You're making me justify all the things
September 25, 2014 3:14 PM   Subscribe

My SO has a tendency to ask a lot of mundane questions that make me feel defensive. Please help be less bothered by this.

My SO (mid-20s) has a conversational quirk that involves asking me a lot of questions about why I'm doing or did something inconsequential.

Here's an example. This morning, I asked him to get a large bag of bags from a shelf that he was close to. He asked why, and I said that I wanted one of the smaller bags in it for lunch. He asked me why I couldn't just use one of the other bags we have, and I said that I specifically wanted one of the smallest ones we have. He found another few bags and asked me if they were small enough, and I was like no, I'm looking for a specific bag.

At that point I got annoyed; why couldn't he just get the bags? Who cares? His line of questioning not only made it seem like he was trying to get out of doing a simple favour, but also put me on the defensive for a really simple, non-controversial choice. Moreover it just seemed like an unnecessary line of questioning.

This sort of thing happens a fair bit. Either they're "Why?" questions about things most people wouldn't care to ask about (i.e. why I chose to cross the street at a certain spot...seriously) or they're questions that are reasonable enough but the blunt "why" phrasing bugs me (i.e. why I didn't take leftovers for lunch). When other people ask me "why" questions, they're not about topics this mundane and I don't have this sort of emotional reaction to them.

He also doesn't intend these as rhetorical questions, either. He asks for specific responses to these questions: "I dunno" isn't an acceptable response for him. Even answers to why I forgot to do something require a detailed response. This happens so often that I've started to wonder if I'm some weirdo whose actions he can't make sense of through situational context.

I'm finding it difficult to not get defensive when he constantly questions me about mundane details this way. He doesn't seem to understand that a constant stream of "why" questions can make a person feel defensive - he'd never encountered that possibility until I mentioned it. It's placing a real strain on our relationship because I feel like I'm always waiting for him to ask a question I'm going to find irksome, and he's walking on eggshells because he doesn't have a good sense of how to talk to me without inadvertently putting me on the defensive.

Other details: we've been together for 3 years, living together for one. This wasn't something he did to excess before we lived together, but in the past year it's become a major feature of his conversational style. He's pretty introverted, but he has close friendships and other people generally like him.

(1) Is what he's doing unusual? His relationships with other people don't seem to be really affected by this. Apparently I'm the only person in his life who's vocally irked by it.
(2) How can I help him communicate with me more richly?
(3) How can I learn to get less annoyed by his conversational style?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (77 answers total) 36 users marked this as a favorite
I would find it incredibly annoying, and have found it so in the past when people have treated me that way.

Here's my suggestion:

could you pass me the bag of bags?
Could you pass me the bag of bags please?
But why?
I'd like you to pass me the bag of bags.
I want the bag of bags, please.
Why do you want it?
Could you pass me the bag of bags please?

That's my version of the five whys, lol. Rather than get into a discussion in which you have to prove it's annoying, he will either have to pass the bag of bags or station a guard in front of the bag of bags with instructions not to let you pass until you have justified your motives to all logical and rhetorical satisfaction.

He didn't have to pass the bag of bags just because you asked for it, did he? So why should you have to give him an explanation just because he asked for one? You want a bag, not a game of twenty questions.
posted by tel3path at 3:24 PM on September 25, 2014 [34 favorites]

That would drive me absolutely insane. Have you told him how much it bugs you? (And, ha, why it bugs you?) I would be very tempted to respond to his questioning why I wanted him to, say, pass me something from a shelf with "Because I asked you to. Will you pass it to me, or shall I get it myself?" "Why did you cross the street there?" "Because I wanted to. ::insert subject change::" "Why didn't you take leftovers for lunch?" "Because I chose not to. ::change subject::"
posted by sarcasticah at 3:25 PM on September 25, 2014 [36 favorites]

Did he misinterpret the "ask people questions, people like to talk" advice? Did he get praised a lot for his curiosity as a child and didn't understand, as you say, context?

I haven't met anyone who does this in particular but do have a friend who, when bowling, feels the need to explain every shot. I found that annoying (for an hour); I would find your partner's behavior incredibly childish and annoying.
posted by batter_my_heart at 3:26 PM on September 25, 2014 [8 favorites]

Sounds like a prime candidate for ding training.

Just a quick, unemotional "ding" to let him know he's doing that thing again, without it becoming a huge emotional conversation.
posted by BrashTech at 3:28 PM on September 25, 2014 [4 favorites]

I can see why this would be annoying. Really, I think it's something he should be able to stop doing, and that he should understand why it feels like an accusation or having your judgement questioned.

I suggest you tell him, "I'm really not interested in getting into a discussion about this" the next time he asks you, possibly redirecting with, "Can you get me the bag I'm looking for or should I get it for myself?"

You don't have to have a conversation you don't want to have with him. You can ask him why he needs to know, too, and maybe he'll tell you something that puts his behavior in a different light. I kind of doubt it though because this is the kind of thing you probably thought of already.

If you talk and it turns out that this is a pattern that doesn't serve to make you closer as a couple, that should be enough for him to stop.
posted by alphanerd at 3:35 PM on September 25, 2014 [7 favorites]

This would drive me batty as well. It must be especially aggravating because the questioning seems aimed at pointing out that you're doing it wrong or that something in your decision making is suspect.

Have you asked him why he's suddenly developed this conversational tic? It sounds like he hasn't always been doing this. It's also strange that he's not registering that his constant questions are aggravating you in a stepwise fashion. This isn't really effective communication on his part. He's not asking you about your thoughts, feelings, experiences, or opinions. He seems to be just asking "why?" in order to question your choices and judgement.
posted by quince at 3:38 PM on September 25, 2014 [4 favorites]

When my SO does this, I just give him The Eyebrow and say in an exasperated but loving voice, "Humor me." (He's really not that bad, but he does have very specific ways of doing things in the kitchen, which is his domain, and he gets kind of like this when I am helping.)

I think sometimes people are nonplussed that other people are so different from themselves, that they can't help but be curious, or they want to "help" by telling you how it works best for them. He could phrase himself more diplomatically if he's really curious, by saying something like "I would have done that differently, but I'm curious about how your thought process works there." But if it is something trivial that really doesn't make a difference, you want to see that he trusts you to make your own decisions and that he's really OK with the fact that you do it differently than he would have. You can say something to the effect of "I know it might not make a lot of sense to you, but I want this thing/want to do this thing this way, and I want you to trust that I can make my own decisions."
posted by matildaben at 3:43 PM on September 25, 2014 [14 favorites]

I have done this during times when I've been super stressed out and anxious, for me though it was usually in relation to things I was stressed out about (like money, in which case I'd be asking why you couldn't eat the leftovers, why you had to buy three energy drinks at the gas station this morning, etc etc) and it was about trying to regain control of something stressful that I didn't feel the other person was as aware of/concerned about. In other (much rarer) circumstances it's simply an expression of curiosity over the person taking (what seems to be) the less efficient or rational route in doing something, and I want to understand what that motive or thought process could be. This, however, is pretty immature and annoying I'm aware, and I've mostly grown out of it with age (though the urge is sometimes still there).
posted by celtalitha at 3:45 PM on September 25, 2014 [5 favorites]

I am married to this as well. I think for my husband he's spacey and it's easier for his brain to ask "why" (to stall) to actually doing *the thing* (no matter how simple or benign the thing is). I mostly broke him of this habit by seriously losing my shit when he did it. Probably not the way I was supposed to handle it but it mostly worked. Just thinking about it is making me twitchy. Goodluck.
posted by 58 at 3:47 PM on September 25, 2014 [24 favorites]

Seconding BrashTech's suggestion of ding training. If he's already walking on eggshells there's no need to get into it about the question, just alert him to what he's doing and move on.

