Are You Listening?

By Douglas Withrow - 06/13/2017


Over a two week period, my wife and three of my children expressed frustration with number of questions I was asking. The expressions included all the non-verbals: eye rolls, sighs, and wagging heads. Finally, after a particularly aggravating evening of late night homework, my youngest erupted, “Stop! Asking! Questions!”

I wish I could say I calmly responded and settled into an emotionally connected, scrapbook memory moment with my son. However, I threw up my hands, executed my own eye-roll, and abdicated parenting to my wife, who had just returned home.

In the aftermath, I defaulted to defensive thoughts—“I can’t even get an answer to a question around here” or “how are you supposed to have a conversation if people don’t want to answer questions” or “See if I try to help anymore.” All valid but not very productive. Later, with feet kicked up on the sofa—and alone, I might add—it dawned on me, every person living with me is letting me know I ask too many questions. Not just one person. Not just two. Every person. How could I ignore that? Believe me, I tried.

So, I checked it out with a friend, who thought it was funnier than I did, but confirmed what I dreaded—I better listen to my family. I had to recognize that I can use questions to keep me safe, protected in a bubble of curiosity. I do not have to share something about myself if I can get you talking. Also, questions keep me in the role of “fixer.” Let me know what to do and I’ll do it. In that role I don’t have to get down in the muck of emotion of not “fixing.”

Now I am working on less questions, less fixing, more sharing, and more feeling. It takes a little work, but conversations are going much better. Next time a spouse, friend, son, or daughter gives you a little feedback, before you snap back with why they are wrong about you, or what makes them hard to live with, or start feeling sorry for yourself, it might be good to entertain the possibility that they might be right. They may be giving you a gift. Are you listening?

By Doug Withrow, MDiv, LMFT, MSC, S-PSB

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