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June 11, 2008 > Counseling Corner: Did curiosity really kill the cat?

Counseling Corner: Did curiosity really kill the cat?

I'm going to tell you a secret that can guarantee relationship happiness for you. Revealing this secret might also put me out of business for good.

But first - let's set the background before I let the cat out of the bag.

Imagine your partner gets mad at you. You may have some idea why they're mad at you. Or you may not have a clue why they're suddenly so worked up. But you know for sure they're mad because they're yelling at you or giving you the cold shoulder or making cutting remarks, or doing whatever they do when they're upset. You feel their anger and you feel them pushing your buttons - HARD. You feel your own anger bubbling up fast. What do you do?

1. Yell back
2. Give them the cold shoulder
3. Storm out of the room
4. Point out something wrong they did

If you're like 99% of couples out there, you would automatically use one of the above options. Sadly, you and I also know that none of these four options actually work to create peace and harmony. If anything, they are likely to lead to escalation of anger and resentment.

Now let's reverse the scenario. Imagine you are furious with your partner. In your mind, you believe your partner to be incredibly selfish/controlling/thoughtless/mean/rude/cruel, etc. etc. You are angry and crave justice or revenge. What might your automatic reaction be?

1. Yell or snap at them
2. Give them the silent treatment
3. Storm out of the room
4. Point out one or more of their flaws in a sarcastic tone.

Let's do the same inventory - how successful would any of the above strategies be for resolving conflict in a loving, yet productive way? If you're like most couples, chances are you already know that none of the above eight responses do much good for the health of your relationship.

But, more often than not, couples instinctively turn to these ineffective behaviors.

It would take a whole other article to describe why we instinctively and automatically reach for these options when we are angry.

But let's turn our attention to solutions, to the reason why you first started reading this article. I'll reveal the secret that can put me straight out of business. Here's the secret

Couples could bypass arguments, reduce hostility,
increase love, intimacy, connection, and closeness
if they chose an alternative route -
being curious
instead of furious.

What might curiosity look like in action?

Here are some ways you can be curious when you or your partner get into a conflict:
* Think of yourself as a reporter. Instead of sparring with your partner, be genuinely interested in finding out their point of view and why they hold their position.
* Tell your partner you want to be curious rather than furious.
* Put the focus on understanding your partner rather than explaining/defending yourself.
* Stop yourself from inserting your point of view or explanation.
* Give your partner the space to talk and explain without defending yourself.
* Encourage your partner to talk by listening attentively, and being open in your body language.
* Ask curious (not attacking) questions
* Periodically check with your partner about their comfort level and how you are doing as a reporter.

Regardless of who is in the "wrong," the guidelines above can take your relationship to a whole new level of relating, loving, and connecting.

Of course it takes enormous amounts of trust, compassion, generosity, courage, perseverance, and emotional maturity to be curious rather than furious. The role of being the curious reporter is not an easy one.

Deep down, you might have a fear that curiosity killed the cat.

I do not know if the proverbial cat got killed by its curiosity.

But what I do know about curiosity is that it can save your relationship and sanity. Curiosity can be healing. Curiosity can restore your faith in love. Give it a shot! As Einstein, one of the greatest geniuses in human history, advised us: "Never lose a holy curiosity."

Anne Chan is a registered career counselor and licensed psychotherapist in Union City. She can be reached at or 510-744-1781.

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