As for the why, I do this sometimes and it's mostly curiosity. Like, I realize it doesn't matter and it's not like I really care why you need the bags. But the way my brain is wired, if it's a Thing that is Happening in my general vicinity, I start to wonder about it. This combined with a feeling of wonder that anybody would do things differently than I would. Like, intellectually I understand that different people do things differently, but I still have this reaction sometimes. If your boyfriend is similar you could turn the whole thing into a game by sort of slyly/flirtatiously refusing to answer and pretending you have some sort of secret knowledge that he desperately wants. "Nope, now you'll have to wonder forever why it is I need this particular bag bwahahaha"
posted by matildatakesovertheworld at 3:48 PM on September 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

It's placing a real strain on our relationship because I feel like I'm always waiting for him to ask a question I'm going to find irksome, and he's walking on eggshells because he doesn't have a good sense of how to talk to me without inadvertently putting me on the defensive.

How about a truce: He is allowed to ask whatever he likes without fear of bothering you, because you are allowed to brush aside annoying questions without fear of that bothering him.

Each agree to give the other a pass. He's allowed to ask - without repercussion. You're allowed to not answer, without repercussion.
posted by anonymisc at 3:48 PM on September 25, 2014 [32 favorites]

He also doesn't intend these as rhetorical questions, either. He asks for specific responses to these questions: "I dunno" isn't an acceptable response for him. Even answers to why I forgot to do something require a detailed response. This happens so often that I've started to wonder if I'm some weirdo whose actions he can't make sense of through situational context.

You know, I'm seeing people characterize this as childish and annoying behavior, but it's also controlling and disrespectful. You have my permission to put on your bitch pants and cut off this kind of interrogation with "Stop making me justify myself to you, it's unnecessary and demeaning" and then just change the subject. Steamroll your way through it if he continues to ask "why" or try to get you sucked into yet another conversation where you have to account for your choices. "I've already told you, I'm not going to get into a 'why' conversation with you. I'm not a toddler and neither are you." And if he doesn't accept that, walk out. Just refuse to engage with him when he's behaving this way. It's not OK for an adult to be treating his grown partner like this.
posted by moonlight on vermont at 3:50 PM on September 25, 2014 [148 favorites]

Just FYI on "ding training" : as an adult human with a brain and stuff, if someone took it upon themselves to treat me like a somewhat cretinous dog, my irritation would know no bounds. I would find it especially disrespectful in a relationship. Whatever you choose to do, think twice about ding training.
posted by smoke at 3:52 PM on September 25, 2014 [122 favorites]

Well, I kind of do this too, but I don't know if we are both doing it for the same reasons. Assuming we are, then I can tell you that regarding this:
(2) How can I help him communicate with me more richly?
(3) How can I learn to get less annoyed by his conversational style?

For 2, I am trying to communicate with you richly. I genuinely want to know about why you want the bags. I genuinely want to know why you didn't take left-overs for lunch, or whatever. I'm not couching a criticism inside a question. I'm really just curious because I love you so much I want to be all up inside your mind grapes.

Perhaps understanding that the problem itself is my attempt at (2) will help you deal with (3).

Now if my hubby said "Oh my god this super-duper bothers me", I wouldn't really know what to do with that. If he said "Can you do ___ instead?" that would give me something to work with and something to try. Like "Can you shut up when I give you a signal that I'm done answering questions?" I could deal with that.

But I think not assuming that every question is a hidden criticism is a big part of not being bothered by it. As long as you can verify with him that's the case.
posted by bleep at 3:52 PM on September 25, 2014 [10 favorites]

That sounds insanely annoying. Are you sure he doesn't know it's annoying? I bet he does, and thinks it's funny or cute to annoy you, like pinging your bra-strap. Asking why non-stop is pretty much a cliche of annoyingness isn't it? You need to let him know it isn't cute. I would snap "just pass me the damn bags" as soon as he started up with the whying.

If he really doesn't get why you could either direct him to one of the many "how do I stop my three year old from saying why?" threads here, or try doing it back to him. Or just tell him "because I said so", which seems to have worked for generations of tetchy mothers.

To be honest I don't want to be in a relationship where I play the tetchy mother and he's the whiny annoying brat. If he didn't cut it out that would sail close to deal breaker for me. YMMV.
posted by tinkletown at 3:53 PM on September 25, 2014 [4 favorites]

Ugh. I lived with that guy once. For six months. By the end of that time, I was flinching from the very sound of his voice and doing everything in my power not to set him off. Not to violence -- he wasn't a violent guy -- but to set off his innate need to convince me do things the right way. HIS way.

He wasn't mean about it. He was very good-natured, in fact. "Really? That's how you're going to do that? That's so weird! I never heard of anybody doing it that way! That's certainly not the Myfamilynamerson way! Hahaha, so bizarre!"

I went home for a visit after living with him for a while, and while I was having dinner with my mom one night I knocked over a glass of water. I immediately wigged out and jumped up to clean it up and get everything exactly right again. Because hahaha, I was so clumsy, that's so cute, couldn't even eat a meal without flailing around and knocking stuff over, wasn't I HILARIOUS? My mom said, "Good lord, what did that boy do to you?" and at that point I knew that relationship was over. He had me walking on eggshells so bad she thought he was hitting me.

Just be aware that this is a control tactic. It may never lead to anything worse - it never did for me - but then again, it might. But even if all it does is warp your sense of how you interact with the world (I've started to wonder if I'm some weirdo whose actions he can't make sense of through situational context) -- that's plenty bad enough, right?

I'd suggest just laying it out for him. It's upsetting you and it needs to stop. And if it doesn't stop, you walk.
posted by kythuen at 3:54 PM on September 25, 2014 [160 favorites]

Perhaps the two of you could agree to let him ask "Why?" while he's doing the thing you asked him to do:

"Could you hand me the bag of bags?" you ask.
"Okay. Why do you need it?" he says as he reaches up to the shelf.
"I want one of the smaller bags in it for lunch," you say as he hands you the bag.
"Why don't you use one of these other bags?" he says as you rummage around in the bag.
"I specifically want-- ah, here it is. I was looking for this one," you say.

