Once, when I was much younger and relatively new to the personal growth field, I went to a self-esteem conference where I sat next to a much older gentleman. Prior to the presentation, he asked me what I thought self-esteem was and what I knew about the topic. I thought he was asking because he didn’t know and took advantage of the moment to teach him everything I knew about the subject. He listened respectfully. Then when they introduced the next speaker, you can imagine my surprise when he stood up and walked to the podium.
Other than my embarrassment over not recognizing his authority on the subject, his humble inquiry and curiosity taught me such a powerful lesson. He could have easily taken advantage of the moment, as an expert on the topic, to spew everything he knew, but instead he asked me several questions and listened intently. I realized that being humble and curious is how one learns; it is also how we engage another in a heart to heart conversation.
As I went forth in the realm of relationships, I realized these skills of humility and curiosity were also critical when it comes to love. Well, maybe not so much for love, but definitely for compatibility.
When on vacation on Maui, I met a man (who later became my husband) and proceeded to get to know him while there. When I returned home and we continued to communicate long distance, these lessons became useful. While we knew we were attracted to each other from our face-to-face encounter, we didn’t know if we were compatible beyond that, so we proceeded to ask each other questions. We explored each other’s interests, values, lifestyles, goals, habits, dreams, and spirituality. We ended up coining the phrase “Intellectual Foreplay” and writing a book by the same title to encourage the intriguing and enticing process of asking questions to get to know another better. Oddly enough, we discovered that people tend to ask questions about a house or a car they are buying other more than they ask of someone they are about to share their heart, body and life with.
Sometimes when I talk to people about the importance of asking questions early on in a relationship and paying attention to the answers given, they are concerned that this process turns dating into an interview or interrogation. If you ask questions in order to sway their answers or try to make them think the same way you do or from a place of “I’m right, let me see if you are wrong,” this concern is well founded. They will feel disrespected and manipulated. This is where the “humble” part comes in, and is a great opportunity to practice keeping your ego in check. If you ask from the perspective of “who are you and what matters to you?” people feel honored and respected instead of interrogated. True curiosity is simply a desire to know.
Once we have been with someone for a long time, we tend to think we know them already and begin making huge assumptions about what they think, how they feel, and how they will handle a situation. We even finish sentences for each other and in some cases, conversation becomes minimal. We often forget that we are all constantly growing, changing and learning and what may have once been true about someone’s perspective may not be anymore. Curious and humble inquiry and listening are great ways to keep the relationship alive and growing through time.
The invitation, should you choose to accept it, is to develop your curiosity. Notice when you assess right or wrong and instead realize what may be right or wrong for you, may not be the same for the other. See if you can simply relabel the judgment of wrong into an acceptance of different.
In our recent Love Well podcast, Harville Hendrix and Helen Hunt pointed out, “Your partner is not you.” The opportunity here is to simply find out who your partner or potential partner is, how they are feeling and what they are thinking now, even if you already think you are the expert. You may learn something you never knew before. You may realize that these differences merit getting no closer, or you may fall in love all over again.