Being Curious and Humble Can Improve Your Relationship

5 min read

Judge a man by his questions rather than his answers.

—Voltaire (

Questions, like human relationships, are not all equal, but they can help us gain insight into them. When we approach life pessimistically, we tend to moan and seek excuses for our suffering. When we more positively engage with our partner, we seek truth in their lived experiences—often by asking powerful questions.

What are powerful questions? They often consist of open-ended inquiries driven by curiosity rather than judgment and an intellectual humility that enables us to recognize we don’t know everything.

“The power of open-ended questions lies in their ability to withhold judgment and invite curiosity” while facilitating insight, innovation, and action (Dunlop, 2022; Vogt et al., 2003). In other words, taking the time to pose a well-intentioned, deliberately crafted question can open the doors to a deeper dialogue with your partner.

Let’s examine three nodes of relationship triangles such questions can affect: active listening, mindful decision-making, and asking powerful questions. Each of these interlocked elements is critical to developing relationships.

Source: Jon Tyson / Unsplash

Questions can help us get to the heart of the matter.

Source: Jon Tyson / Unsplash

Active listening Is Really Important

Listening is more of a verb than a noun. It is also something we can all improve throughout our lives. When we improve our listening skills, we can develop relationships, even with strangers.

Why? Perhaps no other skill and behavior requires the commitment and actions to support one’s partner. To listen is to hear what motivates and inspires someone willing to share with a trusted advocate.

This is why even listening without saying anything can provide potent support for someone in distress.

In this context, a good listener is focused and humble. The focus comes from a conviction that the person talking is very important and deserves respect and attention now.

Intellectual humility stems from the belief that the speaker possesses just as much value as anyone else. By humbly focusing one’s senses on a speaker, a listener can help the other and improve themself.

How Mindful Decisions Influence Dialogue

Mindfulness is a state of presence: embracing the feelings, events, and thoughts of the current moment. It is more than a state of mind in which we feel unencumbered by the past and calm about the future. More importantly, it allows us to respond to the underlying message of circumstances deliberately rather than being enslaved to our feelings (Beverley, 2004/2008).

It’s almost as if we can observe ourselves (outside of our bodies) in action, observing how we respond and what we can learn to live better.

Being mindful is challenging because, for one reason (and as Voltaire suggests above), we often judge ourselves. That judgment can leave little room for mercy, compassion, or understanding regarding our actions, motivations, and biases.

Extending that judgment to our partner can harm trustful communication in any relationship. Non-judgmental communication enhances relationships (Hyman & Pedrick, 1999).

Popular culture resounds with pithy tropes about being grounded in wisdom. While some quotes can be quite salient, such as Ted Lasso’s “Be curious, not judgmental” (Dunlop, 2022), not all apply to our lived experiences. Each of us is a unique person with blind spots, biases, impatience, and selfish traits.

We can also grow by learning from our failures, humiliations, and losses. By listening to our partners in a focused and humble manner, we can learn to grow in our relationships. In this sense, choosing to become a better listener is a decision to improve relationships.

Powerful Questions Are Critical in Building Relationships

Powerful questions can generate curiosity and improve learning through three primary dimensions: construction, scope, and assumptions (Vogt et al., 2003).

Construction refers to linguistic structure—e.g., one will probably gain more insight by asking their partner “why” or “how” about a complex issue they’re facing. Questions can also stimulate deeper levels of reflection when they are appropriately scoped.

Relationships Essential Reads

For example, a man asking his wife, “How can we improve the institution of marriage?” will probably get a better response by asking, “How can we improve our marriage?”

Finally, questions are grounded on assumptions that can influence their response. A woman asking her partner, “Who is to blame for our problems?” likely assumes someone should be held accountable for error(s). If she asks, “How can we learn from our challenges as a couple?” her partner may likely respond positively to an opportunity to move beyond blame and to develop the relationship.

Couples who actively identify and address their underlying assumptions and misperceptions can position themselves to learn from powerful questions, thereby improving their relationships.

My wife and I have learned to use particular tools to ask ourselves questions that challenge our comfort zones, thereby facilitating our growth as a couple. For example, we both journal, which allows us to ask ourselves learning audit questions that can stimulate growth: What new thing have I learned today? Why was I angry at my partner today? How can I reconcile with her? (Culkin & Culkin, 2021).

By continuously seeking ways to improve our relationship, we have maintained a two-way conversation fueled by such reflective questions. These questions are powerful because they help you get to the heart of the relationship issues while recognizing personal blind spots, enabling both partners to identify the problem and then address it together.


We examined three aspects of improving relationships: active listening, mindful decision-making, and asking powerful questions. What questions are you asking your partner?

You May Also Like

More From Author

+ There are no comments

Add yours