While recounting a conflict my client and her husband had prior to our session, before I could
even respond, she said to me, “I know what you’re going to say. You’re going to say, ‘Be
Curious’.” I chuckled, but she was correct! But why would I say that? Why would maintaining a
posture of curiosity in our relationships be beneficial? And, how would you even do that? We often think we know what is going on for our partners and respond based on those assumptions. However, I am a firm believer that if we were to take the time to be curious, either in the heat of the moment or after the conflict, we would have a better chance at reconnecting with our partner.
So, why be curious?
Let’s be honest, being curious is not our natural posture during a conflict. It’s more likely that I’m demanding explanations from my partner, or maybe even just leaving the room and disengaging completely. I may also find that I am often working to explain myself so I am understood, rather than seeking to understand my partner. Curiosity is limited in these situations. However, when I take the time to be curious, I give myself the space to ask questions that help me both effectively communicate my position, and explore additional reasons for my partner’s behavior as well.
Asking the questions.
There are two questions I like to focus on that help take on this posture of curiosity.
1. What’s going on with me?
Take a moment and take an inventory of yourself. Perhaps you’ve been yelling or crying. Ask yourself, “What’s going on with me?” Check-in with your body and notice what feelings are coming up. The behavior I’m displaying may be because I feel something like: misunderstood, disrespected, hurt, or unimportant. If we take the time to check in with ourselves, we may be able to communicate our position more effectively. Our emotions can take over when we don’t take this time to reflect and only (understandably) react from them. The goal is not to mute our reaction, but rather effectively communicate our feelings, which we’re more capable of doing because we’ve been curious with ourselves. Asking ourselves “What is going on with me?” gives us the opportunity to recognize our role in the conflict as well – and yes, we do have a role in the
conflict whether we want to see it or not.
1. What might be going on with my partner?
Now we’re ready to think about why our partner might be reacting the way they are. If there was something deeper going on for us that we need to communicate more effectively, chances are the same thing is going on for them. As we mentioned at the beginning, we often make assumptions
and react to them. Instead of making assumptions, this posture of curiosity allows us to think bigger. Think deeper. Are they also feeling: misunderstood, disrespected, hurt, or unimportant? Maybe something else? The goal isn’t to find the answer on your own, but to help broaden your perspective and ask them more clarifying questions, now that you have taken a step back. This allows for a more productive conversation about what is really going on for each of us. Next time you find yourself in conflict with your partner, try this posture of curiosity. Pause, if you can, and first ask yourself, “What is going on with me?”. Next, be curious about your partner instead of making assumptions and ask, “What might be going on with them?” This is not a catchall or the only thing you will ever need, but it is a great place to start improving your communication with one another.