Child’s play is something anyone can do, and yet usually, only children do it. We equate child’s play with something simple and easy. Wouldn’t it be awesome if hard things in life were more like “child’s play?”
What if child’s play could make something like your relationship easier? Wouldn’t THAT be awesome? Initially, your relationship probably felt like child’s play, but over time maybe that stopped being the case. Let’s spice it up again with something children do well that adults usually don’t.
Let’s get curious.
Curiosity is something we are all born with and use a lot as children, but as we become adults, it fades away. It is that wonderful state of being open to learning something new, approaching a situation without assumptions or preconceived ideas of how it will go. It is child’s play at its core. There is little fear, no ideas or expectations about how something works or what will happen, and openness to learning and understanding.
Why does curiosity fade away as we grow up?
As adults, we seem to lose our natural curiosity because of a combination of nature and nurture. Naturally, over time, we form patterns in our brains of how the world works and what to do in certain situations. Our brains are really, really good at both forming and recognizing patterns. It is part of what helped humans develop intelligence. It also makes things familiar, and then we quit paying attention, thus losing any semblance of curiosity. These patterns are terrific for survival but can hinder us in relationships (more about this below). This is the nature side of the equation.
On the other hand (the nurture side), we need to feel like we are in control or know what is about to happen. The more anxious we are, the more we need to feel in control and the less curious we are. We need to feel like we know what will happen a lot more than we want to learn something new. To feel in control, we rely on patterns and use them to predict how people will respond or what can go wrong. Because we are making assumptions based on the pattern we see and are in a heightened state of fear from looking for what can go wrong—we are basically the opposite of curious.
How can curiosity improve my relationship?
In order to be curious, you naturally need to have less fear and make fewer assumptions. Let’s walk through a simple example. Imagine your partner did something upsetting, like coming home late from work and didn’t let you know he’d be late. Usually, in this situation, you might start to worry about what happened. Do you see how fear has crept into the situation? When they get home, you might worriedly ask, “What happened? Is everything okay?” Your partner knows you’re worried, so he says, “Everything was fine. I just got caught up at the office.” Sounds benign enough, but what if your partner had a flat tire, and because you were already worried, he didn’t want to tell you about it. Your fear may have gotten in the way of learning how your partner felt and what he did to fix the tire. (Also, your partner may have made the assumption you couldn’t handle the story of what really happened because you’ve been so fearful when things like this have happened in the past—he had noticed and remembered a pattern of how you react.)
Imagine your partner was late, but instead of worrying about what was wrong, you became curious. Why would he be late? Maybe he ran into an old friend just before leaving the office, maybe his boss popped into his office and held him up, maybe the car broke down, maybe he stopped to help a stranger, maybe he stopped at the store to buy you a bouquet of flowers. Maybe maybe maybe.
The truth is, you don’t really know why he was late, and there is no benefit to worrying about something going wrong until you know something is wrong. Now, you are curious: open to learning what happened, and willing to understand.
In this state, how might you respond when your partner gets home? Assuming he did not walk in with a bouquet of flowers, <wink> you’d ask with curiosity (not fear), “What held you up?” and wait to hear what happened. He’d be open to telling you, and you’d learn more about him and his day. Now you have connected emotionally, rather than expecting your partner to ease your fears.
Do you see how being curious could improve interactions with your partner?
Wonderful side-effects of being more curious.
More curiosity means less fear. When you have a fearful thought, it shuts down your openness to what is happening and causes you to rely on old patterns, forcing you to make an assumption. Fear is also a lot more stressful than curiosity, and we could all use a little less stress in our lives!! Don’t you agree?
As you start playing around with having more curiosity in your life, you’ll start to notice it showing up in other situations. It’s far less work to be curious than it is to make assumptions and then act as if your assumptions are true. Most of the time, they aren’t true, and then you have to backtrack or re-orient yourself to what is actually happening.
At the next opportunity, when you notice you are assuming what your partner will say or starting to worry, stop and ask yourself, “What if this was as easy as child’s play?”