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Previously, I DEMANDED that my husband justify himself in every position. Of course that never worked and of course he did not have to justify himself.

I have spent years on the other side of that trap, where answering the why question only leads me to being bullied and put on the defense -- if I can't explain it to his satisfaction then clearly I'm wrong. I am only just truly getting that I don't need to justify why I do or don't feel the way I do. I suspect no matter how much goodwill we might ever build up, that particular question would always be a trigger in our case.

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Thanks for all the replies on this thread. This is an interesting topic.

For anyone who missed the show, I transcribed it as best I could, trying to preserve the original conversation, but removing um's, uh's, etc., and names to protect the innocent. smile

Joyce: Topic: is it ok to ask why of your spouse when handling a conflict in your marriage?
...
Asking why while using the Policy of Joint Agreement: Is there ever a time when you shouldnt ask your spouse why? Maybe its the attitude in which you ask that is what were really dealing with here.

Dr. Harley: In the 1970s, there was a great deal of emphasis among women on being assertive; and there were assertiveness training classes.

Joyce: I thought that was a very good decade (only kidding).

Dr. Harley: The main point in the assertiveness training class was to teach women to say no. In other words, when they were asked to do something, they shouldnt just right away say, oh yes, yes, yes, Ill be happy to do whatever it is you want me to do; but rather, if you dont really want to do it, say you dont want to do it, say no. There were training classes in how to say no.

Joyce: May I add, however, the one thing I learned from a friend who took these classes (and I have never gone to an assertiveness training class, but) if you say no, you dont tell why.

Dr. Harley: Thats true. The basic idea was a person doesnt need to know why you said no.

Joyce: Because it sets you up for a discussion, then maybe being criticized, being judged, your reasons arent good enough, we're not doing whatever theyve asked, and that extends to invitations as well. And quite honestly, I still think for invitations to something, to say we wont be available, is a good use of that assertiveness training. I like it in that situation.

Dr. Harley: Yes, so if somebody asks you to help them move this weekend, and you say no, Id really rather not, Id like to spend time with my family, instead of explaining it all,...

Joyce: Thats giving an excuse right there.

Dr. Harley: Thats right. Youre trained in these classes to say, No, Im sorry I wont be able to this weekend.

Joyce: And to me, thats clean, its good, and the person on the other side says Thank you.

Dr. Harley: Well what if they were to say Why? Why cant you help me this weekend? And then what you do is you say Im sorry I cant go into it right now, all I can tell you is that I cant do it this weekend. Thats the assertiveness training program.

Now the problem you run into is its one thing to say no to a friend who wants you to help them move, or a neighbor who maybe isnt even a friend, and a spouse who is your life partner.

Joyce: Assertiveness training does not apply in marriage.

Dr. Harley: Well, you DO have the right to say no, but you have to then explain why you feel the way you do. Now here is the point that was raised on the forum, and that is that if a spouse says no and the other spouse says why, isnt that disrespectful?

Joyce: Let me read what [the writer] has to say here. I was recently involved in a discussion on the Marriage Builders forum involving the topic of trying to understand the 'why' behind the way a person feels when using the Policy of Joint Agreement to negotiate a solution to a problem. One poster felt that asking why is dangerous and can be perceived as disrespectful or challenging, and could open up possibility of debates and disrespectful judgments. However when my wife and I negotiate, we like to try to understand why each of us feels the way we do; it sometimes helps us to come up with a solution to a problem, and it helps us understand each other better. And when we DO understand each other better, it draws us closer emotionally. He goes on a little further, but I think that introduces enough for this portion of the conversation.

So you see where [the writer] feels that its a good thing, and yet hes gotten concerns from others on the Marriage Builders forum that this could be a dangerous thing. So how do you feel about this?

Dr. Harley: Well again I think theres a distinction between saying no to an acquaintance or a friend without having to explain yourself, and saying no to your spouse, where you are a life partner, and you need to understand each other. Now, again, with the assertiveness training program weve been talking about, I am in agreement that you dont have to explain yourself to everybody; you dont have to explain the reasons why you do what you do to everybody that comes to you with a request. But I think in the case of your spouse, you do. So, here is a situation where, the Policy of Joint Agreement says never do anything without an enthusiastic agreement between you and your spouse, so your spouse says How would you feel about doing this with me, and your response would be I dont think Id like to do that; we talked about this yesterday.

