Misunderstood Part 4: A Lack of Curiosity by Stephan Gombis LCPC

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.

In the quiet by Jessica Gombis

Let me address the elephant in the room.  I am not a licensed counselor or social worker.  So why do I get to contribute to Sprout Family Clinics blog and who am I, anyway? Well I can't speak to why these therapists gave me the mic (wink wink), but I promise I'll do my best not to lead you astray.  I am the wife of an actual therapist at Sprout. I'm also the gal who does the billing, manages the website, orders toilet paper, as well a bunch of other glamorous tasks around here. Most importantly, I'm raising three amazing kiddos ages 5, 4 and 10 months.  So, with that introduction and list of fabulous credentials, I'm sure you are excited, dear reader, to hear my perspective on things.

Now, I'm not just saying this because my husband is a therapist and I work at Sprout, but therapy is awesome.  Really. It is. There have been seasons in my life when it was absolutely necessary for me. Truth be told, I could probably always use therapy, but I can gratefully and humbly say that right now, I'm doing pretty good-- good enough to use some of the strategies and rituals I've learned through periods of therapy and self discovery.

The primary tool that I’m using right now is having daily quiet and prayer time.  For me, it’s best early in the morning, before little feet come down the stairs to ask for milk or to read a story.  I know that I need this time, but for me, it’s funny how when I'm doing okay or something else comes up, I easily give up these practices until, suddenly, I realize that something is really missing.

In the last year, I've been lacking my early morning prayer and quiet.  With the arrival of our third child last January, sleep became scarce, so the idea of waking up when I didn't have to, seemed beyond ridiculous.  And so, 9 months later I could feel it. Something was wrong. When I get that gut feeling that something is wrong, it usually takes me a while to figure out what to do.  I'll have a few too many icky interactions with the kids or I'll bicker with my husband. I’ve been known to go on a new job hunt and to have a shopping spree, which is immediately followed by a spending freeze.  I may get a new gym membership or reserve a plethora of self help books at the library.  (Notice, I didn’t say read them.) You may know what I'm talking about.  I try to rework to the whole life scenario for a few weeks. Then I remember the simple things that I need.  I need prayer and quiet in the morning. I need it.  

And so I began again.  I set my alarm. I made the coffee.  I lit the candle. I sat in stillness.  I prayed. I read. The first day wasn't magical and neither was the second.  But, it’s been about a week now of being back in the practice and I feel dramatically different.

I don't have just one thing that I go to when my world seems off kilter, but prayer and quiet is a solid practice for me.  Your thing may not be prayer and quiet. It may be running or yoga or coffee with a friend. Whatever it is, I think we need to identify our personal rituals that set our minds back on track.  We need to keep them stored in a safe place to remember and return to when we get that feeling that things just aren't right.

Maybe, like me, you need the help of therapy to get started on the path to identifying some practices and rituals.  Lucky for you, you've found the right blog.