And scene. If he continues to push past that, then is when you are totally, one hundred percent justified in saying, "Whoa, dude, seriously? We're past this. I wanted a thing, I got a thing, I'm done."
posted by Etrigan at 3:54 PM on September 25, 2014 [10 favorites]

I HATE being asked "why".. used to put me on the defensive too in the way you have described, until I figured out that chucking a big dramatic "who CARESuhhh" usually does the trick. YMMV.
posted by wats at 3:55 PM on September 25, 2014 [7 favorites]

You might find this old question illuminating. It was the first thing I thought of when I read your question. Here's an excellent comment from that post.

I agree that this is controlling and overbearing. Being constantly questioned like that has an underlying message to you of "I have a better way, why are you doing it wrong, why aren't you doing it my way??"

And JFC with the fucking Ding Training. Just no, never. Please.
posted by peep at 4:00 PM on September 25, 2014 [10 favorites]


"Why not?"

Just FYI on "ding training"

I agree with you completely, smoke, and peep, but some seem to find this 'solution' effective.

posted by Rash at 4:02 PM on September 25, 2014 [4 favorites]

Is what he's doing unusual?

Among certain precocious 7-year-olds, no. But most of them grow out of it.
posted by Rash at 4:07 PM on September 25, 2014 [3 favorites]

*sigh* Some people find it hard to relate to others that genuinely function a complete 180 degree kind of way. Ok, it depends on the way he's asking. If it's in a snotty high voiced type way like he's being childish and annoying, then yeah I get that. But if it's in a genuinely inquisitive way, maybe realize he finds you fascinating and living with someone is completely different than dating. He gets to see a whole 'nother side of you and it's vice versa. You can choose to love your SO in *spite* of his annoying mannerisms and conversational ticks, because eventually the only choice you have is to hate 'em or love 'em. Sometimes no amount of complaining is going to make it change.

However, if you gently remind him when he goes on his why tirades that it's bugging you and just because, maybe he'll just accept that sometimes. Personally, it's kind of an obsessive compulsive thing where I just have to know why you would do something a certain way especially because I never did or have seen anyone else do it that way and I *might* know a better way to do it. That doesn't make it right or any less annoying and I get that it irks people, so sometimes a gentle reminder that he's doing it will go a long way. He probably doesn't realize he's doing it and uses it as a way of making conversation or trying to connect with you in a way? It really all depends on how he does it ya know?
posted by lunastellasol at 4:09 PM on September 25, 2014 [1 favorite]


I am laughing all the laughs right now! I thought my wonderful husband was the only one who does this!!

He's a smart man, but when he does this it (a) makes him sound stupid, and (b) makes me want to stab him with a blunt non-hurtful object, but (c) stabbing someone with anything is by design hurtful, so I don't.

When we are getting along it is funny and charming, we laugh about what a dumbass he can be when he starts down that road. I try to make sure we're getting along for harmony's sake ;))

In my husband's case, he's just making conversation. He speaks four languages and English is the third one he learned.

But yeah. This is annoying on a relationship ending level. I mean, if I want mindless chatter, I'll talk to our toddler!


I'm going to suggest you gently discuss this with your SO.

I think it is OK for you to ask him to "upgrade" his interactions with you. He can think twice before he speaks. It's OK to want pleasant adult exchanges with your SO.
posted by jbenben at 4:11 PM on September 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

I think you're right to be annoyed by this. But I'm not clear on if you've specifically asked him to stop doing this. If you have asked him to stop and he is still doing it, that to me is a clear indication of disrespect and I would get mighty pissed. If it were me, I would stop responding to the "why" questions entirely.
posted by Librarypt at 4:13 PM on September 25, 2014 [4 favorites]

I'd just like to pipe in to go against what the majority of the posters are saying above.
I have a friend who does this, and he's a very nice kind helpful man.
But, if I ask him for a contact (we work in the same field) he'll ask me why do I need it, what dates does it relate to, what exactly my situation is - when I've merely asked him for an email address. Sometimes it can take 5 to 10 minutes just to get the freaking contact (which I would pass onto him no questions asked immediately).

It's very hard not to bristle and to feel like he's criticising my approach or trying to withold information. But after years and years of these interactions with me tearing my hair out, I've come to realise he GENUINELY wants to help but wants to have all the facts in hand before he can help me.

What I'm trying to say here is - if your partner in general is a very detailed orientated person then he may be trying to help but needs to amass ALL the info before he can give you what you want. You might just have to take a deep breath and suck it up. That's definitely what I've ended up doing. And since I've learned to relax and love the bomb our communications are way better.
posted by stevedawg at 4:24 PM on September 25, 2014 [6 favorites]

Answer with the real reason, or with a final because I said so. Your smaller bag answers seem evasive to me, so if he actually wants to know why, you are probably annoying him too.

If you don't have a reason say so, if you don't like when he suggests an alternative and you reject it, and he asks why, an actual reason would help him make sense of why you don't like his suggestion.
posted by TheAdamist at 4:27 PM on September 25, 2014

I have never done ding training but I think it has a place in otherwise respectful relationships, where one person REALLY wants to quit doing something but is having a hard time stopping themselves before it happens and is 100% on board. So in this case, I could see it working. Just a thought.
posted by stoneandstar at 4:28 PM on September 25, 2014 [5 favorites]

Wow, I didn't expect this much hate for the "why" questions.

I ask a lot of "why" questions. I do it because I want to learn. It's a very strong impulse -- if I see you doing something differently from how I would have done it, I want to know why, because maybe your way is better. Maybe taking leftovers for lunch is a bad idea because ...? Maybe crossing the street from this other location is better because ...? Maybe I should start using a different type of bag, because ...?

Occasionally (once every year or so), someone gets really defensive, and curses at me in rage. It is scary and usually unexpected. I learn to stop asking why questions around that person (and usually just withdraw from them in general), but it doesn't stop me from asking questions to others.

There are some people who actually enjoy answering "why" questions. It is such a pleasure to talk with those people. It's heaven. I just ask a series of increasingly mundane "why" questions, and I don't have to censor myself, and it feels amazing.

Around most people, I censor myself after one or two "why" questions. I actually have many more that I wish I could ask, but I stop myself.

In your story, it sounds like your boyfriend is actually implying that he could do things better than you can, rather than trying to learn from you. Is that the case? Is he trying to "teach" you to use a different bag, because his bag strategy is better?

It would be pretty hard for someone to train me to stop asking "why" questions, using ding training or otherwise. It'd be like me training you to do deep-breathing all the time, 24-7.

