I was trained to avoid the why question. Cautioned against the implications of clients feeling that they need to defend themselves – namely defensiveness, anger and agitation – I stayed clear from this w-word in my novice years as a therapist.
And yet in practice, now several years later, what I’m discovering more and more is that this potent question (when skillfully used) can deliver vulnerability, authenticity and connection.
How has this shift happened?
I’ve become increasingly interested in Simon Sinek’s work on the centrality of why. A global thought-leader, author and marketing guru, Sinek suggests that businesses that focus on their “why,” become clearer about their motivation and purpose. He works with organisations to crystallise their why as a way of informing their strategic operations.
I think the same is true for relationships.
The benefits of asking “why” in your relationship
Many couples and individuals that I work with operate from their what and how domains. They know what they do or don’t want. They are clear about what they want their partner to do or not do. And yes, you guessed it, they have exact details of how their lives ought to be. Deviations from these pre-ordained mappings often cause upset, anger and disappointment. And whilst these details are compelling and certainly part of ‘the work,’ as us therapists say, I’m starting to think that they’re not enough in isolation.
How Alex and Peter experienced a shift in their relationship by asking “why”
With tempers raging, Alex and Peter entered my therapy room and argued for 35 minutes over what had and hadn’t occurred during their 18-month relationship and how each of them had disrespected the other and was therefore to blame for their relationship difficulties. It was seductive to stay with these juicy details of this emotional tennis game. I learned all about their laundry habits, grocery shopping routines, social politics, dietary requirements and more. But this wasn’t my role.
The shift arrived when I introduced some whys. Why is it important for you, Peter, that Alex help make the bed in the morning? Why do you worry, Alex, that Peter spends every night watching TV at home?
Slowly, the conversation changed. A three-lettered word now prompted each person to think in a new way. Rather than lash out, they were invited to look within. Rather than attack, they were encouraged to affirm.
A why question takes you out of the noise and straight to the core of an issue. Here, you grapple with questions of meaning, purpose, intention, aspiration and vision. Here, you come closer to the heart and soul of your human endeavours and longings.
Peter revealed his tightly held, never-before-shared values about relationships and love. Alex voiced the reasons that he fell in love with Peter and what he hoped they’d create in partnership together. The pace of the session slowed down, they cried, laughed and embraced one another. A sacred vulnerability, created through their authenticity had allowed for new connection to emerge.
When you’re are able to zoom out from the operational demands of your life (of which there are undeniably many), you’re able to revisit your why.
And what I’m finding is that the more you can articulate and voice your why, the greater your chances of leading purpose-filled relationships and lives, fuelled by connection and emotional intimacy.
About Brandon Srot
Brandon is a therapist who is passionate about helping couples find meaning, fulfilment, and connection in the fullness of their relationship. With a skilled and caring therapist and commitment and courage on your part, your life can change and move towards more happiness and contentment. Click here to read more and to book an appointment with Brandon.