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Curiosity, Interest and Acceptance

Several issues ago (link) I wrote about relationships, and proposed the following:

• I can only commit to an action - to something I will do.
• I commit to being in relationship with you. Here is what I commit to:
• I will be open, honest and vulnerable in my daily communication with you.
• I will tell you, today, who I am and what I am thinking.
• I will tell you, today, everything I have done, and what it meant to me.
• I will listen to you with curiosity and interest, today.
• I will accept that you are who you are today, and will integrate who you are today with my picture of you from "yesterday."
• I will make myself fully available and present to and with you, today, and engage in clear and concise communication with you for not less than 30 minutes, today.
• I will own all of my thoughts, feelings, emotions and interpretations, working to take full responsibility for each and every one of them. If I slip and go into blaming, I will stop myself, apologise, and return to self-responsibility.
• I will actively encourage you to listen to me and to actively hold me to the performance of what I have committed to.
• I will commit to all of these things, without any expectation of anything from you, as all I can ever commit to is to what I can and will do.

This Week's Article

• I will listen to you with curiosity and interest, today.
• I will accept that you are who you are today, and will integrate who you are today with my picture of you from "yesterday."

Curiosity, Interest and Acceptance – Sounds like an accounting firm…

Many people come back from workshops that teach communication, (ours, Haven's, wherever) and think they have to use perfect communication all the time – that what they've learned is required behaviour in all situations. Then, they go about exhausting themselves, asking "curiosity questions" of the postal worker, the store clerk, the pimple-faced teen at the golden arches.

I suggest less foolishness and more focus.

The truth is this: in a workshop where such communication is being taught, the learning process encourages paying attention to everyone, and practicing all the time. Out of the teaching environment, I can only be deeply committed to intimate relationship with one principal partner, and less deeply, or situationally, committed to a few others.

For example, I am committed to total honesty as well as curiosity with my supervisor and therapist. This involvement is deep and intimate for one hour per month, and has been for 28 years. As I consider Ben & Jock to be true friends of the heart, I commit to openness and presence with them when I am with them or communicating by e-mail. Darbella gets the most of me, and this extends to the time we are together, as that's the deal we've made.

I contract to be present with and interested in my clients, for their session time. Of course.

Beyond that, at the level of friends, my ability to be totally engaged with them drops off a bit. When a friend is in crisis, I choose full presence, but ...

in general, it's not possible to do presence with a ton of people.

So, as regards the above list re. commitment, this commitment is with one's principal partner.

With this person, the list must apply –
fully and completely.

Curiosity is an interesting thing. Often, poorly trained communicators think curiosity means that others should be endlessly curious about them – about every detail of their life. This becomes the focus, and it is not reciprocal. Naturally, this is 180 degrees off.

Curiosity is my internal process of comparing the experience I am having with my past experience of the person (or thing.) It is also my internal process of comparing what my partner is saying with what my partner is doing.

If, in the middle of my being curious (which is a process I'm engaging in internally – not just mouthing the word "curious,") something is not clear for me, I may ask, "I'm curious as to what you intend by your words or actions." This is for clarification of my internal process.

I'm providing this explanation because many people don't "get" that listening, being curious and commenting is not the same as judging. Poor communicators think that curiosity is a sneaky way to get in a judgment or two. The question, above, becomes, "I'm curious as to why you behave so badly and are so stupid." This is not curiosity – it is judgment.

Curiosity is also not carte blanche to offer advice. I've had to work on this one.

There is a principle in Morita Therapy (a Japanese Psychotherapy) called "respect." A Morita Therapist never offers unsolicited advice. My nature is to pop off with the advice. Darbella has helped me to learn to be present without offering suggestions. Mostly, when Dar is having a moment, she wants me close, perhaps pushing Bodywork points, and mostly silent. I can do this, and I do this, and I make it tricky.

Curiosity helps me to add data and experience to the "file" of the person (or situation) I'm with. That's the point of the second item on today's list. My goal is to achieve a more and more accurate picture of the person. This means that I must add and incorporate new data without judgment. (Hmm. Maybe the next issues ought to be on "non-judgment?")

This is not the same as condoning stupid, rotten behaviour. I always have the right to leave a dysfunctional relationship or to refuse to participate in something I don't "feel right" about. If I want a deep, full and meaningful relationship, however, I can not and must not create a "straw person" to tilt against.

In other words, I do not have a "here are all the things I'd change" list about Dar. We're coming up on 20 years married and 23 years together, and I've never had such a list. What I have is a "here is Dar, as I know her today" file. It contains all that I know about her. There are elements in that file, behaviours that she does and I don't, that I judge to be part of her and something I don't do.

What they are not is BAD.

I can never figure out people who endlessly criticize their partners. Who blame their partners. Who put their partners down. Who mock or berate their partners either to their face or to others. I cannot understand why I would do that with the person I choose to spend my life with, nor can I understand what would give me the right to do this.

Yet, blame and criticism seem to be the bookmarks of relationships.

Here are two truths.

First, your partner is exactly and precisely who they appear to be – how they act – (not who they say they are…) The only two viable choices are acceptance or packing your bag and leaving.
The third option, endless carping, manipulating, fighting – judging, is just stupid.

The second truth – you are not there to fix your partner. You can only fix yourself. Your job is to work on yourself and to share yourself with your partner. And your partner, in a healthy relationship, does the same. Each step along the way, the task is to integrate my "new partner" (the new data) into my present picture or file. Period.

Get it?

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