One of the most ironic and painful aspects of marriage or long-term romantic relationships is that couples can be together for many years, spend a great deal of time together, yet ultimately know relatively little about one another. (A wife in marriage counseling once admitted that it felt like she knew more specifics about a character on her favorite TV show than she knew about her own husband.)
Mutual curiosity is a frequent part of new love and romance, but all too often curiosity about each other is replaced by complacency as couples reach a certain getting-to-know-you plateau and assume they know everything they need about the other.
There is a significant relationship cost when mutual curiosity is lost.
The Relationship Help Benefits of Nurturing Ongoing Curiosity
In his research on successful marriages/relationships, John Gottman, Ph.D. found that couples who have detailed and up-to-date information about each other (what Dr. Gottman calls a Love Map) are more likely to feel closer (experience deeper emotional intimacy) and are more likely to weather the inevitable relationship storms that occur from time to time. Regularly updating your Love Maps goes a long way to keeping your marriage/relationship healthy.
How comprehensive is your Love Map of your spouse/partner?
Couples who make an effort to keep up with the details of each other’s life report feeling more cared for and central to one another—as a husband recently shared, “I feel like I matter, like I’m important when Cindy asks me about my friends, my work or my views about certain issues. If she never asked, I guess I’d just assume she didn’t care all that much about me.”
Strengthen Your Marriage/Relationship Through Ongoing Curiosity
The first step (and often most important) is to hit the pause button on any assumptions and thoughts you may hold that block you from approaching your spouse/partner with a curious, open mindset.
Challenge any assumptions that take the following form: “I already know everything there is to about him, case closed”; “There are no more surprises between us, we know each other so well”; “I know her better than she knows herself.” These and similar thoughts will block the cultivation of mutual interest and the necessary curiosity that is part of a healthy marriage/relationship.
Remember, the goal is to maintain an exploration of each other’s evolving interests, dreams (realized and unrealized), deepest fears, etc. You might feel you know everything there is to know about your partner at one point in time, but you and your partner are both always evolving, so there will always be something new to discover.
The next step is to develop a series of questions to ask each other (even if you believe you already know how your partner will respond)–often it is the process of asking and responding that allows for the deepening of emotional intimacy. These can be simple, playful questions (such as, “What is your favorite food?”; “List your three favorite movies”) and more serious questions (such as, “What is your biggest regret in life?”; “If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?”; “What is a dream that you’d like to have realized?”). Start here or be creative and come up with your own questions that feel meaningful for your life and your partner’s life.
The final step is to share your lists of questions with each other and take turns answering each question. The goal of the listener is to be fully present and to take in the information that is being disclosed. If further questions spontaneously arise while discussing each other’s answers, you can add them to the list or ask the questions as they arise.
This type of exercise will allow you each to keep up-to-date with one another while deepening the bond of emotional intimacy all at the same time. This is a win-win situation for your marriage/relationship!
Marriage/Relationship Help Featured Product
Are you in a relatively new relationship or marriage?
Research has demonstrated that premarital counseling increases the likelihood of marital success (in other words, a little preventive medicine goes a long way when it comes to your relationship).
So if you’re planning to marry, recently married or starting a committed relationship, I highly recommend the Premarital Counseling Workbook for Couples, by Lisa Brookes Kift, MFT.
This comprehensive premarital resource covers such vital issues as:
- Developing effective communication skills
- How to deepen emotional safety (essential for intimacy)
- Acquiring relationship balance
- Overcoming problematic family-of-origin issues
- How to assess your marriage/relationship expectations
- Creating a personal and marriage vision
The Premarital Counseling Workbook for Couples gives you the structure and clarity to explore these vital relationship issues with your partner. And the best part is, you can do this from the comfort and privacy of your own home and at your own pace.
Doesn’t your relationship deserve it?
Until next time,
Dr. Rich Nicastro