As a Marriage and Family Therapist, I have seen countless married couples make enormous strides in how they communicate with one another. For the majority of these couples, the amount of content shared between them was not the issue. The actual problem was centered in their process of communication. They simply needed help learning how to share what they were needing or feeling from their spouse in such a way that it brought them closer together, instead of pushing them further apart.
Curiosity in Communication
One of the first things I address with married couples struggling with the process of their communication is the the application of curiosity:
"Curiosity is genuinely inquiring for more information about what your husband or wife is expressing to you in conversation."
One of the primary benefits of curiosity is that it is a powerful mechanism for helping your husband or wife feel important when they are sharing their heart with you. When you make a focused and caring inquiry into the central thoughts and emotions being expressed by your spouse, you offer them the gift of feeling heard, understood and valued. Doing so also helps to instill a heightened degree of trust into your interactions, which is an essential part of building intimacy into your relationship.
These factors help us see that curiosity is far more than simply asking random questions about what your spouse is saying. It's more about how you explore what they are saying that helps them sense your desire to know them better and ultimately trust you with the information they need to share.
Establishing a Greater Marital Connection
It is always an exciting experience watching married couples put curiosity into practice. Although it may take some time for them to get used to truly focusing on what their partner is saying, it's not long before both members begin to report feeling more heard, understood and like a priority in their conversations. However, this shouldn't be surprising.
The reality is that it feels good to know that our partner cares deeply about what we have to say and that they are willing to seek more information about what has been on our hearts. This is a central reason why married couples who mutually offer this type of engagement to each other help establish a unique intimacy, safety, and connection in their relationship that ultimately contributes to them developing a more fulfilled marriage.
Curiosity in Action
You can begin to put curiosity into action at any time. Whether you and your significant other are having a general conversation or are discussing important marital issues, curiosity will help you both achieve a greater level of connection and understanding when consistently applied.
To apply curiosity effectively, you will want to pay attention to these specific areas being expressed by your spouse:
- What they are thinking.
- What they are feeling.
- What they are needing.
These three areas are windows in the heart of your spouse, and you don't want to miss them because you are focused on what you are thinking, feeling or needing to say. In order to be successful at using curiosity, you'll have to learn to keep the focus on them.
To make things easier for you, let go of the pressure of needing to remember everything your spouse is saying so you can be curious about it. Instead, focus on specific key words or brief phrases related to what they are thinking, feeling, or are needing. Once you have those key words in mind, apply curiosity by asking them to share more about those key words or statements.
Some couples get stuck when they feel like there is a right or wrong way to ask their spouse to share more about something they've said. Once more, make your job easier by focusing on simply helping them see that you are interested in learning more about them, regardless of whether you say "Tell me more about that (emotion, experience, etc.)," or "What did you mean by that (statement, word, emotion, etc.)," or some other phrase.
When all is said and done, remember that the primary focus in practicing curiosity is to keep your focus on learning more about your partner.
Applying curiosity effectively requires that we learn to be other-focused:
"Being other-focused is a marital attitude in which spouses mutually place a greater focus on the expressed needs of their partner instead of their own."
Being other-focused is a challenge because it forces us to move away from our innate, and often powerful, tendency to be focused on ourselves. Yet, when it is lived out in your day to day marital interactions, it is largely transformative and will contribute to you and your spouse developing a greater emotional connection.
Christianity in Motion
My encouragement to every couple reading this post, Christian or not, is to allow your love for your husband or wife to be something consistently evident in all your actions toward them. Let it also be driven by your faith in what your marriage can be and trust in the Lord to give you the daily strength needed to help you and your spouse establish a truly fulfilled marriage.
I'll leave you with a verse from James 2:26:
"As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead."
Eric Gomez, MS LMFT MHP
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist
Fulfilled Christian Counseling