Picture this scenario. You’re sitting with your sweetheart watching television, like an ordinary Friday night. Then you hear a question that makes your hair stand on end.
What kind of question am I talking about? Here are some examples:
- “How have you been feeling about our relationship since we moved in together?”
- “Where do you see us in the next five years?”
- “What do you think our next step is?”
Yikes! Even just reading those questions can make could make you tense up. You know this isn’t going to end well…
All of a sudden, you may feel pressure – not to answer honestly, but to answer correctly. Because your partner has probably already thought about the answer to the question, and they are hoping for a similar answer. But since you can’t read your partner’s mind, you run the risk of giving a “wrong” answer and upsetting them.
Beyond this, throwing out an answer that you think is “correct” won’t do you any good. Most of the time, it won’t sound very genuine – and your partner will pick up on that. It could instead send a signal to your partner that you don’t care about the conversation. Or that you don’t want to make the effort to listen to their thoughts. You just want to avoid confrontation.
These types of queries are called “setup questions,” because they set you up for failure by their very nature. You run a high risk of providing either a “wrong” answer or a dishonest answer – perhaps both!
What to Do If You Are Asked a Setup Question
It would be nice if you could just avoid setup questions altogether, but over the course of a relationship, that usually isn’t possible. So what do you do if you have to answer a setup question?
One thing you shouldn’t be afraid to do is ask for more time. These types of questions tend to catch people off guard. So if you’re caught and need some time to think, there is nothing wrong with expressing that to your partner.
An appropriate answer to a setup question may sound like:
- “I might need some time to think about my answer, but it seems like you might have something in mind. What are your thoughts about that?”
- “I don’t want to give you a dishonest answer… and I’m just not sure what I think right now. Could we talk about it this weekend?”
The bottom line is to be honest in all of your responses and follow up with your promises. Asking for more time to think about your response should not be used to get out of a hard conversation.
By telling your partner you need a few days to think about a question, you’re making a promise to really think about your answer. Be prepared to talk within a few days. If your partner is asking you a big question, it’s more than likely that they will be anxious about your response over the next few days. Don’t just blow them off.
Give your partner a specific timeline, too. Suggest moving the conversation to tomorrow, next Saturday, or a week from when the question is asked. This makes your request for time concrete as opposed to asking to talk about it “later.” By giving your partner the date yourself, you control the timeline.
Once you’re ready to answer, don’t delay. Find a good time with your partner and talk to each other. Depending on the original setup question, and the difference between your answers, this may be a tense conversation.
Stay strong. Remind yourself that honest communication is safe communication. Telling your partner what you think they want to hear is not going to benefit either of you in the long run.
If You Tend to Ask Setup Questions
Maybe you’re reading this post and realizing you’re guilty of asking setup questions. Setup questions can look appealing at first. You’re giving your partner the opportunity to share their thoughts, rather than starting a conversation out of the blue with your opinions, which can feel bossy or rude.
Unfortunately, asking these questions puts a lot of pressure on your partner to satisfy you. Because of this, you might not get an honest answer, and they might end up feeling stressed out and frustrated with you.
Luckily, setup questions can be tweaked to give your partner more breathing room and the opportunity to answer honestly. Understand that there can be an awkward transition from just hanging out with your partner to getting into a serious conversation about your relationship. Men in particular need more time transferring from one conversation or mindset to the next.
Rather than asking your partner, “What do you think our next step is?” Ask, “I’ve been thinking lately about the next steps of our relationship. Is this an okay time to talk?”
If your partner has their answer ready, great! You can offer your thoughts first, so it doesn’t seem like you’re backing them into a corner. If your partner needs time to think, that’s okay, too. This will allow them to really consider their answer, rather than blurting out something just to satisfy you and avoid a fight.
Having Trouble with the Conversation? Call a Relationship Counselor
If you are struggling to have these conversations with your partner, or are afraid of what could come from answering a question “incorrectly,” it might be a good idea to bring in a counselor or mediator. Having a non-biased, third party present will ensure a calmer conversation that gives each partner time to voice their opinions.
Relationship counselors are trained to navigate couples through these conversations to find a compromise. Learn more about how a marriage coach can help by getting in contact with our office today.