The idea of this post started with an innocent conversation with a friend on Facebook. My friend lives in a tiny apartment in a big city. He posted something on Facebook like this: “Why would anyone fry fish at midnight?”
I responded with: “maybe your neighbor is hungry?”
The messages exchange on his facebook wall went on for 5-6 times when I realized that his original post was not a question but a complaint.
I burst into a big laugh as I experience this scene in my couples’ counseling session.
Usually, one of the partners asked for the support by expressing his/her complaints in a question form.
“Why would you do something like that?”
The other partner started to explain the motivation and rationale behind his/her behaviors but faced with more frustrated reaction. As the conversation continues, both of them began to get frustrated and angry. The one whom complaints were frustrated with not receiving the support and understanding while the other one was defeated because his/her explanation was rejected every time.
Have you had the similar experiences? Do you feel frustrated at your partner because what you offered and what you received are not receiving well?
After I finally understood my friend’s message, I can’t help but wonder what could have done differently so that he could have received the support he needed?
The turning point between my friend and I was when I pointed out to my friend that he was asking for an explanation and he told me that he was complaining. It was then that I realized that I missed the mark and apologized to him.
So, if you are asking for the support, what can you do? First of all, you might want to consider a direct statement instead of a question. I can’t figure out why (and if you have an explanation, let me know), but it seems that many people ask for support in the form of a question, even more so when the complaints were direct to the significant other.
“Why do you do that?”
“Can you explain to me why……”
“Why would you think that’s a good way to……..”
Mostly, what we want to say is:
“It bothers me when you……”
“I am confused about your choice. When you chose to do it this way, it inconvenient me……”
“I don’t like this because……..”
Second, when we ask for the support from our significant other, especially when it relates to our partners’ behaviors, we want to be as specific as his/her behaviors as possible to avoid it to become a personal attack and so that our partners can understand how we feel.
If you are on the receiving end, it is very natural to answer the questions starting with “why” with an explanation. However, after a few tries of explaining and your partner didn’t seem to be satisfied, you might want to consider the followings:
- Is “why” really the main point?;
- What does your partner genuinely ask from you?
- Clarify your partner’s intention.
“I hear you asked me why I choose to do that and I offered you my rationale, but it didn’t see to satisfy you, what are you asking me?”
Once you understand your partner’s needs and intention, solving your partner’s issue might not be the main point but to offer emotional support. So, I will avoid defending myself or continue to provide my rationale. At this point, a simple apology that you didn’t understand your partner’s meaning earlier would be an excellent way to offer your support.
“I am sorry that I didn’t understand what you are asking for earlier. I am sorry. I am also sorry that you are bothered by it………”
Remember, you are not apologizing because you did something wrong. You are merely sorry that you missed each other’s points and the communication hasn’t offered your partner a relief from the situation.
As my friend replied to tell me: “no worries, all is well.” I can’t help but thank him for teaching me a simple but commonly made lesson in the communication. Now, I will be more careful when explaining.