If he's being patronizing and asking "why" as a teaching mechanism, that's really annoying. But if he's doing the same thing I am and just trying to learn, then can you reframe how you see it? Because I can tell you that I would be incredibly admiring and loving and doting and delighted to be in a relationship with one of the rare people who are happy to answer "why" questions.
posted by vienna at 4:29 PM on September 25, 2014 [20 favorites]

This reminds me a lot of how some bosses are with underlings. In my job I often take care of things for my boss so well that she has no idea how many times I’ve already gone over the details, how many calls I’ve made, how much research I’ve done until she randomly gets a call about it and then comes and asks me to clarify some detail about what I’ve been working on over the course of weeks. The difference between my boss and your boyfriend is that my boss, over time, has learned to trust my judgment, and she is committed to acting like we are a team. So she will take the fall for me, or she will give me the benefit of the doubt, if something didn’t get done. And she will put in a good word for me and say she knows I am working on something even if she doesn’t know what exactly has been done and hasn’t. That’s what makes her a good boss. A bad boss interrogates you and second guesses everything you do and puts blame on you in front of clients, etc. So, forgive me for reading into this, but it seems condescending to me. A one-down position thing.

I feel like in the bag scenario, boyfriend should have acted first and asked questions later. Maybe you can explain this to him? Say, “Boyfriend, I would be so much happier and less tired if when I asked for something you would do it first and then question me about it later.” I could see that really making a difference. He is kind of holding doing you the favor hostage until you justify it. If he truly doesn’t understand, he should still just do it first (IE, reach for the bag) and THEN ask you why you wanted it. This is what my boyfriend would do. I feel like that’s much kinder and less stressful.

One approach is just to not engage and answer with a non-answer. Pick some standard phrase. Maybe even, “Why?” IE:

Boyfriend: Why do you need it?
You: Why?
Boyfriend: I’m just curious.
You: Why?
Boyfriend: Why did you cross the street there?
You: Why?

Or your phrase could just be “Because.” I realize this may be seen as kind of obnoxious but I think in this situation boyfriend is already being obnoxious and acting in bad faith so returning the medicine is not such a great sin in the grand scheme of things.
posted by quincunx at 4:30 PM on September 25, 2014 [4 favorites]

I think the lowest-energy solution here is the best. I'd come up with some sort of non-answer that isn't fighty, then repeat it every time. One idea: "I have my reasons." You could mix up the non-answers if that was necessary to keep the mood light, but I think saying the same thing every time will speed his awareness that he's doing this.

Other non-answers: "that's just the way things went / are going to go," "that's just the way I did / feel like doing things," "it struck / strikes me as a good thing to do," "I think/thought I'd enjoy it."

I'd also keep "why do you want to know?" in my bag of tricks. When you start feeling defensive, you can either snap as described above, or just turn the conversation to him. We're going to make chit-chat about this topic now? Okay then, where does he like crossing the street? How does he pack his leftovers? Why does he just take the bag closest to the top?
posted by salvia at 4:31 PM on September 25, 2014 [3 favorites]

I would be more inclined to accept that it's just the way he communicates if it hadn't ramped up in the past year. And yeah, sometimes when my husband asks me to do something I'll respond with a "Why?" if I think what he's doing is going to affect something I'm doing, but if he were to quiz me about why I crossed a street at a certain point or why I asked him to pass me a tissue or something I would lose my mind.

(I also have a controlling/ abusive ex who used to quiz me about every little thing I did -- if I got up from the couch to go to the bathroom, he'd want to know where I was going, and why. So maybe I'm a little touchier about it, but it can really grind a person down to have every. Single. Thing. they do questioned.)
posted by sarcasticah at 4:32 PM on September 25, 2014 [6 favorites]

I like the idea of letting him ask his why questions as long as he's doing what you asked him to do at the same time. Like maybe you can answer to him "if you [do the thing] I will show you why" and he'll do it and it will be less annoying to you?

I have to admit, I'm pretty sure I barrage my own husband with why questions. It's kind of an aspergers-y thing.
posted by joan_holloway at 4:33 PM on September 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

My partner does that too, and so do I.
In my case, it's part genuine curiosity, but also partly a need to know exactly why I'm following orders. Something about requests phrased commandingly triggers a resistance reflex, I know it's bratty but it's barely controllable. But also sometimes I'm just looking for an opportunity to be a know-it-all. People do things because many reasons.
So anyway, I try to remember all that when I lose patience with him over the incessant whys. Worst case, I find that "Does it really matter?" defuses it nicely enough.
posted by Freyja at 4:34 PM on September 25, 2014

(1) Yes, it's very unusual, because most of the people who did this have been smothered in their sleep long before they reach the mid-20's.

(2) Brain transplant?

(3) Become Buddha.

Seriously, this sounds unbelievably annoying and I doubt it is going to change. It seems like some sort of baked-in personality defect. I think the best you can do is ask for favours less frequently, and try to focus on the things you like about your SO that might warrant tolerating this abberation.
posted by mysterious_stranger at 4:43 PM on September 25, 2014 [11 favorites]

This seems sort of hostile, actually.

Helpful is just wanting to hand the person the right-size lunch bag. Because life is hard.

Is there some other thing going on?

I'm projecting, I recognize that, but my ex-husband was really controlling and frankly sort of awful and was always kind of badgering me with "What are you thinking? Why aren't you engaging right now?" (seriously) and it was because he was narcissistic and super-insecure and honestly couldn't stand it that we'd be hiking and I'd be walking around spacing out on all the different types of ferns there actually are. I'm not saying that your guy shares those qualities or is in any way some kind of jerk, but could he be questioning you in this petty way to express some larger need to question you about a particular topic?

I'm asking because you mentioned it ramped up. If he hadn't, I think I'd just chalk it up to he's probably got a future measuring efficiencies somewhere (or maybe he already does!)
posted by A Terrible Llama at 4:56 PM on September 25, 2014 [13 favorites]

i do this. i have struggled with anxiety and ocd my whole life and i was raised in a home and a religion where perfection and being able to explain every single small action or thought was expected. because of these things i have a very strong sense of doing things the "right" way...even though part of my brain realizes that what ever i've grabbed on to as "right" isn't necessarily so, which leads to the asking - i'm wanting to do things right at all times, i think i know the right way at all times, and then someone, especially my partner, does something a different way and it sends me into a spin of thinking i wasn't right and i need to fix it but before i fix it i need to know whhhhyyy! which, as you can tell, is exhausting to have any part of from either side. i've been working to curtail it but it totally ramps up when i'm stressed.

it might be that he's being a jerk or controlling or childish or whatever, but if he has anxiety or depression type issues, you might consider attacking the problem from that side instead of from a bad manners side.
posted by nadawi at 4:59 PM on September 25, 2014 [11 favorites]

I grew up in a household where criticism was couched as comments/questions implicitly. It relates to the whole ask/guess culture divide, and it's something I had to unlearn to "read" from conversation. My husband is very straightforward and doesn't mean to imply that I'm doing it wrong when he asks questions, but sometimes the way he asks them triggers old conversation habits anyway.