Joyce: Well, let me bring this up because this is a good thing, the idea of the pets in the house, and we DID talk about that yesterday, and cats and dogs, and the wife wants them in the house, the husband does not. And he added, he used this illustration, the wife wanted them, the husband did not, wouldnt this question "why" help with the solution.

Dr. Harley: Absolutely.

Joyce: If he didnt like their smell, they could keep up with their pet grooming more often (thats regarding dogs), and if they dropped food on the floor, the pets could be fed outside.

Dr. Harley: Right.

Joyce: So the why helps you maybe get to the more specific reasons so that maybe the specific reasons can be addressed rather than the broad stroke application of no animals in the house because this is not what the husband wants.

Dr. Harley: So I think its an essential part of the statement no to go on to explain why you feel the way you do. Now, having said that, I think that the why could be handled in a disrespectful way. So for example if you said you didnt want to do something, and I would say why? [drawn out] I might, in my intonation, or perhaps in the follow-up statements that I make to why,"...

Joyce: Or in your body language.

Dr. Harley: I might be disrespectful to you. How could anybody in their right mind not want to go with me to a Twins game?

Joyce: Why on earth would you feel that way?

Dr. Harley: Right, you can have disrespect in a situation like that, but the way we organize discussion for a couple, you are supposed to make the discussion pleasant and safe. So instead of being disrespectful or demanding or angry in the discussion, those things are off the table; you cant do those things. So, in your question why, you go with a sincere desire to understand the other persons perspective so that you can accommodate that perspective in an alternative. So for example with the dogs and cats, the idea is how could we have dogs and cats in a way that you would be comfortable having them join us in our family.

Joyce: So then we go on further, so tell me why you dont want them in the house, help me understand.

Dr. Harley: Exactly.

Joyce: [The writer] says his wife really enjoys when they ask each other why because, she especially feels like she is being heard.

Dr. Harley: And, you get to know each other better.

Joyce: Thats true. But yet we do agree with people on the forum that a good warning to make sure your why does not bring on disrespect.

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Originally Posted By: MelodyLane
I heard your email being read and I have to tell you that asking "why" in my marriage will shut down negotiations right away with my H. Ask my H that question and the conversation is over for life. Part of the reason is because we were not good negotiators at the beginning and "why" pre-empted a railroad job that was characterized with DJs.

So I don't ask "why" because it makes my spouse get defensive and shut down. I ask him "what are your feelings about that?" If I put it that way, we can usually negotiate.

Originally Posted By: Prisca
I found that the information I needed could be found by asking other, more direct questions. If Markos said: "it would bother me if you bought that dress," instead of asking things like "Why don't you want me to buy this?" (which can sound very loaded and confrontational) I learned to ask "would it bother you if I buy it next payday instead? Or, maybe if I saved for it? Our would you mind picking out a different one with me?"

Originally Posted By: markos
"Why?" just sounds too much like "why don't we do it my way, the obvious way?" in so many cases. Or "justify yourself." Far better to ask more detailed questions about your spouse's thinking:

"What problems do you see?"
"What do you need in this situation?"
"Would (other proposed solution) work for you?

Originally Posted By: markos
I need all the same information you do, KeepLearning - I just get it without asking "why?" And once you know how to get that information without it, you tend to just stick to that habit.

Those are very good points, and they make me think I should've named this thread something like "The art of asking why." Phrasing it simply as "Why?" is easily interpreted negatively; it doesn't openly exhibit what Dr. Harley said is needed: "a sincere desire to understand the other person's perspective." I think sincerity is the key to trying to understand the other spouse's feelings. If the other spouse doesn't feel sincerity in the first spouse, the other spouse may feel threatened and may shut down emotionally or get defensive. As Dr. Harley said on the show, "you are supposed to make the discussion pleasant and safe."

However,
Originally Posted By: Prisca
I could likely ask why now, but we are in love. He KNOWS without a doubt that I have goodwill toward him. We have built that history. But when is new, and your marriage is broken and suffering from years of neglect, abuse, and possibly affairs, and you are not even sure the other guy is on your side, it's best to just avoid it. Don't start negotiation with what is going to be seen as a battle cry.

Originally Posted By: markos
when one or both spouses is still feeling injured and the love has not been built back, "why?" sounds like a challenge, even when it is asked with the purest of intentions.

even with the sincerest motives, why-type questions can be problematic in some situations. If a spouse can't ask a sincere why-type question in a way that makes the discussion "pleasant and safe," then Prisca's advice to avoid it makes sense.

