Are you anxious to be heard? Would you like someone to sit patiently while you tell them what is bothering you? Do you long for someone to hear your heart, more than just the words you are saying?
Most would answer ‘yes’ to those two questions. Most people are anxious to tell you what is on their hearts. They really simply want someone to care enough to ask them gentle questions. The key word here is ‘gentle.’
This can be a delicate dance. If you ask too forcefully, the person to whom you are speaking will feel threatened. Able to discern that you aren’t really asking to hear their heart but rather voice your agenda, they will close down.
“I really want my husband to care enough about what is percolating inside me to patiently ask me probing questions,” Susan said, her husband sitting across from her on the couch at The Marriage Recovery Center. “I want what is on my heart to be nudged out of me.”
Susan and Charles had been married only four years, with a young son and another on the way. Even though married just a short time, they were in a marriage crisis. Susan, a delicate woman appearing depressed, had left Charles and agreed to reconcile only if they received depth help.
Charles didn’t like what he heard.
“I can’t read her mind,” he said defensively. “I’m more than happy to hear what she tells me, but I can’t ask twenty questions.”
“Fair enough,” I jumped in. “I don’t think you should have to ask twenty questions, but you will have to be gently curious. This is a skill we all need to have. The ability to encourage our mate to share what is on their heart without being too blunt in the process.”
“Seems like a lot of work for nothing,” Charles said. “Why can’t she just tell me? I ask her why she is feeling a certain way, or why she is doing what she is doing and she takes offense.”
“Because I don’t necessarily know what I’m thinking or why I’m doing what I’m doing,” Susan said. “I need to be able to talk things out to know what is on my heart. Sometimes when you ask ‘why’ I hear criticism instead of curiosity.”
Charles looked puzzled.
“Some people process internally,” I said. “Some need to talk things out to know what they are thinking. I’m an external processor,” I admitted. “I like my wife to ask me questions so I know what choices I want to make. How about you?”
“I guess I’m an internal processor,” he said. “I want to be left alone to figure out what I think.”
I smiled, acknowledging their two different styles. In each situation, however, both would need gentle curiosity to be able to have meaningful dialogue and open their hearts to each other.
I recommended the following to help them cultivate the skill of being ‘gently curious.’
First, remain curious, not challenging. We never want to feel challenged when having a dialogue with our mate or others. We want to feel encouraged to share more. We want to be assured that others really care about us, about our heart, and what we are thinking and feeling.
Second, be wary of ‘the why question.’ While asking questions can be a great way to encourage dialogue, there are certain questions that can immediately shut a conversation down. Asking someone why they did what they did, or feel what they feel, can feel threatening. Something seemingly as innocuous as “Why did you leave the bread on the counter?” can feel challenging, shaming and is likely to evoke a defensive response. Be very careful in asking ‘why’ questions.
Third, encourage sharing. Being careful of asking ‘why’ questions, you can encourage your mate to tell you more about something. “I’d like to hear more about what happened at the meeting today.” Gently probing, being mindful of cues your mate gives regarding their desire to share more, will help you.
Fourth, make note of when they are done sharing. We all reach a saturation point where we are ready to stop talking about something. A dialogue is a dance, and we must be careful not to step on our mate’s toes. Watch for cues that suggest he/ she is done sharing. Allow for times of silence or pauses in a conversation.
Finally, be willing to reciprocate. We share to the depth and degree that others share with us. Be willing to share your own feelings and reactions as your mate is sharing their feelings and thoughts. Again, watch for the dance. Notice the give and take.
In summary, we must be careful with our words. Scripture tells us, “ Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing” (Proverbs 12:18). Be careful with your words. Seek greater understanding of your mate, but do some gently.
We are here to help and offer phone/ Skype counseling on issues related to this article. Please go to our website, www.marriagerecoverycenter.com and discover more information about this as well as the free downloadable eBook, A Love Life of Your Dreams, including other free videos and articles. Please send responses to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and also read more about The Marriage Recovery Center on our website. You’ll find videos and podcasts on sexual addiction, emotionally destructive marriages, codependency and affair-proofing your marriage.
Publication date: September 8, 2014