DEAR AMY: My boyfriend and I have been together for five years. We live together and are both middle-aged. We are basically happy except for some communication problems. One problem surrounds the word "why." If I ask him "why," he gets defensive and wants to know why I am questioning him. Here's an example: I went to lock the front door. From the couch, he said to leave it unlocked. As I left it unlocked and started to walk away, I asked, "Why?" He got very angry and asked me to just do it and asked why I always have to question him. He says I am treating him like a child. My take is that I am just curious: Is someone coming over? Does he need to go somewhere? I just wanted communication. I don't want to offend him, yet the word just jumps out when someone tells you to do something and you are curious as to what's going on. Should I phrase it differently? Or is he being insecure? We can't seem to get past this silly little word. Wondering
DEAR WONDERING: Your reaction sounds reasonable, but the way out might be for you to step into his shoes and acknowledge how he interprets your queries, even if you find his interpretation childish or invalid.
When you are frustrated with the way someone else is communicating, the place to start is to change your own behavior to see if this nudges the other person into another direction.
If you didn't ask, "Why?" immediately, there is a good chance that after a few moments he would supply the explanation you were looking for. Once he speaks, you could say, "Thank you for telling me. I was wondering." During a peaceful moment, discuss this issue and commit to finding other ways to talk.
I like the book "Communication Miracles for Couples: Easy and Effective Tools to Create More Love and Less Conflict" by Jonathan Robinson (2009, Conari Press).