A situation I've learned the hard way in which it's risky to ask why-type questions occurs about once a month in my household. It's better for both of us if I postpone any probing questions for a few days. smile

Even before this forum discussion came up, I've told my wife several times that whenever I ask about her feelings, I'm not challenging her, I'm simply trying to understand her better. And I try to remember to do that as a prefix whenever I'm about to ask her a why-type question. If I make a mistake and she gets defensive, I tell her I'm sorry, my intentions were good, I was simply trying to understand her perspective, and ask if we can come back to it later. And when we do come back to it later, she is always very open.

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Originally Posted By: living_well
Even if you have a great marriage, 'why' can be difficult for a very emotional person because he or she may not know why.

For non-emotional people as well, they may not know why. That happens sometimes with my wife, and when she doesn't know why, I don't press her because I too sometimes don't know why I feel the way I do. We've learned that not knowing why presents an opportunity for relationship growth. If I don't know why I feel the way I do, I can usually figure out some sort of reason for my feelings by talking about it with her, and I often end up learning something about myself that I wouldn't have learned on my own. She learns something about me too.

Although care has to be taken with why-type questions, and extreme care in some situations, I think the benefits outweigh the risks. Dr. Harley ended the radio show yesterday with, "you get to know each other better." It came across as a final parting thought, but to me it was the most important; I think the "getting to know each other better" part is the real benefit of asking why-type questions, more so than facilitating a POJA negotiation.

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Originally Posted By: SugarCane
Originally Posted By: NewEveryDay
Spouse1: My mom is coming over
Spouse2: Why does your mom need to come over here?

Spouse1: I'm taking DD for ice cream after girl scouts
Spouse2: Why can't you just come home?

Spouse1: I'm going to be home late from work tonight
Spouse2: Why don't we ever just have dinner at a normal time like normal people?

It's not the word "why" that was the problem, if that was how one of you made decisions. It's the first three statements that are unwise in these examples, far more so that the responses. The first statements are all expressed as independent decisions that do not even acknowledge the existence of a spouse. All these independent decisions have an impact on the other spouse, so why is he being told that "this will happen"?

Nice catch SugarCane! Makes me realize how much I have to learn.

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Originally Posted By: MelodyLane
My H has very emotional reactions and that is something we have to work around.

Well, no one's perfect, we all have room to grow. If it's something you currently have to work around, is it something your husband would be willing to work on?

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Originally Posted By: Prisca
I finally got to listen to Dr. Harley's response. I find it interesting that the "why" he is taking about is in response to a "no" when a request had been made. What we were dealing with on the other thread, however, was a"why" in response to "it bothers me." It should be noted that Dr. Harley has said that you do not need to give a reason why something bothers you. It is simply enough that it does.

Interesting, I interpreted it more broadly. The topic introduced by Joyce was "Is it ok to ask why of your spouse when handling a conflict in your marriage." She then elaborated with "Asking why while using the Policy of Joint Agreement, is there ever a time when you shouldn't ask your spouse why?" I think this set the context for the radio show segment.

Dr. Harley then digressed to explain assertiveness training, and how it taught people to say no without explaining why. When he came back on topic, he continued to use the scenario of saying no in the broader context of asking why during POJA negotiations, but I don't think it meant his advice only applies to a no response; I think he was using no as an example. I think his advice applies generally to POJA situations where a couple is trying to resolve a problem because understanding why your spouse feels the way they do is helpful for the negotiation, as long as it is done respectfully and with "a sincere desire to understand the other person's perspective."

The pet example that we were dealing with on the other thread was addressed by the Harleys:

Quote:
Joyce: the wife wanted them, the husband did not, wouldn't this question "why" help with the solution?

Dr. Harley: Absolutely.
...

Dr. Harley: in your question "why," you go with a sincere desire to understand the other person's perspective so that you can accommodate that perspective in an alternative. So for example with the dogs and cats, the idea is how could we have dogs and cats in a way that you would be comfortable having them join us in our family?

Joyce: So then we go on further, so tell me why you dont want them in the house, help me understand.

Dr. Harley: Exactly.

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Originally Posted By: Deacon_Blues
I have spent years on the other side of that trap, where answering the why question only leads me to being bullied and put on the defense -- if I can't explain it to his satisfaction then clearly I'm wrong. I am only just truly getting that I don't need to justify why I do or don't feel the way I do. I suspect no matter how much goodwill we might ever build up, that particular question would always be a trigger in our case.

