How weird is that. A question mark, an explanation point, what are you talking about? Take a moment and think about the last conversation you and your spouse had. When was it? Was it this morning getting the kids ready for school? Was it at dinner last night? Was it while you were lying in bed this morning? Was it in the car yesterday? Now think about what was said and how you said it. Are you a question mark or an explanation point? Years ago I would have been an explanation point. Talking at my spouse, making decisions for him, listening with a judgmental ear. Back then when my spouse was telling me about his day you would find me interrupting him and telling him “how” I would have handled a situation differently. I would have “thrown” it at him in the form of an explanation point! Can you see any of yourself when you read this? An explanation point is always “telling” their spouse how things should be. “Don’t do that, do it this way.” Or “That is not possible, it cannot happen.” Or the ever famous “Over my dead body!”
But a question mark spouse is a spouse that asks questions instead of makes statements or judgments. Question marks are good listeners and they ask questions to better understand their spouse rather than throwing words at their spouse. I realized the other day that all of the tragedy and crisis we have experienced has changed me from an explanation point to a question mark. Now when my spouse tells me about his day I do a better job of asking him questions like “How did that make you feel?” or “Is that what you had hoped would happen?” or “is that overwhelming?” or “Did it feel good to……..? “
When we ask our spouse questions it allows us to go deeper into their thoughts, feelings, and hopes. It shows them that we care about them. When we throw explanation points at our spouse we are communicating that we are not interested in knowing them, but that we are interested in changing them or deciding who they should or should not be. Explanation points tend to be intimidating; question marks tend to be welcoming. Which would you rather interact with? The explanation point or the question mark?
Here are some examples of the explanation point me and the question mark me, maybe these examples will help you see which one you are?
Jim turns the TV on to relax in the evening or on the weekend.
- Explanation Point spouse – We are not watching TV again! We are watching XYZ! Or There will be no TV tonight; I need your help with xyx!
- Question Mark spouse – Who is playing? Do you have a favorite you hope to win?
Jim sits down at dinner and talks about his work day
- Explanation Point spouse – I would not have done it that way! Next time you should do xyz!
- Question Mark spouse – Did that make your day more difficult? Is Susie easier to work with? Did that mess up the rest of your day? Were you still able to feel like you accomplished something?
Jim drives to soccer practice and takes a different way than you would have chosen.
- Explanation Point spouse – This is the wrong way! We are going to be late!
- Question Mark spouse – I usually go the other way, why did you exit here? Is this a better way to go? Or don’t say anything.
If you are an explanation point spouse I would challenge you to work on moving to a question mark. If you do not think you are either a question mark or explanation point, then you are probably a “period spouse”. A period spouse doesn’t ask questions and they do not throw words at their spouse; they are usually quiet and unresponsive. If you see yourself more as a period spouse, I would guess that your spouse often feels left out or unimportant. Being unresponsive and quiet can leave our spouse’s questioning how we feel. Transitioning to a question mark spouse could still be a great thing for your marriage. Maybe give it a try?
I hope you can make this transition with the snap of your finger, but for me it took longer. It was the process of growing in virtue as a Servant Spouse that helped me become a “question mark” spouse. Putting my spouse’s needs in front of my own and learning to serve is the path from explanation point spouse (or period spouse) to question mark spouse. Good Luck!
Suggested Prayer by Melissa B:
Dear Heavenly Father, you know me better than I know myself. Help me to identify the virtues that I am weakest in, especially as it relates to my marriage. Help me to be humble enough to accept that I am not perfect but that in my imperfection I can find your strength. Help me to ask questions about my spouse and the things that are important to him/her to show love and affection instead of throwing words at them or being unresponsive. Help me to resist the temptation to evaluate my spouse and instead, help me focus on my actions and being a Servant Spouse. Only with your help can I be the Servant Spouse that you desire for me to be and I desire your help desperately! In your name, I humbly pray. Amen!
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