So, if I find myself becoming defensive, I've learned to ask a clarifying question to make clear his intent versus my reading of it.

For you, perhaps respond with "Are you curious or criticizing?"

That'll hopefully help illuminate how to use other strategies from above (e.g. pre-agreed "I'll explain as/after you do it").
posted by bookdragoness at 4:59 PM on September 25, 2014 [17 favorites]

I do this. I used to do it a lot more, but then I realized that I was being a jackass and have made a lot of effort to stop. It still comes out from time to time when I'm really stressed.

It is absolutely 100% about control, and it isn't okay. I am obsessed with efficiency. In my head there is a "right" way to do stuff, and many inefficient ways. In my better moments, the "why?" would be a result of genuine curiosity about whether somebody else's way was better, but most of the time I was gearing up to feel exasperated and frustrated that somebody was doing things the wrong way.

I've grown up a bit, and a big part of why I've stopped is that I've come to truly believe that everybody's ways are all equally good, for them, instead of thinking my ways were the best for everybody. Your SO similarly needs to let it go. Making a value judgement about minor stuff like this is exceedingly dumb. Most people don't really give a flip about efficiency for minor everyday tasks and that they don't appreciate being treated as incompetent.
posted by zug at 5:06 PM on September 25, 2014 [32 favorites]

I tend to do this. In my case, it's much more likely to be simple curiosity than criticism. Even if I'm thinking, Why do X, when Y makes so much more sense to me?, I'm open to the idea that you actually have a good reason for doing X and interested in hearing what it might be. And even if I end up thinking your reason makes no sense, my feelings about it are going to be more like, Huh, isn't it funny that we see this so differently? than Oh my god, why do you do everything wrong all the time?

Yes, the things I'm asking about may be inconsequential. Because they're so inconsequential, it's hard for me to see why someone would feel judged or defensive when I ask about them. I mean, obviously it doesn't really matter to me that much why you want that particular bag. I'm just making idle conversation and at the same time finding out a little more about how you think.

If my partner reacted to friendly "why" questions about trivial things by acting annoyed and refusing to answer them, that would strike me as weirdly defensive or unnecessarily hostile. I would a million times rather live with someone who asked me "why" a lot than with someone who was always shutting down conversation by getting huffy and giving answers like "Because I wanted to."
posted by Redstart at 5:08 PM on September 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

This happens so often that I've started to wonder if I'm some weirdo whose actions he can't make sense of through situational context.

That phrase is worrisome; it sounds like gaslighting. I don't know your boyfriend's motivations for the questions, but it sounds like he is being controlling and not respecting that you are an intelligent individual with the right to make your own decisions.

At times I have a tendency to assume that I am the smartest person in the room, everyone should do things my way, and that anyone doing things differently than I would is wrong. If we could only have a rational conversation on the subject, I'm sure they will see the error of their ways. But I know that that is really fucking annoying. It's patronizing and disrespectful if done thoughtlessly. That's not to say I never argue with people about decisions, but I try to pick my battles, and ask myself if there is a reason that I am questioning someone's choices. I think you need to have a talk to explain your concerns, and that he is being disrespectful by assuming that his managing every little decision in your life is going to improve it.
posted by agentofselection at 5:12 PM on September 25, 2014 [3 favorites]

Two thoughts:

Therapists are trained to avoid the word "why" (so as not to trigger defensiveness), and though it sounds very silly, it does seem that clients respond much better to "How come you decided...?" or "What made you do...?" or "What is your goal for...?" If he's a very analytical type, it might actually be fun for him, and better for you, if he can play around with wording his questions without using the word "Why."

Do you ask him to do things a lot without explaining why? Normal mundane stuff may not need long explanations, but I wonder if it would help if you could make an effort toward saying, "Hey, I need to pack my lunch, can you get me that bag of bags so I can find the lunch bag I want?" I mean, it's annoying to be asked "Why?" all the time, but it's also annoying to be ordered around all the time with no explanation, too. So it may be helpful (and more within your control) to make sure that you're not contributing to the dynamic in that way.
posted by jaguar at 5:17 PM on September 25, 2014 [5 favorites]

This would drive me batty, and I recognize that it can be a control issue, but this makes me think that in his case it likely isn't:
and he's walking on eggshells because he doesn't have a good sense of how to talk to me without inadvertently putting me on the defensive

Also, you say this has increased in the past year, which is also about how long you've lived together, so maybe he really is just struggling to understand you. That doesn't make it less irksome, though.

I'd be tempted to use phrases like, "Why not," and, "Just because," but if he's just wanting to know what makes you tick--or even trying to make conversation--those responses could feel to him like you're pulling away or brushing him off as a person/partner, since as you say, he didn't realize it was bothersome.

You could talk with him again, and reiterate that as much as it bothers you, you do want meaningful conversations. Then, when he asks, "Why?" you could say, "I can explain, but it seems so banal. Let's talk about XYZ, unless you really want to know."

Also, what kind of questions do you ask him? Is it possible he wishes you asked him more questions? Talk with him about this again. If it gets worse or doesn't improve, then you could consider it controlling, but try not to assume the worst. Also, please don't do "ding training" -- it's at least as easy to agree on a word or phrase that communicates, "You're doing it again," and that is far more appropriate for adult human beings.

Best of luck.
posted by whoiam at 5:17 PM on September 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

I am guilty of this with my SO. I do it mostly because he and I have such different ways of thinking that I'm often genuinely curious as to his motivations. If his reasons make his way the better way, then I will sometimes change my way to his.

I also sometimes see it as a way to tailor my future actions to something he cares about but that I don't care about. (For example, we have had this "why?" discussion about the order that toppings go on pizza, which I couldn't care less about but which he has precise reasons for depending on the topping. I ask "why?" about each topping placement because otherwise I wouldn't know how he prefers things--and if I were to just try to pull an end run and toss the toppings on any old way, there's a distinct possibility that he wouldn't eat. Seriously. So, I guess maybe there's a two-way-street-ness to the "Do the thing I'm asking"/"Why do you want it done that way?" interaction.)

Also, I'm sometimes do it just to take the piss. That's immature, I know, but there it is.

Of course, when he turns around and does the same to me, I often get defensive. It's that bundle of contradictions that, in part, stuck us together for almost 30 years.

Oh, and in terms of making communication more rich, tell him it annoys you and why. Ask him his reasons for doing it, and so on. Pain in the ass, I know, but that's how it's done.
posted by GoLikeHellMachine at 5:17 PM on September 25, 2014 [3 favorites]

If my partner reacted to friendly "why" questions about trivial things by acting annoyed and refusing to answer them, that would strike me as weirdly defensive or unnecessarily hostile.

If my partner habitually reacted to my simple request for something trivial by asking why, and waiting for an adequate justification from me before taking any action, that would strike me as weirdly controlling. I'd tell them to knock it the fuck off, pronto.
posted by in278s at 5:19 PM on September 25, 2014 [39 favorites]

our smaller bag answers seem evasive to me, so if he actually wants to know why, you are probably annoying him too.

