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Stay Curious

After well over a year in which many of us have spent more time with our partners than ever, it is easy to feel talked out. What else is there left to say after being cooped up together so long? There again even outside of the extraordinary intense conditions of a global pandemic, and where time together is at more of a premium, it is sometimes easy for days to pass without much attempt to make meaningful conversation. Perhaps then the depth of our communication isn’t dictated by the amount of time we have together, but is more about our intent. We have probably all had experiences of being trapped at a social gathering next to someone who seems incapable of initiating any questions, let alone living with one!

There is something about remaining inquisitive and curious about our partners that can bring great rewards. I have been together with my partner, Tracey, for about 23 years now and it is a source of fascination when we find things out about each other that we didn’t know before. Sure, we can quickly become familiar with many aspects of each other’s interests, preferences and outlook. However, it can take a lifetime to explore the limits of many of the inner psychological worlds of our partners such as – each other’s memories, loves, hopes, dreams, comforts, fears, worries, stressors, irritants, desires, disappointments, regrets, friendships, passions, values, aspirations, ambitions and goals.

We are often not even in touch with many of these things ourselves but through a process of remaining curious and asking questions we can help unlock these things in each other and can reap a number of benefits that can be genuinely life enhancing:

It provides a point of connection

Asking a question is an example of a bid for connection with our partners . Beneath the specifics of the question is a deeper sub-text that essentially says ‘I am interested in you’, ‘I want to know you’, ‘I want to connect with you’,’ I want to understand you’.

It shows us the common ground

Through exploring some more searching questions with our partners we get to re-connect with their values – what is important to them. Where we share those values with our partners it helps demonstrate where we have common ground with them, where we are pulling in the same direction.

It highlights difference

As well as highlighting some areas of commonality questions also highlight where we are different from our partners. Although these differences can challenge us, it is vital that we continue to work at understanding the different values and personality of our partner and to see such difference as complimentary and a potential source of strength.

It can be a Spark to Desire

Questions give an opening for our partners to express themselves and to be authentic. At their best they can lead to a moment of intimacy that helps us see our partner’s in their element, to remind us what draws us to them, and it can make us want them.

It keeps us alive

When a couple are able to explore interesting or even difficult questions with one another it keeps them open to possibilities, to be surprised, even unsettled, but even in that there is a vitality that can be energising.

Some principles for good conversations:

  • Identify the regular touch points where you are able to connect.
  • Slow down – find a time when there isn’t any urgency and where your partner is likely to be more relaxed
  • Use open questions
  • Try to be non-defensive as you listen (the goal is to understand)
  • Stay curious
  • Expect it to be messy at times
  • Be willing to be challenged
  • Model the level of openness and vulnerability that you would like to see from your partner

If you like games or want ideas of questions to explore with your partner there are some great resources out there:

The Gottman App

School of Life Cards

Esther Perel ‘Where Should We Begin’ game

Richard Elliott

Husband, father, teacher, coach & philanthropist. Richard is a director of Pickwell Manor Ltd and a co-founder of the Pickwell Foundation - a grant making charitable trust focusing on displaced people and climate change. He has a diploma in business, life and executive coaching and a background in Post 16 education in which he taught and managed social science subjects. He has a particular interest in how values shape individuals, relationships, families and organisations.

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