have to be willing to take your time.) I saw something new in him, a place in his life he was exploring that I was previously ignorant of. The conversation yielded more than the answer to what was bothering him; it brought us closer. I gained a broader understanding of what is important to him, and I also realized there is a good deal on his mind that I won’t ever hear about – unless I ask.
And I recognize this is the same for me, and for many of us.
Remember: Asking questions to get to the bottom of a situation is not the same as nagging, prying, or being intrusive.
Fearing the Worst (and Why We Shouldn’t)
It’s only natural to fear the worst when someone seems to clam up or withdraw. Some of us are more programmed to assume that we’ve had a hand in what’s going on, as we anticipate negative feedback. Others are more positively inclined – believing that everything is fixable if appropriate effort, skill and cooperation are applied.
Both of these approaches can be taken to an extreme. Assuming doom and fault may lead us to inadvertently create it, and blind optimism can be just that – blind. Reality is usually kind enough to land us somewhere in between.
Straight talk in relationships can be hard. Very hard. But it’s also essential if you want to know where you stand, and to maintain the sort of intimacy that comes from allowing yourself to be vulnerable.
As it turns out, the issues the man in my life was dealing with had nothing to do with me, but were eased by talking – as trusted friends. Because we are friends. And doesn’t airing one’s concerns help put things in perspective? Isn’t friendship a fundamental when it comes to a good relationship?
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