How to Avoid 'Cornering Questions'–BLOG

You ask your partner, “Did you miss me?”

Your partner’s heart skips a beat.  You have just asked one of those sticky ‘yes/no’ questions (I fondly call these ‘cornering questions’ as it places your partner in a corner where he/she is stuck with no ‘right’ answer)! 

You are thinking the answer is pretty obvious or at least the question is pretty easy to answer…either it’s a “Yes, I missed you.” or a “No, I didn’t.”  So why is it taking your partner so long to answer?

The milliseconds feel too long and you can both feel the connection between you change into an awkwardness…the beginning of a possible disconnection. In all fairness to your partner, these ‘cornering questions’ are NOT easy to answer, just by their very nature.

‘Cornering questions’ Often Cause Relationship Conflicts

If you evaluate your conflicts, you will see these questions often sneak in and are part of what contributes to conflicts in our relationships and marriages.

‘Cornering questions’ are different than simple ‘yes/no’ questions

“Will it rain today?”  THAT’s a simple ‘yes/no’ question.  It’s based on opinion or fact and doesn’t have much consequence other than determining clothing choices.

Cornering questions are ‘yes/no’ questions with emotional repercussions.  The person asking may not be intending this, but often, how the question is answered may increase or decrease connection.  By only allowing two choices, one response is more affirming/reassuring (that you are wanted or valued) and the other response is more disappointing/distancing.

Answering a ‘cornering question’ is complicated

Consider Situation A

You:  “Did you miss me?”

Your Partner:  “I know she wants me to say, ‘Yes‘.  It’s not exactly what I was feeling, I thought of her and wanted to see he, but I didn’t ache with longing and ‘miss’ her.  If I say, ‘No‘, she will be hurt and we may start arguing.  I better say “Yes, I did miss you.” 

Your partner may feel a bit trapped into saying something he didn’t feel but he wanted to keep the peace.  Because he felt ‘pushed’ into saying something he didn’t quite feel, he may shut down a bit, resulting in some disconnection.  You liked his response, it felt reassuring, but now you can sense something’s not right and feel a disconnection.

Consider Situation B

You “Did you miss me?”

Your partner:  “I know she wants me to say, ‘Yes‘ but I don’t want to say something that’s not completely true.  Even though I thought of her and wanted to see her, I didn’t feel the ache of ‘missing her’.  It’s important for me to be honest, so here goes: “No, I didn’t miss you.” 

Your partner feels comfortable with his  honesty but sees your hurt response.  You feel rejected and your partner feels stuck; he answered your question honestly and now there is conflict and disconnection between you.

Disadvantages of ‘cornering questions’

Your Partner May Feel ‘Trapped’

Cornering questions often cause your partner to feel ‘trapped’ into giving one of the answers to avoid conflict.  When your partner anticipates conflict or hurt by answering one way, he will understandably try to avoid that and the resulting disconnection. In that sense, he really doesn’t have a choice in how to answer.

They are a Limited Communication Tool

Cornering questions limit the response to two options and reduce the possibility of open, honest communication.  We learn so much more about our partner if, rather than, “Did you like dinner?”, we ask, “What tasted the best tonight?”.  Rather than limiting it to ‘Yes‘ or ‘No‘, that second question opens up all kinds of options and we learn more about our partner.  We may even learn that it wasn’t even the food that tasted the best…maybe it wasn’t dinner at all…but your kiss.  🙂 

Encourages Black and White Thinking

Cornering questions create needless disconnection by the very black/white nature of these questions.  They may be asked in the hopes of obtaining reassurance that you are wanted, valued, etc., but, there is a risk with these questions.  Just as when you toss a coin and hope to get what you predicted, you may also get what you didn’t want to hear and feel disconnected.  The question, “Do you love me?” will either be very reassuring or very disappointing.  If you are wanting to know how your partner feels about you, ‘cornering questions’ are a set-up for possible disconnection versus a question like, “How do you feel about me/us?”  

How do I know if I am asking a ‘cornering question’?

Most of the time, these questions slip out without your intending them at all. It’s understandable that you will be asking your partner questions, but this is a situation where HOW the question is asked can impact connection.

When asking a question, ask yourself if it’s a ‘yes/no’ question. Many times, these questions will start with ‘do…’. If it IS a ‘yes/no’ question, then pause and ask yourself if one answer would feel pleasing and the other answer disappointing. If you notice that you can even IMAGINE an emotional response, depending on the answer, then…you just found a cornering question!

So what’s the solution for better communication?

Try not to ask ‘cornering questions’ and communicate/question differently.

Instead of asking a ‘yes/no’ question, try to open up communication with ‘wh’ questions (what, when how, where, who, why).  Those types of questions open up conversation in a relationship rather than limit it.  They allow your partner to respond in an honest way without the boundaries of ‘yes/no.’

Rather than “Did you miss me?”, you have options, such as “How did you feel about us not being together?” or “What was it like for you when we were apart?”

In all fairness, you may still experience a disconnection when asking questions that are not ‘cornering‘; you may not like the response you receive or the question may overwhelm your partner and you are met with a blank stare.  The communication does allow for more honesty though, and you can then explore the response more.

These ‘cornering questions’ can be a real habit for us, so I challenge you to practice asking ‘open’ rather than ‘cornering’ questions by doing the following activity alone or with your partner. 

Communication Activity: Avoiding ‘Cornering Questions’

Give your partner and yourself about 10 minutes to do this activity.   

Below are 5 ‘cornering questions’.  Read each one out loud and notice how it might feel to be asked a question in that form. 

Taking turns, change each ‘cornering’ question into an ‘open’ question using one of the following words: what, when, where, why, who, how.

I have one example to start you off.

Cornering Question: “Do you agree?”

Open Question: “What do you think?

Your Turn!

Cornering question: “Does my hair look good?”

Open question:

Cornering question: “Did you think I was clear?”

Open question:

Cornering question: “Do you care about this?” (you can substitute something relevant for ‘this’)

Open question:

Cornering question: “Are you happy?”

Open question:

Cornering question: “Do you like it or not?”

Open question:

You will get this; be patient and keep practicing. You will start to realize when people are doing this to you and how this limits, versus opens, your communication. Connecting with your partner is about communicating with your partner, so avoid questioning him into a corner!

Learn Communication Tools for Your Relationship With a Private Couples Retreat or Couples Workshop

You don’t have to feel hopeless in your relationship, wondering how to communicate and stuck in seemingly endless cycles of conflict.

“Hold Me Tight®” Private Couple Retreats and “Hold Me Tight®” Couples Workshops help you learn communication tools so you can resolve conflicts and re-connect. New England Hold Me Tight has skilled therapists and relationship coaches who specialize in helping couples like you who want to save a marriage or fix a relationship.

To start your path towards a healthy relationship, follow these simple steps:

1. Contact Bri McCarroll at New England Hold Me Tight.

2. Meet for a free 50-minute consultation (video or in office).

3. Start to reconnect again.

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