Did you feel bullied and put on the defense because of the questioning itself? Or was it the way the questions were asked.

Did you tell him that his questions made you feel that way?

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Originally Posted By: KeepLearning
Originally Posted By: MelodyLane
My H has very emotional reactions and that is something we have to work around.

Well, no one's perfect, we all have room to grow. If it's something you currently have to work around, is it something your husband would be willing to work on?


No, he has no reason to work on it.


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Originally Posted By: KeepLearning
Originally Posted By: SugarCane
Originally Posted By: NewEveryDay
Spouse1: My mom is coming over
Spouse2: Why does your mom need to come over here?

Spouse1: I'm taking DD for ice cream after girl scouts
Spouse2: Why can't you just come home?

Spouse1: I'm going to be home late from work tonight
Spouse2: Why don't we ever just have dinner at a normal time like normal people?

It's not the word "why" that was the problem, if that was how one of you made decisions. It's the first three statements that are unwise in these examples, far more so that the responses. The first statements are all expressed as independent decisions that do not even acknowledge the existence of a spouse. All these independent decisions have an impact on the other spouse, so why is he being told that "this will happen"?

Nice catch SugarCane! Makes me realize how much I have to learn.


SugarCane, when I was working on my failed marriage, I felt like I was in a straightjacket sometimes. I asked my ex, who was in bitter state of conflict with me, "how would you feel about this" for everything, and since he was mad at me the answer to everything was "why?!"

I thought if I get into another marriage, my spouse would be a happy guy, and want me to be happy too, and would be happy to have my mom over, happy for me to go for ice cream with my DD, and would understand when like there was a fire alarm gone off earlier this week and I had to work until 8:30. Not everything is an issue when you're in a good marriage, I hope?


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Originally Posted By: NewEveryDay
I thought if I get into another marriage, my spouse would be a happy guy, and want me to be happy too,


Of course he would want you to be happy

Originally Posted By: NewEveryDay
and would be happy to have my mom over, happy for me to go for ice cream with my DD, and would understand when like there was a fire alarm gone off earlier this week and I had to work until 8:30. Not everything is an issue when you're in a good marriage, I hope?

Well, no, that doesn't follow. His wanting you to be happy doesn't mean that any of those things is true. What you are suggesting is that if he wants you to be happy, he should put up with things even if they make him unhappy. That's not the route to long term happiness for either of you.

His loving you and wanting you to be happy doesn't mean being happy for your mother to come over. If something about your mother, or something about her visits, bugs him then they bug him regardless of his loving you and wanting you to be happy!

There could be all sorts of reasons why he might not want you to go for ice-cream with your daughter after scouts - such as the fact that he hasn't seen much of you, or that she has already had a treat with the scouts and should come home and get on with homework, or that it messes up the whole evening if you are even later home than you would be having already gone to scouts, and you could go for ice-cream at the weekend all sorts of reasons, and none of them has anything to do with not loving you!

The late working example you originally gave was not a one-off, since your spouse asked "Why don't we ever just have dinner at a normal time like normal people?" as if this was a regular occurrence. And I don't know about you, but a fire alarm would not make me work late. The fire alarm is the bosses problem, and he or she has no right to expect staff to disrupt catching trains, picking up children and having dinner on time because of an event outside your control. If you were a single parent with young kids in daycare and the fire alarm went off, you'd just leave on time before the daycare shut, as usual. Why is getting home for dinner with your family any different?

Anyway my point, which you seem to have missed, is not about whether a loving spouse should object to your mother or not, or to ice-cream or to your working late, but that we shouldn't impose those things on our spouse by telling them that they are already happening. It's not his "why" that caused the problem in your original examples, it's your "I'm doing this even though it impacts on you" (or even "we're doing this - having my mother round" or "having dinner late again when I've finished helping my boss out") that caused the problem.

I've no doubt that your ex was unpleasant in many ways, Ned. I'm not querying at all the fact that your marriage was unpleasant. I actually wasn't talking about your marriage but about the specific examples you gave. It would be problematic for anybody in any marriage to act independently like that - unless you were pretty much emotionally divorced already.


