In my work with individuals and especially with couples, I often talk about curiosity. What does it mean to be curious in a relationship?
The art of being curious can show itself in different ways and this is what I look for when I work with couples. Are partners curious about each other? Do they want to know about each other’s day? About what happened at work or how they managed something tricky, potentially upsetting, or how a presentation went? About how whoever is looking after the kids managed during the day? About how they may be feeling if they had an upset or weren’t feeling well the day before? Or is there a phone call checking in to see how the other person is doing that day even if there is nothing special happening?
Couples often complain that their partner doesn’t seem interested in them. They don’t ask questions and don’t engage in conversation that could encourage connection and greater understanding of each other. Sometimes people feel they know everything there is to know about their partner: how they think and how they will respond. They don’t think it’s worth being curious because of this.
A successful relationship involves feeling connected to one another on an emotional level. There are many ways to build these connections and being curious is one important approach. If your partner is interested in you: how you are feeling, what you are doing, the impact on you of work, colleague interactions, managing the kids, difficulties with friends or family, what you did on your day off, how you went at the gym, etc., you are going to feel valued and significant and important to them. And vice-versa of course!
When you feel valued and significant, it is easier to let the small things go and continue building the connection you have with each other. When you are disconnected, this can come across as disinterest and contribute to shutting off emotionally from each other.
Sometimes people are worried that if they ask questions, they’ll open a can of worms and not know how to contain it. Remember that often all that is needed is to listen and let your partner know you’ve heard them. You may say something like, ‘It sounds like you had a hard day,’ or, ‘It sounds like the kids have been really challenging today,’ or ‘It sounds like you really nailed that presentation.’ Or you may share something about yourself and your day and then ask about theirs.
This lets your partner know that you’ve listened and indicates interest. Even if you’re not that interested in your partner, you could practice asking some questions and see how this makes you both feel. If the result is positive, then it’s worth continuing the practice.
And if you don’t feel that interested in knowing more about your partner, or discovering something new, or being connected in a more meaningful way, you may want to consider why you feel this way and what is getting in the way of connecting with your partner. Exploring this in counselling, either on your own or together, may be helpful to gain clarity and even develop skills in the art of curiosity.