How Curiosity Can Enhance Your Relationships

“I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious.”

-Albert Einstein

Imagine living your adult life through the eyes of a young child. Everything you see and everything you touch breeds excitement and curiosity. You hold onto hope and optimism for all of your future experiences, enthralled by the idea of learning a million new little things. Each new day becomes a possibility for an adventure and each new piece of information is absorbed into you like a sponge.

Humans are born as naturally curious creatures. The world, for babies in particular, is entirely new and being curious is a part of physical and cognitive growth. Young children rely on their parents to create structure, thus freeing up more brain space for creativity, curiosity, and spontaneity — while adults spend much of their brain power trying to increase predictability and enhance the comfort of what we already know. However, the need for curiosity never actually leaves us, though it does often become overshadowed by the need for control. The drive for curiosity that was once innate becomes a skill we are required to cultivate.

Studies show that having a more curious mind as an adult can aid in improving many areas of our adult life, including our relationships. But how does one cultivate curiosity as an adult? What could being curious do for a relationship? I’ve listed out a few examples of what this could look like below:

1.Realize that you don’t actually know your partner as well as you think you do. Just because you wake up next to the same person every day does not mean you know everything about them. Humans are full of surprises and many times our thoughts, actions, and behaviors even surprise ourselves. Communicating with your partner from a stance of curiosity — asking questions, playing an intimacy-building card game, trying a new activity together, and not assuming you already know everything there is to know about your partner —  will undoubtedly lead to a new level of closeness. Additionally, this curiosity is contagious. Once one person begins asking questions in a curious, playful way, the favor is typically reciprocated which then fosters relational intimacy.

2. Instead of getting mad, get curious. There is rarely one right side to an argument. Most conflict comes down to a difference in perspective; each person arguing their point while the other “isn’t listening”. What if — during your next argument — instead of trying to justify why your side is right, you opened your mind to the possibility of being curious about your partner’s perspective? What if you thought, “wow, their view of this situation is totally different than my view of the situation. I wonder why that is?” Then ask them about it! Approaching conflict in this way tends to reduce the level of each person’s activation and thus the need to defend themselves. It also opens the opportunity to work as a team of two people against the problem – which is ultimately a misunderstanding – rather than one partner against another partner. So, when faced with your next disagreement, try using one of the statements below. Try saying something like…

“It seems we have different perspectives about this topic. Can you tell me more about what brought you to your conclusion?”

“I’m curious to know more about how [topic of conflict] is affecting you. Can you tell me how you are feeling?”

“Hm… I have never thought of this situation in that way and I’d like to hear more about your point of view.”

It may feel like a lofty goal to present with curiosity while feeling heated, but practice makes progress and it’s never too late to try a new approach.

3. Use curiosity help breed eroticism. Esther Perel coined the term “Erotic Intelligence,” and she often talks about eroticism as the mysterious space between yourself and another. Why do romance and passion tend to fade in relationships over time? Because we think we know everything about the other person — the mystery of the unknown dies. If you’ve been paying attention, (ahem..refer to suggestion #1) you know that humans are full of surprises and there is always mystery to be revealed. What are your partner’s deepest, most intimate desires? What are your deepest, most intimate desires? Go on a curious journey to find out!

4. Use curiosity to become more attractive. Studies show that those who exhibit traits of a curious person tend to attract others and promote feelings of bonding, even after just one conversation. Most people aren’t fans of small talk, though the research suggests that curious people know how to successfully break the ice and develop more meaningful, intimacy-building conversations with others. Curious people tend to have higher levels of confidence and are more open-minded to discussing topics they aren’t familiar with or learning new things. They exhibit a genuine zest for life and this seems to be a trait that many of us are drawn to. So, the next time you’re face to face with a love interest, cultivate that curious side of yourself and watch the sparks fly.

The research on curiosity as a whole suggests that approaching relationships with curiosity contributes to deeper intimacy (emotionally, mentally, and physically), less judgement, greater self-confidence, more forgiveness, and less boredom. To clarify – it also doesn’t specify that curiosity is only helpful in romantic relationships. In fact, people who harbor the traits of a curious person tend to fair better in all kinds of relationships – from family, to friends, to colleagues. In the case of humans, curiosity most definitely does not kill the cat — so if you are feeling bored or stuck in your relationship, practice utilizing curiosity. You may be surprised (and pleased!) with what you find.

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