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Originally Posted By: SugarCane

The late working example you originally gave was not a one-off, since your spouse asked "Why don't we ever just have dinner at a normal time like normal people?" as if this was a regular occurrence. And I don't know about you, but a fire alarm would not make me work late. The fire alarm is the bosses problem, and he or she has no right to expect staff to disrupt catching trains, picking up children and having dinner on time because of an event outside your control. If you were a single parent with young kids in daycare and the fire alarm went off, you'd just leave on time before the daycare shut, as usual. Why is getting home for dinner with your family any different?

Anyway my point, which you seem to have missed, is not about whether a loving spouse should object to your mother or not, or to ice-cream or to your working late, but that we shouldn't impose those things on our spouse by telling them that they are already happening.


1. The response to the working late scenario ("Why don't we ever etc") sounds disrespectful. If something bothers you, you are supposed to simply say so, not express a blanket statement as though it is fact.

2. Your (Sugar Cane's) feelings about working late ("I don't know about you" in fact is key here) is entirely personal and therefore irrelevant to whether, in a particular marriage, POJA could be achieved with respect to that working condition.

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Originally Posted By: KeepLearning
Originally Posted By: Deacon_Blues
I have spent years on the other side of that trap, where answering the why question only leads me to being bullied and put on the defense -- if I can't explain it to his satisfaction then clearly I'm wrong. I am only just truly getting that I don't need to justify why I do or don't feel the way I do. I suspect no matter how much goodwill we might ever build up, that particular question would always be a trigger in our case.

Did you feel bullied and put on the defense because of the questioning itself? Or was it the way the questions were asked.

Did you tell him that his questions made you feel that way?

Because if my answers to his "why" didn't meet his satisfaction/understanding, then I was wrong, and he was more than happy to explain why I was wrong and why what he wanted to do was perfectly okay because I had no reason (in his opinion) to not like it. It was easier to just give in and do whatever than to constantly be defending/justifying myself.

Did I tell him? Sometimes. But since he didn't see anything wrong with what he was doing I was just being unreasonable and, you know, wrong.

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Quote:
1. The response to the working late scenario ("Why don't we ever etc") sounds disrespectful. If something bothers you, you are supposed to simply say so, not express a blanket statement as though it is fact.

2. Your (Sugar Cane's) feelings about working late ("I don't know about you" in fact is key here) is entirely personal and therefore irrelevant to whether, in a particular marriage, POJA could be achieved with respect to that working condition.


In case you missed it, kerala, this was sugarcane's point:

Quote:
Anyway my point, which you seem to have missed, is not about whether a loving spouse should object to your mother or not, or to ice-cream or to your working late, but that we shouldn't impose those things on our spouse by telling them that they are already happening.


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Originally Posted By: kerala
1. The response to the working late scenario ("Why don't we ever etc") sounds disrespectful. If something bothers you, you are supposed to simply say so, not express a blanket statement as though it is fact.

2. Your (Sugar Cane's) feelings about working late ("I don't know about you" in fact is key here) is entirely personal and therefore irrelevant to whether, in a particular marriage, POJA could be achieved with respect to that working condition.

I don't see the relevance of either of those points to the point I made.


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Originally Posted By: kerala


2. Your (Sugar Cane's) feelings about working late ("I don't know about you" in fact is key here) is entirely personal and therefore irrelevant to whether, in a particular marriage, POJA could be achieved with respect to that working condition.


You missed the point entirely. The point is that NED shouldn't just impose her desires on her spouse. Sugarcane made the point that everything is subject to POJA. Sugarcane didn't say that HER OWN desires should be imposed, but that in a healthy marriage, everything is subject to POJA.

So much for nitpicking posters, huh?

Originally Posted By: Sugarcane
Anyway my point, which you seem to have missed, is not about whether a loving spouse should object to your mother or not, or to ice-cream or to your working late, but that we shouldn't impose those things on our spouse by telling them that they are already happening.


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Originally Posted By: MelodyLane
So much for nitpicking posters, huh?

I don't get why posters who don't like our board and have no respect for the advice we offer only ever come over here to tell us so.


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Originally Posted By: SugarCane
Originally Posted By: MelodyLane
So much for nitpicking posters, huh?

I don't get why posters who don't like our board and have no respect for the advice we offer only ever come over here to tell us so.


I don't either. Why is that, kerala?


"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena.." Theodore Roosevelt

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FWW/BW (me)
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Blended Family with 7 kids between us
Too much hurt and pain on both sides that my brain hurts just thinking about it all.



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