Carly squirmed in her chair and leaned forward, giving me a hard, exhausted look.
They've been here before.
But now they were in couples therapy with me.
They needed a way out. Fast.
"Ok, Dr. K. This is how Mitch and I repeat the same problems repeatedly.
I usually say… this. Mitch says… that.
Then I know he's gonna give me that look. And I know I'll get really agitated.. like I always do.
And then he says, "You're not really listening." I tell him I am…. but we both know I'm lying.
Then I know I'm gonna say X, and then I know Mike's gonna say Y, and by then…
It's ANOTHER FIGHT NIGHT!"
I learned in 1977 from Milton Erickson's teachings that "life" is one thing after another. "'Problems' are the same damn thing over and over."
That's ineffective marital communication.
It's the same thing over and over and over…
The next time you find yourself in a fight, ask yourself this fundamental question. These questions are from science-based Gottman Couples Therapy and the Developmental Model of Couples Therapy.
43 questions you could ask your spouse to ward off repetitive fighting!
- What are you feeling right now? Is this hard for you to talk about?
- What else are you feeling? Have your feelings intensified on this issue?
- What do you need most from this problem? Have I dropped the ball on this?
- What do you really wish for? What's most important to you?
- How did this all come about?
- What would you really want to get across here? And to who?
- Are there any feelings you have here that you are afraid to even think about?
- Do you have any mixed feelings here? What are they?
- What are your (our) choices here, as you see them?
- What are the upside and downside of these choices?
- How Can I be part of the solution? What's the most important thing I can do for you right now?
- Do you think this has impacted our relationship (or another relationship)? How?
- Is there some way you wish you (or I) could have done something differently? How so?
- What do you feel obliged to do here? How do you see your responsibilities?
- What do you need most from me right now?
- Is this a problem that you would prefer to deal with on your own?
- What would you like to ask of me on this? Is it hard for you to ask?
- What do your values tell you about this? What do you think we should prioritize?
- Is there anything or anyone you really disapprove of here?
- Are parts of you conflicted over this issue?
- What do you dislike most about this issue? What's the most irritating part of this issue?
- How do you feel right now, as you are talking to me about this?
- What, if anything, makes you feel (upset, angry, hopeless -insert appropriate emotion) about this issue?
- How did this all start for you?
- When did you first notice that this bothered you?
- How do you see how this problem fits into your (or our) life overall?
- Who, in your opinion, should take responsibility for what here?
- Is there any part of this issue that you'd like me to take specific responsibility for?
- How does this situation touch you?
- How has dealing with this issue changed you? What do you regret not doing about it sooner?
- What is your major complaint here? What can I do to help you with it?
- What meaning does this problem have for you as you bring it up to me now?
- What have you (we) learned from this?
- What would you like to learn from this once we solve it?
- Who is most impacted here? How? Why?
- Does this remind you of anything you've faced before?
- Is there a deeper meaning to this issue that you're reluctant to talk about?
- How does this impact your identity.. how do you see yourself? Or how do you see our relationship?
- How do you want us to resolve this? How hard will it be for us to do that?
- How big of a problem is this for you in the cosmic (overall) scheme of things?
- What are the benefits for us if this issue is reasonably resolved to your satisfaction?
- Is this issue something you would like me to fix without your support or encouragement? Do you want me to take this off your plate?
Save these for last:
43. What else would you like to tell me about this that I haven't already asked? Is this conversation helping move this issue forward? What can I do differently to understand your point of view here? Do you feel understood on this? So what I'm hearing you say is... (summarize using some of the exact words and metaphors they used to speak with you).
Questions can be beautiful!
Employing these questions can gently challenge assumptions, disrupt established reactive structures, interrupt automatic cognitive processes and thought patterns, encourage you to start talking differently, and maybe…even consider behaving differently!
Remember to avoid being defensive. Ask yourself, what can I agree with here?
These are all beautiful questions. I hope these questions help you. Why not try them out? We've got lots more too.
But remember, when you ask a new beautiful question…..talk to your partner as if they were someone you loved.