Be Curious, Not Furious:

Improving Your Communication

Did you know you can’t be angry at your partner and be understanding at the same time?  Why?  When you’re defending your point, you are so wrapped up in your own thoughts and feelings you can’t listen.  When you are in this reactive mode, blaming and defending yourself, it is especially difficult to get at the truth.  It’s hard to know what’s really going on between you and your partner.  You feel hurt and mad and just want to make the other person see your point.

People often stay stuck in these negative arguing patterns without a clue as to how to stop the arguing and get to the bottom of things.  Is there a solution?  You bet. It’s called,  “Be Curious, Not Furious”.

What does this mean?  It means being curious about what’s bugging your partner rather than attacking or blaming them.  Instead of bursting out with the same old reactions that only add fuel to the fire, we suggest slowing down, holding onto your angry impulses and taking the time to explore what’s at the heart of your partner’s feelings.   It means asking questions rather than calling  names or pushing your opinion.  For example, if your partner gets mad at you, instead of getting defensive you could be curious and ask, “Why are you so upset right now?”

This is not an easy skill to acquire and many couples struggle to learn it.  But it is the essence of good communication and a direct route to understanding your partner.  And the best part?  Anyone can learn it.
The first step is to hold back your usual negative reactions.  How can you do this when you are in the middle of a heated argument? 

It’s important to call a Time Out, a period for each of you to cool down.  It is very important that these rules for a Time Out are agreed upon in advance:

  • After a time out is called, no last minute “put downs” allowed.

  • Establish the usual length of a Time Out (an hour is common).
  • Think ahead about what helps you cool down: going into another room, taking a walk, calling a friend, listening to music, etc.  Figure out what works best for you to calm yourself.

  • After a Time Out return to talk about the issues

It’s not a good idea to use the cooling off period to sharpen your argument; plotting how you’ll give your partner a piece of your mind won’t help. You’ll just start the argument all over again.

Instead, after you calm yourself, think about how you contributed to the argument. Did you get defensive?  Blame or criticize you partner?  Did you decide to not listen?  Were you sarcastic?  Did you use name-calling?  It is important to return to the discussion having some understanding of your role in why the communication broke down.

Return to your partner with a new attitude. More open-hearted and curious.  Start by admitting your contribution to the argument. For example, “I realize I was pretty sarcastic and can see that it made you defensive.  I’ll try to be better.” 

Take fifteen minutes per person to explore each other’s positions.  One partner will have the floor first as the other asks questions, explores and gets the full story about where their partner is coming from. 

The partner asking questions is likely to want to make a rebuttal, but he/she must contain his/her impulse.   Be careful not to interrupt, and do not ask loaded questions to lead your partner to your point of view. ( e.g. “Don’t you think I was in the right?”).  Commit yourself to understanding your partner, EVEN IF YOU DISAGREE.

You can’t resolve a problem or negotiate a compromise unless you know each other’s position.  Cultivate a desire to really get to know your partner on a deeper level. There often  are surprising and satisfying discoveries.

When we help couples find their curiosity for each other, there is palpable relief; they feel more hopeful because they understand each other better and can communicate more clearly. They learn to be curious, not furious.

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