photo by Katie Tegtmeyer
A Nagging Question
It’s difficult to know someone completely and it’s impossible to read minds, at least for most of us. So what do we do when we have questions that are important to growing a relationship, but scary to ask? Do we ask the source? Unfortunately, many of us seek out the answer from our safety zone of confidants or from the web or worse yet, we simply make assumptions. And we all know how effective these methods are. We don’t get the right answer and we’re left still feeling the anxiety of not knowing the answers.
A Better Way
If you want to grow and strengthen your relationship, the thing to do is ask your burning questions directly of that person. How do you do this when you have fears? How do you do this and not damage the relationship? The answer is to ask from a place of compassion and not judgment. The benefits of doing this will be a relief of anxiety, and clarity about how to move forward with your relationship.
Tips to Asking Scary Questions.
1. Compassion. Let the person know that you care about them very much and that your goal is to grow and strengthen the relationship. Be sincere and kind. Make sure that you are feeling that compassion in your heart. If what you are really feeling is judgment, that will come across so be aware of that.
2. Humility. Consider starting with showing your vulnerabilities. (see example below) You may share your fears about how you would feel if the relationship doesn’t continue to grow. Put things in terms of “I feel….” and refrain from “You” statements such as “You make me feel….”
3. Be Direct. Specific questions call for specific answers. Vague questions will get you vague answers. If you want to start out with a softer, more vague question, you’ll want to be sure to use follow up questions that are more specific until you get the answers that you are looking for.
4. Tell Me More. Ask follow up questions, but try using questions like “Tell me more” and “when you say X, what does that mean to you?” If you get an answer and you “think” you know what they mean, ask another question to be sure.
5. Confirm. When you think you have the answer, confirm your understanding. “So what you’re saying is that X, Y, and Z. Is that right?” This gives the other person the benefit of knowing that you were really listening to them and it also gives that person the opportunity to clarify anything that you misunderstood.
6. Thanks. Whether the answer is what you wanted to hear or not, express gratitude to the person for taking the time to answer your questions. Again, be sure to thank that person from a sincere feeling of compassion. Even if the answer means the end of your relationship, at least you have been set free by it, free to move onto relationships that are better for you.
7. Decide. Once you have your answer, you’ll either feel relief or a letdown. If you are relieved, you can now drink in the bliss that comes from asking tough questions that make that relationship stronger. If you are left feeling anxiety or let down, you have some thinking to do. Is the answer something you can live with? Is it something you and the other person can work on together? Or is it something that is unacceptable to you? If that is the case, then you are faced with the decision of moving on from that relationship. If that is the case, realize that you are better off than yesterday when your body and mind were consumed with worry about it. Today, having clarified the situation, you can now move your life forward in a direction that is better suited for you. It’s not always easy to see today, but down the line you will look back and see it as a blessing that opened up doors of possibility for you.
Let’s say you’ve been in a serious relationship for a year and you’re moving towards marriage. You love this person very much, but you are concerned about how they handle their finances. You’ve spent the last few years digging out of debt, and you want to ensure that within the marriage that you’ll be able to be a strong team financially. Your conversation might start something like this:
“Sally, I’m so happy that I met you. This has been the best year, and I’m looking forward to spending my life with you. At the same time, I want to make sure that we start our marriage out on a strong footing so that we can avoid as much conflict as possible. So I was hoping we could discuss some of the important aspects of marriage. I’d love for us to share with each other where we stand on certain things. One of those things is finances and how we would partner in that regard. You know that in my past I had a lot of debt that I worked hard to eliminate and I want to make sure that we can agree on how we’ll handle things going forward. It’s not always easy for me, but here is where I stand financially. XYZ. I was hoping that you would share with me where you stand right now. And maybe we could come up with a plan for how we would work together if we get married. How does that sound to you?”
Sometimes, if questions are really uncomfortable, such as finances, you might even want to involve a neutral third party expert to guide you both through more complex situations.
What If You Do Get “Punished” for Asking Questions
If you ask questions with all the above tips in mind, and you get a strong negative reaction, you need to listen to your intuition. It may be that your question touched a nerve and that person needs time to come around before being able to talk about the subject. Or it may be that their reaction provides the clear indication that it is time to move on from this relationship because of chronic toxicity. If it’s a relationship with a family member that you don’t want to cut off from, but that person is hurtful towards you and your question was aimed at reducing that hurt, you may need to establish boundaries with that person to keep from being treated poorly, but which also allow you to maintain some relationship with that person. Approach it from a place of both compassion for the other person and strength for taking care of your needs, and then listen to what your intuition tells you.
What’s the scariest question you were glad you asked? All comments big and small are very welcomed!
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