Think Before You Ask: The Statements Your Questions Make

Think Before You Ask: The Statements Your Questions Make February 3, 2015


Dear Shaunti:

I just got married to a great guy who has always loved my inquisitive, problem-solving nature.  Or at least he used to.  Lately, he has been getting more and more annoyed with it.  He shuts down so easily.  Or if I ask a simple question he acts as if it is the ultimate disloyalty.   For example, our landlord has been giving us grief and is unfairly threatening to throw us out, and today when my husband suggested an idea for dealing with it, I threw out a couple of alternatives.  He got so upset, he had to go drive around for half an hour to calm down.  All of this makes me incredibly nervous: am I not allowed to ask questions anymore?  Who is this man that I married?

-Disquieted Bride

Dear Disquieted,

I’m guessing this man is the same person you fell in love with – and that he’s the one wondering “Who is this woman that I married?”

Neither of you are right or wrong in this, but it is really important that at least one of you is willing to realize that something you’re doing is upsetting the other – and take steps to break the cycle. For now, let’s assume that is you.

It is one thing for your future husband to know that you have an inquisitive nature.  It’s a completely different matter to live with it every day.  From personal experience (ahem) I’m guessing that you’ve probably even heard your husband complain that how you say things comes across not as inquisitive but as the Inquisition.  And if you’re like I was, you probably don’t understand what on earth he means by that!

First, remember just how much your husband needs to feel that you trust and respect him, and how easy it is for him to feel that you don’t.  If he’s like most guys, feeling that you don’t is incredibly painful – and the most common response is anger and withdrawal. Sound familiar?

One way you or I or any woman can inadvertently signal “I don’t trust you” is by processing out loud when our man (or even our boss at work) comes to us and says “I think we should do such-and-such.” You see, we think of his comment as a starting-point suggestion, and throw out alternatives to move the discussion down the road. That is how we process things.  But in my research it was clear that most men absolutely do not process things in that way.  In fact, because they usually process stuff – especially very important stuff! — internally, by the time they say anything, it is not a “suggestion” but a plan into which they have put a lot of very detailed thought.

The dilemma, of course, is that when he presents his conclusion, that is the first we have heard it!  So we ask questions and raise all sorts of issues, because that is how we reach our best, most thorough decision. Yet for him, our spontaneous verbal feedback can easily come across as questioning his judgment and “picking something apart.”

More dangerously, because we sometimes casually throw around language like, “Well that’s silly, we should just do it this way,” we can, without meaning to, tell him that after three days of thinking something through, his conclusion was “silly.”

Either way, he feels disrespected and inadequate. It is painful. And that is why he gets upset and shifts into silent mode.

What’s the answer? Well, you certainly don’t need to try to be a guy and process everything internally. After all, God made you to be the verbal processor you are. But you also don’t want to hurt your husband or feel like you have to walk on eggshells either.

I’d strongly suggest that you do two things: both help your new husband understand how you need to process things, and be very aware of how he does.

At some other (non-emotional) time, explain that when you hear his conclusions for the first time, you need to discuss it in order to think about it.  Let him know that when you ask questions or throw out alternatives you are in no way picking his suggestion apart, but simply thinking it through out loud, in the way he has already thought it through internally.

But then, since there’s no way around the fact that what you say “out loud” can be quite painful, be very careful of how you say it.  It turns out the old “think before you speak” lesson your parents taught you in grade school will be a huge help here.

So, when your husband says, “Let’s do this,” instead of spitting out the first thing that comes to your mind, consider always saying something like, “Oh, that’s an interesting idea,” and talking through one or two positive points about his idea before asking questions. This will help signal, right up front, that you don’t think he’s an idiot.  Then you can say something like, “Honey, I’m not disagreeing with you, but I just need to talk this through and ask some questions in order to process it.  Is that okay with you?”

All this will go a long way toward restoring his faith that the inquisitive woman he loves is still there – just as loyal as always – and that this truly is not the Inquisition.

Do you want Shaunti to share these life-changing truths at your church or event? Inquire about Shaunti speaking, here.

Shaunti Feldhahn is the best-selling author of eye-opening, research-based books about men, women and relationships, including For Women Only, For Men Only, The Surprising Secrets of Highly Happy Marriages and her newest, The Good News About Marriage. A Harvard-trained social researcher and popular speaker, her findings are regularly featured in media as diverse as The Today Show, Focus on the Family, and the New York Times. Visit www.shaunti.com for more.

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