Ask Amy: Sparks fly when a “questioner” meets an “obliger”

Dear Amy: My husband is a great guy, who also happens to be a “questioner,” as per Gretchen Ruben’s book “The Four Tendencies: The Indispensable Personality Profiles That Reveal How to Make Your Life Better (and Other People’s Lives Better, Too) (2017, Harmony).

I understand that he processes things by questioning them, but it can be a bit much. We’ve talked about it, but a zebra can’t change its stripes, while I’m left wishing he’d at least develop an awareness of those stripes.

This morning he came into the kitchen while I was eating breakfast and working a crossword puzzle, and he asked if it was going to rain all day. Then he asked what time that night’s party was taking place. Then he asked why it would start so late. Then he asked if it was because the couple was working that day.

Meanwhile, I was trying to find a four-letter word for: “you’re driving me crazy.”

I admit, I kind of snapped. Then he left the room, muttering that he didn’t want to be around me if I was going to be “like that.”

It annoys me that this type of interaction always comes down to him being the nice guy, me being the grouch. But isn’t he being a bit rude too?

I do appreciate that my guy’s trying to interact with me, but where’s the balance? He might never learn to ask fewer questions — so, how do I bear it when he asks too many?

– Don’t Ask Me

Dear Don’t Ask Me: I appreciate the fact that you have conducted your own inquiry into your husband’s personality type. Categorizing him as a “questioner” gives you some insight.

I wonder why he hasn’t done the same in order to understand you better?

You also don’t say what category you fit into. Perhaps you are an “obliger,” which according to this metric means that you, for instance, might feel compelled to immediately answer questions just because they are asked without regard to your own self-interests. Then you “snap,” because you resent the interruption.

The most obvious solution is for you to discipline yourself enough to say, “Honey, can you hang on for a minute? I want to concentrate on this until I’m at a stopping point.” (Pre-empting him with a neutral attitude will help you to avoid being “like that” later.)

And your husband will need to discipline himself enough to delay his queries until you are ready to give him your attention.

(By the way, according to Rubin’s theory, I am also an “obliger,” and I often wish I wasn’t.)

Dear Amy: I am worried that the pandemic has affected my kids’ social skills. After over a year of home-schooling, etc., my three elementary age schoolchildren seem to have lost interest in going out in the world.

Do you have suggestions?

– Concerned Dad

Dear Dad: I would be shocked if the pandemic had not affected your kids’ social skills (it has certainly affected my own…).

These children have been isolated, sometimes frightened, and yanked back and forth through the ups and downs of this worldwide health crisis – and all at a time when they are still growing and developing.

Thoughtful parents like you should respond with patience, encouragement, and oh-so-gentle nudging.

You might start by going on an outing as a family that will take you in safe proximity to other children – a visit to a local playground or out for ice cream.

Rebuild their social schedules by gradually returning to worship services, groups, clubs, sports and camps.

Building social skills takes practice; offer them opportunities to do that.

Be very patient and answer all of their questions to the best of your ability.

Dear Amy: I’m adding to your advice to “Widower,” whose family thinks he’s moving too fast after his wife died.

My father adored my mother for their 53 years of marriage until she died, and he grieved her loss until the day he died. And I was happy for him when he started asking women out for dinner about four months after her death. Several months later, he asked out an old acquaintance, and they immediately became loving partners. I thought it was a testament to his love for Mom that he wanted to love again.

I believe that the human heart has an unlimited capacity to love. My advice to Widower is to let your heart be your guide.

– Leigh

Dear Leigh: This is beautiful. Your attitude is a tribute to both of your parents.

(You can email Amy Dickinson at or send a letter to Ask Amy, P.O. Box 194, Freeville, NY 13068. You can also follow her on Twitter @askingamy or Facebook.)