From my point of view, if you answer evasively it means that I don't GET to know. It's not exactly a right.
posted by small_ruminant at 5:20 PM on September 25, 2014 [4 favorites]

I have someone in my life who does this, and it drives me up a wall. I don't have to second-guess her motivations, because it's clear in other areas of life that she doesn't think anyone else is smart enough to do anything for themselves without her guidance and why wouldn't they welcome the benefit of her instructions?

I generally respond with "Why do you ask?" or "Why do you want to know?"

If I'm feeling puckish, I might answer with, "Just because," "I could tell you, but then I'd have to kill you," or Mom's favorite, "Just to make little girls like you ask questions."
posted by The Underpants Monster at 5:21 PM on September 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

(FWIW I usually answer with "I'm not telling.")
posted by small_ruminant at 5:23 PM on September 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

As I see it, the first problem with "Why?" is that it is ambiguous.

You: Can you hand me the large bag of beans?
Him: Why?

fails to distinguish between multiple possible but completely different motivations for the response, for example:
  • "I am trying to figure out how to best satisfy your request but need more information to help me understand what you actually need.."
  • "I am not initially inclined to fulfill your request and so I require further justification before I will decide whether to act as you have asked.."
As such, it's bad communication and invites misunderstanding.

You might not eliminate the practice entirely, but if you can get away from the shortened "Why?" response and require a more verbose, less ambiguous question, you can avoid the misunderstanding element and if the behavior continues to bother you at least you are both clear about what behavior you are talking about.
posted by Nerd of the North at 5:23 PM on September 25, 2014 [5 favorites]

Yeah, I dealt with this in a past relationship and I agree with those that say this is all about control, and feeling as though he really knows the best way to do everything. He is asking you why, so you will explain, and then he can explain to you why his way is better.

For those of you responding about how they do this, and it’s fine, and it’s all about genuine curiosity, etc. etc.- I think you don’t understand how demeaning it is to be asked to explain things like which lunch bag you want or why you crossed the street at a certain point.

For me it came to a head when I had just gotten word that my father and youngest brother had been in a bad car accident, and was frantically packing to rush to the airport to get back home and to the hospital. My ex actually came into my bedroom and started asking me why I had chosen that certain suitcase to pack. And then would not let it drop. Seriously. I dumped him very shortly afterwards.
posted by aviatrix at 5:25 PM on September 25, 2014 [29 favorites]

If my partner habitually reacted to my simple request for something trivial by asking why, and waiting for an adequate justification from me before taking any action, that would strike me as weirdly controlling.

But, see, as someone who has been in a long-term relationship with a textbook abusive controlling person, someone expecting ME to respond to their requests unquestioningly without explanation is what seems weirdly controlling. Doing it often and for more and more trivial things (bring me this. Why? Because I want it. Wear this. Why? Because I want you to) triggers my red-flag defensiveness BIG TIME. I would not personally be in a relationship with someone who often said "because I want it" or "because I asked" as an explanation for a command, however trivial.

Not saying that the boyfriend has this mindset, but I don't think this is whatsoever as clear-cut an issue as many of these responses are implying.
posted by celtalitha at 5:27 PM on September 25, 2014 [10 favorites]

Oh and if someone ever tried ding training on me I'd break up with them that instant. I am not your dog.
posted by celtalitha at 5:30 PM on September 25, 2014 [15 favorites]

I came in to suggest nadawi's point about anxiety and depression motivating the questions. I also agree with celthalitha about ding training. Jesus, people, you don't meet disrespectful behavior with disrespectful behavior and expect good results I also agree with Nerd of the North that rather than a controlling, confrontational manipulative thing, it might just be an excessive desire to please--he's not questioning your needs and thought processes as much as he's trying to meet them even better. In any case, I agree with you that it would be frustrating to feel you're always justifying your actions and thought processes.

If you otherwise have a good relationship, I'd wait until a neutral moment in time to ask your partner if he notices how often he asks "why" when you ask a favor or request a thing. Then mention that it feels to you as though he regularly meets what you think of as simple meaningless requests with "why" and that it makes you feel judged. Ask him to explain what he hopes to accomplish asking why, not so you can counter his desire, but so that you can understand it. Then figure out how you can both get what you want out of the interaction without irritating each other to death.

Easier said than done, I know. But if it's an otherwise happymaking relationship, it's worth sorting through why this particular interaction is such a fly in your ointment.
posted by crush-onastick at 5:46 PM on September 25, 2014 [12 favorites]

Solution-wise what would work for me (because I genuinely do want to be respectful and generally not annoy the hell out of my partner) would be (A) have a serious conversation about why he does this, why it bothers you, and what you guys think would be a better way to relate/handle these types of things; and (B) when he ends up doing it ("why do you want those size bags and not these?") you can pointedly but kindly say "Babe, you're doing what we talked about, I really don't want to argue about why right now. Can you please hand me a bag?" If it were me, I would be like "oh, okay, I was doing it" and I'd let it go. YMMV with your boyfriend though.
posted by celtalitha at 5:54 PM on September 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

I knew an 'interviewer' like this, and it was a kind of habitual tic, a sort of 'ya know?' that she hardly recognized in herself. After some honest discussion we agreed on some ground rule changes--1) her questions have to be interspersed with personal info, to keep the discussion 2-sided; 2) a reason of 'I'm curious' was not a valid reply.
Folks may diss the 'ding training', but it was solved pretty quickly with a couple new habits.
posted by TDIpod at 6:13 PM on September 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

Does he do this to other people, or just you? If he does it to everyone, he's probably not aware of how annoying it is.

It sounds like you've already talked to him about this with no result, since you said he didn't understand why it would be a problem and put you on the defensive. To me, that's the issue, not that you wish he could communicate better or you could be less annoyed. You told him, "This behavior of yours bothers me," and if I'm reading right, his reaction was "So what, I'm doing it anyway, and your annoyance is not rational." Not okay.

Maybe I'm wrong and he is open to curtailing this behavior that's annoying you -- if he just needs to be reminded, you can use the techniques above. ("No more why" works with my 3-year old.)
posted by chickenmagazine at 6:15 PM on September 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

I am guilty of this with my SO. I do it mostly because he and I have such different ways of thinking that I'm often genuinely curious as to his motivations. If his reasons make his way the better way, then I will sometimes change my way to his.

I understand this impulse. I often want to know why my SO does something different to the way I do it. I have realized that the most mature and effective way to do this (from a learning perspective) is to watch and listen, then think about the action, then ask the why questions. 'Why' questions need some thought behind them to be worth answering.
posted by salad at 6:27 PM on September 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

There are two very distinct answers here - either he really wants to know you and understand your thinking, or this is a control thing. Only you know or can judge which is true. I suspect that after living with him for a year you already know the answer. You clearly don't find this charming. Living with a controlling personality rarely is.
posted by vignettist at 7:03 PM on September 25, 2014 [4 favorites]

I have realized that the most mature and effective way to do this (from a learning perspective) is to watch and listen, then think about the action, then ask the why questions. 'Why' questions need some thought behind them to be worth answering.

