How Stress, Blame and a Lack of Curiosity Prevent you from being Known
Double. Chocolate. Brownie cake from Sweet Mama B’s Cafe. YUMMY! And this was Mike’s favorite. Knowing this, Kim went 40 minutes out of her way to stop by Sweet Mama B’s. The whole way there and the whole way back she pictured herself sitting across from Mike, smiling at each other and basking in the little piece of joy she brought for Mike. Kim envisioned Mike’s gratitude as he delighted and enjoyed his favorite cake with her.
But that’s not exactly what happened…
Kim got home a few minutes before Mike, so she decided to take a quick shower. A few minutes later Mike came home, opened the fridge and to his delight, saw his favorite cake just sitting there. With gratitude, Mike pulled out the cake, cut himself a piece, sat down and ate it. When Kim walked into the kitchen and saw Mike washing his cake dish, she felt hurt and exploded. And Mike (rather than trying to understand where Kim was coming from) argued that he had no idea this would upset her.
So what happened here? How did a lack of curiosity impact their ability to be understood?
First off, all feelings need to be acceptable, though not all words or actions are always acceptable. It is ok, and even understandable, that Kim felt hurt. It's her response, not her feelings, that accelerated the situation. She took her assumption and ran with it.
On the other side, Mike went straight into defense mode where all he cared about was getting the anger and blame to stop. The problem is, you can’t stop anger with reason. Without a sense of curiosity about where Kim’s anger stemmed from, Kim just got more upset and nothing could get resolved.
What is a Lack of Curiosity?
A lack of curiosity creates misunderstanding when you believe you don’t need any more information because you already have it all. It’s like being a know-it-all. You know your partner feels this way when you speak and you see her rolling her eyes. That communicates…
“I’ve heard this before and it has no value to me.”
We lose our sense of curiosity when we go into survival mode.
In survival mode, it feels like there isn’t enough for the both of us, bandwidth is limited, judgment abounds, and you feel rushed to fix the problem because your survival is on the line.
A relationship filled with a lack of curiosity looks similar to the characteristics marriage researcher John Gottman calls, “The 4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse.” These characteristics are contempt, stonewalling, criticism and defensiveness. And when a relationship has these characteristics it communicates that you can no longer be influenced. You prefer monologue to dialogue.
But maybe you’re thinking, "I do ask questions, but my partner says it feels like an inquisition.”
Some questions aren’t questions at all. They are statements of judgment wrapped up in questions. This is what’s called a “Leading question," a question that's basically a statement with a question mark after it instead of a period.
And here are a few examples of statements with a question mark tacked on:
“You’re trying to hurt me. right?”
“You knew we couldn’t afford those purchases but you spent the money anyway didn’t you?”
“So this is what you consider a clean kitchen?”
“Don’t you hear the baby screaming?”
To counteract the tendency to ask leading questions I recommend “I” statements. So let’s restate the leading questions from above.
“I feel hurt” or “I’m having a hard time trusting you right now”
“I’m frustrated that we’re facing this much debt” or “I’m annoyed that we don’t have a budget we can agree to stick with”
The most valuable advice I can give on preventing a leading question from being asked, is to avoid asking questions you think you know the answer to. Assume the best in your partner, and ask questions from a place of genuine curiosity.
We’ve covered a lot in this section, but here are the main points…
1-A lack of curiosity is taking the posture of a “Know-it-all"
2-We lack curiosity when our bandwidth is limited, when judgment abounds, and when we feel rushed to fix the problem
3-A lack of curiosity manifests itself in contempt, criticism, defensiveness or stonewalling
4. We can counteract this lack of curiosity by seeking to truly understand our partner
At this point we’ve covered the how stress, blame and a lack of curiosity lead to being misunderstood. In the next and final section we are going to look at steps you can take to minimize this three-headed monster and some resources that can help you along the way.