“Why?” and “because” are common words that have been over-used in contexts that end up being argumentative and unpleasant. Even when we use them in non-combative ways, our partner already is developing and strengthening their shield to protect them from a perceived impending attack. Ironically, even though the attack was not coming, the fact that their emotional shield just went up, sends our unconscious nervous system a signal that we need to prepare ourselves for emotional battle rather than intimacy.
“Why does this happen?” you might ironically ask. “Why” is a bad question to ask because it fails to convey curiosity, openness, and wonder. On the emotional level, it sets us up to expect that we need to defend our acceptability.
The idea is that if I don’t arm myself with an adequate “because” to your attacking “why” then you may not accept me as a person. The “Why/Because dilemma” sends a signal that your lover needs to earn acceptability in your eyes. What lacks is a sense of wonder, curiosity, and openness towards your partners’ experience. Your partner hears “You will only accept me if I come up with a good enough logical reason. In order to be cherished in my eyes, You need to be clever enough, and jump through emotional hoops in order to be loved by me, and pretend your needs are more important than mine.”
And “because” is equally a destructive word. “Because” functions in an indirect way in the same way that “why” does. When you say, “I feel disappointed because you were late to our date without telling me,” it is easy to for me on an unconscious level to hear “You suck as a person. You being sad is evidence of my inadequateness and I am responsible for your feelings.”
And when we perceive ourselves under attack, we fall into our natural fighting patterns. So, instead of attending to our partners real feeling of feeling “sad,” in this case, we defend or counterattack.
Often, we do not pause and ask ourselves, “what is going on for me? and what might be going on for my partner underneath their nasty “because”?” Instead, we can get good at keeping the nasty dance going with a “why” question of our own such as, “why are you always so easily sad?” (aka, what’s the matter with you).
At this point, my dear reader might be in distress! “Are we not allowed to use basic words in conversation?” Are the politically correct language police now going to forbid basic everyday language? I agree with you; however, it is disappointing that some words do set us up in different way than other words. Let me offer a couple substitutes. Instead of asking “why”; rather, with a curious tone, open body language, and eye contact, substitute “why” with, “can you tell me more about that?” or “can you tell me what informs your thinking?” This manages to convey curiosity without launching hidden emotional attack.
And instead of using the word “because” use the word, “when”. For example: “I noticed that when you were late, I started to feel sad.” The same emotional information, “sad” was communicated, but in a way that informs our partner of our emotional state and what triggered it. Unlike with the nasty “because”, we avoided launching an accidental unconscious attack against our partner. It creates more room for them to genuinely move towards attending to our feelings since they were not busy building up their emotional shield and preparing a counterattack.
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