Curiosity is one of the most powerful forms of communication. It is a unique mode of human engagement we can utilize to bring a needed level of comfort to our partner. Though some may view it as a simple strategy, I see it as a means of addressing the question:
"How can I connect with my partner in a manner that helps them to feel loved, heard and understood?"
This question helps bring into focus a pivotal approach to marriage, namely that of being other-focused. The biblical frame on this is loving our neighbor as ourselves (Matthew 22:36-40). This is important because our mindset determines whether we draw closer together as a couple or push each other further apart emotionally.
The Need for Curiosity
In every interaction with our spouse we make choices that positively or negatively influence our emotional bond. Curiosity helps us remain on side of strengthening that bond, because it:
- Conveys a willingness to understand.
- Creates an environment of emotional safety.
As a Marriage & Family Therapist, I see couples vehemently fight to establish both of these elements in their relationship. They desperately want to feel understood and safe in their partnership. However, when they slow themselves down emotionally and begin applying curiosity, the nature of their interactions shift drastically. Why? Because they begin experiencing what it feels like to move closer together, to feel understood and to feel emotionally safe in being vulnerable.
It can be hard to move closer together when emotions dominate our conversations. They can easily drive us towards defensiveness, criticism, anger, frustration and contempt. All these factors destroy possibilities of meaningful communication, yet they are common reactions for many couples.
This is why we need to pay close attention to the level of emotion in our conversations. One way we can do this is by asking ourselves:
"Are we reaching a point where we need to take a break and Re-engage with new responses?"
Through such reflection we can consider how to re-engage the issue(s) we're facing from a new vantage point, including a standpoint of curiosity.
Tenderness as a Compliment to Curiosity
Tenderness is essential part of curiosity, because it allows us to engage with our spouse in a comforting and reassuring manner. In this sense, it is a vital part of creating a level of safety that guides our interactions. When we can consistently rely upon our spouse to openly and tenderly address our concerns this alleviates any need to shut down or become harsh in our communication. On the other hand, if we our harsh with one another when we vulnerably reach out for support, we challenge the bonds of safety and create unhealthy environment where anxiety, stress and conflict will rule the day.
Examples of Curiosity
Common examples of curiosity include the following:
- I hear you saying that you feel ____ (hurt, glad, upset, concerned, etc.).
- You feel like _____ (me being less reactive, etc.) would be helpful?
- Interesting, what do you mean?
- Tell me why you feel ____ (frustrated about this situation, etc.).
- Can you tell me more about _____(why you feel we're emotionally distant, etc.)?
Whether we use these statements or others, it's important to remember the goal is to be curious about what our spouse has said, not on what our assessments or judgments are of what they've said.
Also, give them time to openly process their thoughts and emotions after being curious. Not doing so, or quickly turning the conversation back to what we think, can leave them in what I call a frustrated state of vulnerability, where they are likely to shut down emotionally and disengage from the conversation.
Taking Time to Practice
Becoming adept in applying curiosity is possible, but it requires that we take time to practice it each day with our spouse. Over time, we can successfully use it to help each other feel loved, cherished, valued and understood. Thank you for reading this article and I hope you will make curiosity an important part building a vibrant and lasting marriage.
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Eric Gomez, MS LMFT MHP
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist
Fulfilled Christian Counseling