My partner and I are so different that I would never be able to puzzle out from this "most mature and effective way" of doing things why he does what he does. Also, ain't nobody got time for that. I'm not here to make an observational study of my long-term SO. He can use his words to explain himself and not put the burden on me and my overworked brain to puzzle out things like why he possibly cares about the order of toppings on pizza or why certain brands of toothpaste are acceptable and others are not.

Glad it works for you, though, but for some of us asking "why?" works.
posted by GoLikeHellMachine at 7:11 PM on September 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

but for some of us asking "why?" works.

It may do, for you. But asking why all the time without putting thought into can get very tiring for the person being asked. You are essentially asking them to do your thinking for you.
posted by salad at 7:35 PM on September 25, 2014 [12 favorites]

If I was truly just respectfully curious about why my SO wanted me to hand her the bag of bags, I would hand it to her and THEN ask something like, "So, whatcha baggin' up?"
posted by The Underpants Monster at 7:41 PM on September 25, 2014 [11 favorites]

[S]omeone expecting ME to respond to their requests unquestioningly without explanation is what seems weirdly controlling.

Well, that depends on the request, no? If I'm standing where I can easily reach the bag full of bags, and you ask me nicely to hand it to you, and it's convenient for me to do it, I don't need an explanation.
posted by in278s at 10:16 PM on September 25, 2014 [12 favorites]

It sounds bad the way you describe it. But he also sounds like a more extreme version of me.

I'm a preplanner. I like to know the scope of the job, decide how I'm going to go about it, then execute the plan.

I can hand you the bags, sure. Simple request, no problem. But if it starts turning into a series of requests, I'm really going to just want to know what the objective is. People are calling the why thing controlling, but on the contrary, I find it controlling and demeaning to be treated like a robot or puppet with no agency.

I don't thimk the bag example or the crossing of the street at a specific place would trigger this in me, though. UNLESS, you're all picky about MY decisions. If I say "let's cross" or worse, start crossing and get called back because you had a different spot in mind, you better believe I'm going to want to know the thing that you must know that I dont. "Because I said so" is not going to be sufficient.
posted by ctmf at 10:39 PM on September 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

Retro smart alecky reply: "Can I see your badge, Officer?"
posted by Cranberry at 11:38 PM on September 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

I also agree with Nerd of the North that rather than a controlling, confrontational manipulative thing, it might just be an excessive desire to please--he's not questioning your needs and thought processes as much as he's trying to meet them even better.

I do the "why?" thing with my SO sometimes and this is 100% the reason why. I recognize that it can be tiring and I try very hard not to be critical, but I really just want him to have the best experience possible and have things go smoothly for him. I'm a relentless planner and I know I put a lot more thought into most of these things than he does just because I like to do it and he doesn't. I also keep track of his preferences pretty closely so that I can meet them whenever I have a chance, so sometimes I ask questions to get a sense of how much he cares about something, whether he LOVES that bag or is just putting up with it, or maybe his other little bag broke and he needs a new little bag, and does he like that blue one?, etc etc.

However, I recognize that it shades into a controlling behavior when I am stressed and anxious, and at my worst moments it feels like I'm asking him to perform arcane perfection rituals with me - "no no, don't use the 'wrong' sized bag, the other bag is 6 cm3 more suitable, the gods will punish us for our impudence!" When I get this bad, I have to take special care not to transfer my anxiety to him or make him bear the same load of anxiety and perfectionism I'm heaping on myself.

Sometimes he probably does want to be ultra-helpful and is taking detailed mental notes on your lunch bag preferences so that he can take them into account in the future, other times he's probably asking so that you don't take The Wrong Lunch Bag, and then he'd have to think about you having Terrible Lunch Bag Problems that he's catastrophized in his mind ("but the zipper on that one is kind of broken! What if her lunch gets all over her bag? and there's a stain on it, what if she was going to get promoted BUT THEN THE STAIN," ad infinitum). If he's been doing this more with increasing stress and anxiety, it's likely to be the anxiety/control/catastrophizing trifecta.

I agree with posters recommending a stock phrase to use to rebuff his questions when you don't want to answer, and I like the suggestion of "is this curiosity or criticism?" - it will help him to be mindful of when he's doing it and get him in the habit of critically examining his motivations before asking.

All of this is moot if he's a jerk when you talk to him and he won't try to curb this for you, though. He absolutely has to work at picking his moments and reading his own tone even if his motivations are 100% pure as the driven snow.
posted by dialetheia at 12:50 AM on September 26, 2014 [12 favorites]

Hello! My SO does the same thing! He also has another thing where he asks me "why" questions I could not possibly know the answer to "why are they putting that carnival up there?" (and these are also not rhetorical). It seems like many of the answers address your (a) and (b) questions above so here is a shot at (c).

I use humor. "Why that bag?" "Oh because the squirrel that whispers to me at night told me that this was the perfect bag for the perfect murder." Yes, it's weird. For me, this is not about teaching him not to ask why, but about reminding me to be light hearted about it.

I focus on what drives the "why" behavior that also makes me love my SO. For me that's that I have seen him get people talking very happily explaining their "why" about something; I admire his curiosity about others.

I use it as a chance to slow down/wake up in my day. Each time he does this and I get annoyed it takes me out of my routine day. I cling to my routine to deal with being stressed out/wanting to avoid bad feelings and just get on with the day. But it's a growth moment for me to stop, pause, and leave the routine for a minute.

Hope this helps!
posted by CMcG at 4:29 AM on September 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

Is what he's doing unusual?

Among certain precocious 7-year-olds, no. But most of them grow out of it.

Ha! I have that flavour of young child and am going through this myself.

I don't have time to discuss it.
It's not important.
It's not interesting.
You can ask me about it later.
That's not a thing that would make a good conversation.
Just: because.

She does it because she wants to learn and/or because she wants some attention and conversation. Sometimes there isn't time and I shut it down. Sometimes I realise what I am doing is A Thing and it's worth explaining. Sometimes I re-direct the conversation while continuing to engage with her.

But she is 7 so her interrupting the normal flow of things and still learning how to converse is expected. As for But if he's doing the same thing I am and just trying to learn, then can you reframe how you see it? -- dude(tte), OP is being asked about plastic bags and street crossings, not "Hey wow why did you weld it like that." I don't think there's a good way to start understanding that the fascinating info about plastic bag strategies should be shared.

