Sunday, September 29, 2013

Don't ask why.

I read this recently:
"When I work with couples in my practice, one thing we do early on is forbid either partner from asking the question, "Why?" We do that because "why" is a gateway for blame.

Most important, though, is that people use "why" as though an explanation is a solution or a magic palliative for emotional pain. It's as though knowing why someone made the choice they did will somehow make the pain go away and thereby solve the problem. Nothing will change simply because the motive for the action has been explained.

When one partner asks the other why, it changes the direction of the communication between them. Instead of being solution focused, it becomes gratification focused for the asking partner. Even when the explanation is negative, the asking partner acquires power because she is attempting to put her partner in a one-down position. It also shifts the focus away from positive emotional connection as one partner struggles to explain what is oftentimes unexplainable.

"Help me understand" is a phrase that works better. This way can open the possibilities for the broadest communication channels and thus helps everyone speak their feelings in a safe, nonaccusatory, solution-focused environment.

Bryn Collins, How to Recognize Emotional Unavailability and Make Healthier Relationship Choices 
I first started reading this book after Mr. BB and I broke up and I began to realize I was picking relationships that weren't good fits. I expected that it would teach me about my partners but what I found instead was that it is teaching me about myself.

That statement above is a very good observation about asking why.

The Russian had asked me, when I backed away, "Why are you continuing to meet other people?" The honest answer was painful and I didn't want to say it. "Because although I don't totally feel able to move forward with you, I still have hope that there is someone out there I may feel that way about." Ouch.

It's the truth though, and it's better than "it's not you, it's me" because 1. people aren't stupid and they know when you're putting them off, 2. you shouldn't have to defend how you feel. Saying "I don't feel what I need to feel in order to want to deepen things" isn't up for negotiation. But the "it's not you it's me" could be:
"The timing is wrong."
"Well, I'll wait!"

"I'm just super busy."
"No worries, I understand!"

"I need to work on myself first."
"I'll be there for you in the meantime."
In each of the above scenarios, you end up uncomfortably ensconced in a dance. Honesty about your feelings is really the best way to go. I have been on both the admission and the excuse end here and can say from experience that an honest statement is far less hurtful than a manufactured put-off.

When the Russian asked me why, I felt terrible. I wanted to tell him what he wanted to hear. I wanted to feel differently, I wanted to be in the same place. I felt so sad that I was not.

I have been on the other side too. I remember asking the Cyclist why, when I could tell he wasn't in the same place as me emotionally. Now I read the above and cringe a bit. It is not an answerable question. The answer would not have changed anything and the question puts him in the position of both being asked to hurt my feelings and to explain himself, neither of which are considerate or productive.

What is productive: understanding that how someone feels, or doesn't feel, isn't a statement about your worth. And you can actually have a closer, more authentic connection when you let go of the need to have something be a certain way and embrace instead what is.

With this in mind, I have cracked open the door to the past and gaze there now with a different view. A view that's kindof healing. I want to be around people that don't mow over my boundaries and I don't want to tread over theirs. (What does that look like? Gentle acceptance of where we each are without feeling as though one person's state is threatening to another. Some people are born with this compass, others must learn... but the good news is, we can learn when ready.)
"Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I will meet you there." Rumi

1 comment:

  1. It's a good thing to know, and I'm glad it gives you better insight into what you do. (And why.)