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How Toyota’s famous 5-Why formula will help ease conflict in your marriage

Your marriage conflict can benefit by using a technique invented by a car company. Just add a dose of compassion to the famous Toyota-5-Why strategy and you’ll notice a radical improvement in the way you and your spouse communicate.

The theory is that any problem can be fixed by asking why 5 times.

There’s nothing magic about the number 5: Sometimes you need only 2 why’s to get to the root of a problem. Sometimes you need 7. The magic is in the focus those multiple why’s provide.

Why does Toyota’s 5-Why strategy work?

Each consecutive why that you ask focuses your attention on the specific issue that’s causing the problem. Focus like this is invaluable because the source of a problem often hides and causes confusion.

This confusion causes conflict, especially in relationships. Using the 5-Why-Strategy clears that confusion.

Here’s a video that gives a great overview of Toyota’s 5-Why-Strategy applied to the work world. Below I’ll walk you through an example of how Toyota’s 5 Why’s can help with your relationship conflict.

In a previous blog, I told the story of a marriage conflict about money, milk and a new coat. In short, the argument about money asks which is better:

·      save money to ensure future bills can get paid

·      buy a 3rd coat now.

You might get more out of the following example if you read that story first.

Why-Question #1 to get to the source of conflict

Why is it so important to buy a coat?

Because I need a new coat for this winter.

Why-Question #2

Why do you need a new coat for this winter?

Because it’s cold in the winter.

“It’s cold in the winter,” is a statement of universal truth. Asking “why” about a universal truth doesn’t help. This is a signal you might be approaching a stalemate. So it’s time to introduce compassion to the Toyota-5-Why strategy.

Why-Question #3: Add compassion to your why

I believe you. I just want to understand why.

Now we get to where the conflict lies. You know that your spouse already has a winter coat to combat the cold. To you, one coat is plenty. Clearly this is not as obvious to your spouse.

It’s tempting in this moment of obvious disagreement to resort to I know better thinking. But score-keeping and I know better will only aggravate your relationship.

Instead, employ a compassionate caveat when you ask your next Toyota-5-Why question: “I believe you.”

Add compassion to the Toyota 5-Why formula

Add compassion to the Toyota 5-Why formula.

I call this phrase—I believe you, and could you help me understand why—the Compassionate Why. Adding compassion to the sterile why formula developed by Toyota is critical for your marriage. It makes sense in the work world to keep asking the rational Toyota-5-Why question over and over.

But your marriage is not an information-only establishment.

Your marriage is not just an objective collection of facts. It’s the residence of your heart plus the heart of your spouse. Be gentle with both of your hearts.

As soon as your marriage conflict devolves into score keeping, no one will win. You’ll both feel like losers.

You’ll be tempted to use the Toyota-5-Why formula to ask the question, Why do you need another coat when you’ve already got TWO?

But can you feel how that pits you against your spouse? The premise of your question …you’ve already got all that you need and more, announces to your spouse that you’re the coat expert and you’re certain your spouse doesn’t need a 3rd coat.

When your spouse gets a hint that you might not think they deserve this coat, hackles go up on your spouse’s back. They move into defensive posture. As soon as one person in a marriage goes into defense mode, score-keeping escalates. Then you’ve entered the winners & losers territory.

Enter the Compassionate-Why which keeps you and your spouse on the same team. When you’re on the same team, winning and losing cease to matter. I believe you, keeps you on the same team instead of pitting you against your spouse.

So why-question #3 is a Compassionate Why: I believe you that you need a new coat this winter. I just want to understand why. You have 2 other warm coats. Can you help me understand why this new coat is important to you?

Your spouse might tell you why the new coat is better and why they deserve it.

Your spouse might tell you the current coats aren’t enough.

Your spouse might get defensive saying, “You never let me buy what I want.”

Toyota’s 5-Why’s won’t work when the answer is a core need

When you hear words like enough, deserve, or I’m worth it, your spouse is signaling pain.

These are words that signal a core desire is unmet in the heart of your spouse. Until your spouse is able to compensate for this core desire, they will feel afraid and their lizard brain will run the show.

Feeling like you’re not enough is a core pain spot for every human I know, but very few will talk about it without hiding behind fear. Providing proof and evidence only increase fear. Compassion and love soften fear.

Use a Compassionate-Why in your marriage to understand the core stories that make your spouse run and hide. When you’re able to hear these stories, you won’t argue about the coat. You’ll hug the child inside your spouse that felt cold.

Try this:

The next time there’s conflict between you and your spouse, employ Toyota’s 5-Why strategy to clarify the source of that conflict.

When your spouse’s answer to the question involves a core desire or a statement of universal truth, employ the Compassionate-Why to keep you and your spouse on the same team.

Let the power of the words, “I believe you,” soften your heart so you can hear through the fear your spouse is feeling.

Add compassion to the curiosity tool of Toyota’s 5-Why’s and watch your conflicts melt while your marriage grows deeper and stronger.

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