Curious about Curiosity?

Couple with their faces covered by question marksPeople who have been in long marriages or relationships get to know each other rather well. They can often anticipate what the other person might say or do or think or want, you get the picture. In loving relationships, partners might sometimes have a reliance on each other to know what each other wants without having to tell or explain, and sometimes they can and do just that. It might help them to feel loved, recognized, and appreciated. The “knowing” of the other person is experienced through a positive filter.

In a divorce, this feeling of knowing may get you into trouble. At a time when emotions run high and hurt feelings and anger are readily available, the ability to trust your sense of the other person is compromised. A negative filter makes it difficult to notice or remember the good qualities of the other person. You may be in a position where you feel the only thing you can do is be self-protective and look to see what he or she is doing that may be wrong or blame-worthy.

What you lose is your curiosity about the other person and you gain the belief that you can predict the other’s thoughts, motives and actions – and it isn’t a very pretty picture.

You may believe that if you can anticipate what your ex-partner will do, you might be able to know what to do in the face of the inevitability of their wrong-doing.  You may also want to distance yourself from being at fault for what difficulties there are in your co-parenting relationship.

The Sixty to Seventy Percent Rule – I have developed a theory I think illustrates the problem with suspending curiosity and believing your thoughts about another person. As mentioned above, when we know another person very well, we are often able to anticipate their thoughts and actions. My belief is that we are good enough at it to be correct about sixty to seventy percent of the time. If you are truly empathetic, you might push that up to eighty percent. However, most people are probably in the sixty to seventy percent range. This means that if you are right sixty to seventy percent of the time, you are wrong thirty to forty percent of it. Or, for you empaths, twenty percent. The problem comes in knowing which is which.  How would you know if you were in your sixty to seventy percent range or your thirty to forty percent range?  Difficult to know without checking it out by asking the other person. Becoming curious about your own thoughts helps create a bridge to the other person. You may find you are still right a good portion of the time – with confirmation. You will also find out where you may be making assumptions that are false and which might also feed your negative feelings about your ex-partner.

When you stay open to the possibility that you do not necessarily know what your partner will say or do and you monitor your assumptions about them, you maintain the possibility of having a channel of communication that is less fraught with argument and disappointment. You may still not like what he or she is thinking or doing, but you will at least not like it from the standpoint of knowing what it is they are actually thinking or doing.

It is also important to be curious about your own thoughts and feelings. There is a saying that goes “Just because you think it doesn’t make it true”. Our thoughts and feelings are not hallmarks of reality. In one divorce, a mother insisted that she get the family home and could not understand why there was a disagreement from the father about this. She just knew this was the way it should be. After much discussion, she began to realize that her belief was based on the fact that when her parents divorced, her mother got the house and as far as she knew, there was no disagreement about it from her father. She continued into the conversation, knowing why she believed she should get the house and also being more open to other possibilities. Maintaining curiosity about yourself and others helps to keep you grounded in reality.

© Copyright 2010 by Shendl Tuchman, PsyD, therapist in San Ramon, California. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Anna

    Anna

    November 3rd, 2010 at 3:34 PM

    I only thought that I knew my husband until I went through our divorce. Then I am not sure who he turned into.

  • Will

    Will

    November 3rd, 2010 at 7:14 PM

    Knowing your partner well is a good thing but sometimes this can backfire. Also just when you think you can anticipate your partner’s next move, please remember that they can anticipate you too!!

  • Melissa Gratzinger

    Melissa Gratzinger

    November 3rd, 2010 at 7:48 PM

    I think this feeling of familiarity also prevents us from asking the other person what is going on rather than assuming and also not assume they know what we are thinking and feeling either. This can get many people into trouble as well. Although it sometimes feels like we know the other person as well as we know ourselves and they know us, we must remember that it doesn’t mean we are on the same page. Especially when we are feeling hurt, mad, or depressed; being completely open with the other person is essential to working things out. When we don’t bring those conflicts to light, they have less of an opportunity to be resolved. Being curious about the other person encourages both to ask more and assume less.

  • Steve

    Steve

    November 4th, 2010 at 4:34 AM

    Sometimes I think that you can try to know your partner too well and this can really hurt what the two of you have together. You may make assumptions that are not correct and this can really hurt the other partner and set the relationship back. The great thing about a good working relationship is that it is a chance to leave yourself and your partner open to learning new things about each other and yourself. Where is all of the fun and excitement when everything is so predictable. Leave yourself open to finding out something new and I can almost promise that this will offer the spice that you may have lost somewhere along the way.

  • Mandy

    Mandy

    November 4th, 2010 at 4:42 AM

    A little curiosity is always a good thing.This is because a bit of a mystery is always good ad the walking into the unknown has it’s own thrill.

  • martha

    martha

    November 4th, 2010 at 11:15 PM

    knowing the habits of your partner may sometimes lead you into thinking that they are going to act the same way every time…this can be especially bad when what your partner does is something unpleasant and you assume that this is going to continue even when your partner is trying to change his/her habits…

  • KJP

    KJP

    November 5th, 2010 at 4:36 AM

    Maybe you do know someone well but that is no excuse for taking them for granted you know.

  • GINA

    GINA

    November 5th, 2010 at 9:20 AM

    i agree with you Mandy and KJP… If we know someone well enough then we should use that to make them happy and not to actually take advantage of them and yeah knowing too much can be a no-brainer too,so a little something unknown is always good :)

  • Shendl Tuchman

    Shendl Tuchman

    November 18th, 2010 at 9:33 PM

    It sounds like a group of people who have thought through some of the very important aspects of how relationships work. I hope this article has sparked some additional thinking for you.

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