Stuck in a Relationship?

Asking 'Why' Just Keeps You Stuck - What to Ask Yourself Instead

By Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD

When you’re dealing with emotional struggles, your first instinct might be to ask yourself “why” questions – but those will usually get you nowhere. They only give you “because…” answers that generally don’t help. Instead, they tend to send you in circles.

To clarify, consider Stephanie. Her stormy, on-again-off-again relationship with Brad once again blew up. She knew she should move on, but she couldn’t let go of him. So, she asked herself, Why can’t I move on from him? Because I still love him. Why do I still love him? Because he’s everything to me. Why is he everything to me? Because he’s a great guy and I love him…

Too frequently, these questions keep you stuck, not providing a way forward. So, instead, try asking “what” and “how” questions. You are more likely to find answers that will help you really understand your struggle and guide you toward helpful solutions.

Ask what you are thinking and feeling. The idea is to encourage yourself to gain a deeper, richer understanding of yourself. Think about what you are experiencing in the moment and what you want to experience in the future.

Stephanie began with questioning her emotions. What am I feeling? Heartbroken. What else am I feeling? I feel lonely, sad, and angry. What am I thinking? I know Brad cannot commit. I need to stop looking for him to do that. What do I want to feel and think instead? I want to feel happy, connected, and in love. I also want to accept Brad’s limitations, as much as I love him, so that I can move on and find someone else.

Ask how you can get what you want. After you get clear on what your struggles are, it’s time to consider what needs to happen for you to move forward.

Stephanie took a first step toward this in acknowledging Brad’s limitations. She then asked herself, How can I get over him? I can remind myself how often he upset me. I can fill my time with friends who support me and are happy to remind me of how he treated me poorly whenever we got really close. And I can dive back into painting, which I love.

If you stay with “what” questions long enough to understand your struggles, you will often have enough information to figure out what you need to do next. And the “how” questions will help you to develop that plan. If you still feel stuck, try turning to supportive others, who may have enough perspective to help you figure out a solution. This approach isn’t magic, but following it can help you to get unstuck and move on.