Ever get that questions from your partner? Never ends well, does it. You’re honest answer of “nothing” is never taken at face value. They question your answer and then the whole situation devolves into one of doubt, mistrust, frustration and distraction.
There’s a meme floating around that has a his and her diary entry. One side (in the case of the gender switched image floating most recently) has a “His” diary of doubt, miscommunication and woe where “Her” diary simply reads “my code is broken, can’t figure out why”.
What’s really going on here is summed up pretty succinctly by something SAM posted over on her Facebook:
“I love how instead of asking her “what’s wrong” he makes up this huge relationship disaster thing, and she’s just thinking about work. HE COULD JUST ASK HER. But no. That’s too risky.”
When I’m asked a general, information seeking question like “what’s wrong?” I always try to take a moment, look back on the last few minutes of conversation or interactions with an eye towards how my emotional or mental state may have shown on my expressions and body language. I make an effort to empathize with my partner and see myself through their eyes.
My internal reality isn’t pertinent at that moment, only my presentation of that reality. With that bit of self analysis, I’m able to effectively communicate “what’s wrong” because I the know “what’s wrong”. Usually “what’s wrong” is a miscommunication or crossed signal between us.
“What’s wrong?” can be answered by saying, honestly and with confidence “I’m worried about X” or “Just lost in thought; something is farked up with code at work and I’m distracted by it” or “Just thinking about X, Y, Z and Thee”.
When someone asks you “What’s Wrong”, the answer is never, ever, “nothing”. At the very least, “What’s wrong” is a misread signal between you. It’s rarely an accusation, though too many people take “What’s wrong?” as an accusation of “What’s wrong? You’re making me feel bad/nervous/left out” or “You’re not reading my mis-delivered signals and are making me feel ignored” or some such.
Correcting those missed signals requires an almost instinctual root cause analysis on you OWN behavior and it’s presentation to you partner.
Now the other side of that is that when you ask someone ‘What’s wrong”, trust them to tell you the truth and if they say “nothing” then believe them. You can usually trust them to mean “Nothing is wrong with you and me and us.”
I had a pretty good grasp of interpersonal communications for most of my teen and adult life. I am always examining and re-examining my interactions with people, especially those that did not turn out the way I wanted them too.
SAM has helped put a fantastic amount of polish on them in the almost 7 years she’s lived with me. We both had enough hidden emotional land mines to blanket a demilitarized zone. After the first couple, we both started forcing ourselves to take a step back and *asking* when the reaction we got wasn’t what was expected. The scariest part the first few times was being completely, brutally honest with ourselves AND each other. It really doesn’t take more than a few times for the world to NOT end when you’re open and vulnerable with your partner before that becomes *easier* than the whole “ugh grunt me man me no feel emotion!”.
So the next time you feel the need to ask your partner “What’s Wrong?”, accept the answer of “Nothing” and follow up with something more empathetic and understanding. Saying something like “Ok, but you seem distracted and distant. Anything I can do to distract you from your distractions?”
Make your partner feel safe to open up to you. If you accuse them of lying to you, you’ll never build any kind of trust. They’ll pull further away at best and, usually, start truly lying to you to prevent the entire spiral of accusations and acrimony that almost always results from that kind of interaction.
So how do you, dear readers, answer that question? What questions drive you batty? What answers make you grind your teeth? How do you work through them to a mutually beneficial, honest, and healthy interaction?