A note from Dr. K
Lesson 12 Chapter 2 Module 2
You probably need to “unlearn” the questions your therapist taught you to ask.
Going to individual therapy can make people insightful and thoughtful.
Sometimes that’s a blessing for the work we do in Couples Therapy, but sometimes it is a curse when they use those same skills to try to probe their partner for the deeper “motivations” for their actions.
One recent couple, like a lot of folks I see who’ve had lot of bad couples therapy, was horribly trained for couples therapy through no fault of their own. The wife kept asking:
“Why do you do that?” …about some past event or bad habit.
I had to stop her.
I told her:
“He’s probably going to answer you with either “I don’t know,” or some answer that he makes up on the spot, because most people really have very little idea why they do what they do that annoys their spouse.
"Why?" is not the important question.
Tell him what you find annoying about it and what you want him to do instead.”
Like a lot of clients that have been trained by All Purpose Therapists, she had no clue what she wanted him to do differently because she was focusing on trying to discern his motives.
Asking “why” is very often going to provoke defensiveness, because it usually filled with context.
“Why do you keep doing those things I hate?”
“Why do you say those mean things to me?”
“Why do you want to hang out with your friends, instead of being with me?”
Problems with therapeutically trained “Why?”
Verbal people can spend hours on them.
Or they can start a nasty fight.
They can sometimes be interesting...but mostly not.
Especially with couples in “Negative Sentiment Override” they are probably “set up” questions and will just provoke defensiveness.
Couples have to learn to request action changes instead:
“Please don’t do that.”
“Please don’t say that.”
“I’d like to spend this Saturday with you.”
And requests for action changes require some degree of awareness that we’re married to a completely separate human being who gets to make their own set of choices. Once they know what choices lead to marital disaster they can begin to choose wisely.