But maybe it would be useful to try to explore why you're getting 'why.' Most people still have a little bit of seven-year-old lurking within. There are lots of comments here about control issues and I don't disagree that that's a thing to be on the lookout for here, but is it possible he's feeling a bit insecure and this is an unusually clumsy way to try to engineer greater intimacy? (Not that you still wouldn't want to shut it down. But the why of the whys might be key to being able to do that.)
posted by kmennie at 4:56 AM on September 26, 2014 [3 favorites]

Just tell him "because I'm irrational."

Or say, "do I hear a helicopter in here? Cus somebody's hovering!!"

I mean, make a joke about it. My guy has a thing for efficiency too (how many time has he reorganized the spice area, closet etc) but we have the kind of relationship where we can call each other on our obnoxious habits.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 5:01 AM on September 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

at my worst moments it feels like I'm asking him to perform arcane perfection rituals with me - "no no, don't use the 'wrong' sized bag, the other bag is 6 cm3 more suitable, the gods will punish us for our impudence!"

this is the most perfect thing i've ever read about why i do this, and how it gets bad, and i'm pretty sure i'm laughing and crying.
posted by nadawi at 7:30 AM on September 26, 2014 [9 favorites]

"Sorry, old chum, that's strictly on a need-to-know basis. Now hurry! The bag! The fate of the Republic depends on it!"

Srsly tho, 23 skidoo's gentle "did I stutter?" approach nails it IMHO.
posted by whuppy at 8:12 AM on September 26, 2014 [2 favorites]

I do this, and it's because I have an everlasting interest in the minutiae of other people's lives. I can't speak to your SO's motivation.

I am also aware that this tendency can sometimes annoy people and come off as the third-degree or as critical of that person's actions. I do make an effort to not do this, particularly with people who have expressly told me they find it annoying. It is hard to restrain, though, because I just really want to know why you do the things you do! I am just trying to connect with you!

I am also an introvert, and this style of communication is something I developed early on to help me with my anxiety about talking to people, including people I have known forever and ever, like my parents.

Anyways, I think a conversation in which you express genuine curiosity about why he does this is in order.
posted by megancita at 8:18 AM on September 26, 2014 [2 favorites]

My SO sometimes questions my actions like this. It is mostly related to areas that are important to her, that affect her emotionally. Celtalitha's comment helped me see that.

It does bother me. I don't want to have to turn basic tasks into a negotiation or debate, or an exercise in reassurance. I will sometimes take advantage of her being away to take care of tasks that would otherwise involve just too much of that.

It also reminds me how in a couple, more power goes to the person who is less flexible, and who has more inertia and does not want some collaborative activity done.

Of course, I have my own unhealthy ways of controlling (see above). And at times I question her on some pretty simple things, and am inappropriately skeptical of her often superior judgment.

So I guess in our case, it is insecurity plus a desire to help and to be a bigger part of the other person's mundane life activities. As we've gotten better about trusting each other, the questioning happens less.
posted by neutralmojo at 8:32 AM on September 26, 2014 [4 favorites]

Oh my god, I had repressed all memory of this and your question brought it alllll back. My (eventually abusive, gaslighting) ex did this controlling pestering questioning ALL THE TIME. Then when it drove me crazy it was MY fault for being "defensive" and needing "unquestioned authority."

If this is in any way your dude, DTMFA. Meanwhile, I'm going to order prosecco at lunch and toast being free of that insanity.
posted by cyndigo at 8:52 AM on September 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

I've experienced this with co-workers sometimes and it's driven me crazy. One response I haven't seen mentioned here is just to give them a significant look and wait. If you've mentioned that it annoys you and they have any social skills at all, they'll say, "Sorry, I guess I was doing it again" and then hand you the bag.
posted by 3491again at 10:00 AM on September 26, 2014

Oh, man, I clicked on this question so fast! Something similar goes on in my relationship. My SO asks me objective questions to which it should be reasonably clear that I would have no way of knowing the answer, ALL THE TIME. I feel like put to the test, and on defense. I get crabby in response. He wonders why I'm crabby when he's just trying to make conversation.

I have two tacks for this:
1. Address his expectations or lack thereof, by putting it back on him. In my case I reply with a question: "why do you think I know that? would anyone? how would I know that?".

What I really want him to do here is think about his question before asking it. If he's just trying to make conversation, he could approach it without asking me a direct objective question:
"So I was reading an article about ancient Egyptian shoes. Are you interested?" or
"I wonder how ancient Egyptians tied their shoes" or
"Did you ever wonder how ancient Egyptians tied knots?" or
"Do you know how how ancient Egyptians tied their shoes" (at least I can say 'no') instead of
"How did Ancient Egyptians tie their shoes?"

Usually when I put a question back to my SO, he recognizes it's That Thing again, so he explains whatever it was or why he was wondering, and it proceeds into normal conversation.

What you want your SO to do is to think about (and communicate) what he's really asking when he says "Whhyyyyy?". Does he mean "why are you DOING IT WRONG!!" or "why do you like this bag over that one, I'm curious about your point of view?" Thing is, it's HIS JOB to tell you the difference. You are absolutely right to address this lack of communication on his side.

2. Towards "ping" training, I have a stereotyped response that by now, he understands to mean "your method of inquiry is annoying me". Mine is "I have NO idea" or "I have no idea whatsoever".

This evolved by way of: he used to ask me those direct objective questions. I would say "I don't know" which somehow he took to mean that I knew but was waiting for him to ask me again, or was hiding the answer, or somesuch, so he would -- ask me again, in a different form ("Well how do ancient Persians tie shoes?") and -then- I would say "Really, I don't know, I don't know about Egypitans either, I don't know anything about shoes, I don't know how to tie them, I know NOTHING AT ALL IS THAT WHAT YOU WERE ASKING????" which has now been abbreviated to "I have no idea". He hears that (with a certain inflection) and knows not to re-ask his question the same way, anyway. It's an improving detente. I'm sure he still thinks I'm being pissy, but I'm less pissy with one "I have no idea" than if I'd gone through the several repetitions in this paragraph.

So you could develop a stereotyped, reflexive short answer that you will give every time. Like, "Because" or several good suggestions above. This will stop conversation -- and that's the point: it's on him to come up with a few more words to explain his tack, around "Why".
posted by Dashy at 11:07 AM on September 26, 2014 [4 favorites]

ps. It is, as moonlight_on_vermont said above, controlling, disrespectful, and I also think a typical man:woman dynamic, whereupon the woman has to Explain Herself while men are, by default, right and justified.

This is a powerful thing to address and ultimately make it go differently, in your relationship.
posted by Dashy at 11:12 AM on September 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

Him: "Why do you want it?"

You: "Why are you questioning me?" Say it briskly, impatiently, authoritatively.

If he doesn't get the hint, move on to a snappish "Don't question me!"
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 2:07 PM on September 26, 2014

Answer the why questions with questions like this. "Why can't you just get the bags?", "Why must you question where I cross the street?, "Why do you ask these sorts of questions so often?"
posted by yohko at 7:50 PM on September 26, 2014 [2 favorites]

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