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8 Steps for when Relationships get Messy

messy relationshipsLet’s face it relationships can get messy quite easily – whether it is a relationship with a friend, a lover, a boss, a colleague, a child or a spouse.

We’re all individuals with different expectations, needs, beliefs and behaviours. We all think and hope that everyone will automatically understand our intention, our life view, our choices and our behaviours and act accordingly.

And when they don’t… we get upset, irritated, frustrated, sad and sometimes downright angry.  We often act out of that emotion, and to our friend or partner it looks like we’ve suddenly become this crazed, demented woman (or man). Or you may do the opposite and simply retreat into your shell and hope that by burying your head in the sand the situation will somehow resolve itself.

I’ve just returned from Singapore where I had a relationship turn weird and messy.  Over a few hours it went from happy, peaceful and fun to confusing, irritating and cold.   I felt frustrated and shifted into my defense pattern, my “Hey, I’m-an-independent-woman-who-oozes-confidence-and-can-take-on-the-world-and-don’t-need-you” mode.  That frustrated him and he retreated into his default “I’m-realistic,-pragmatic-and-unemotional” mode.  For almost a full day we ping-ponged back and forth, frustration levels rising and communication becoming more stilted and strained.

Luckily I have an amazing friend, coach and colleague, Bruce Muzik, who over the last 4 years has taught me so much about how to shift relationships quickly.  He runs a coaching program called Love at First Fight, which helps couples to move through tough times.

He taught me about the Power of “Curious Conversations” and how they can shift ANY (and I mean any) relationship situation.

Bruce’s premise of “Curious Conversation” is that when you come from an intention of curiousity and fascination about someone else’s world, not only do they feel accepted, they also feel able to share their perspective of the experience.

8 Steps for when relationships get messyHere are the steps to having a Curious Conversation

  1. Awareness – realise you are in frustration, irritation, upset with someone in your life (it could be anyone)
  2. Breathe and calm yourself down
  3. For a moment, allow yourself to simply drop your upset, judgments about the other person and feeling like you’re right and they’re wrong.
  4. Now think of a way  you could start the conversation with  “I’m curious as to why….?”  The question must not seek to blame, make a judgment against or make the other person wrong for what they’ve done.
  5. Now let go again of any bitchiness, upset or frustration that may still be lingering (I know this may be tough, but it is an important part of the process)
  6. Ask the person the Curious question, with the intention of really understanding and being compassionate about the other person’s world and seeking to come back into a space of love, respect and understanding.
  7. Curiousity and Compassion are KEY!
  8. Keep asking the “I’m curious why…”  or “I’m wondering about…” questions until you come to an understanding of the other person’s perspective, really put yourself in their shoes.

Bruce Muzik, has also taught me another powerful paradigm for creating wonderful relationships that work.

“Everything that is not love, is simply a misunderstanding”

And if you can get to the bottom of the misunderstanding between you and someone else, you will automatically come back into ‘love’ with the other person.

In Singapore after a day of frustration and an escalation of messiness, I used the Curious Conversation Steps.   Believe me it took a lot of courage to open my mouth and ask the question, especially because our communication at that stage was icy.

My question was  “I’m curious to know why you think we’ve been so antsy and frustrated with each other today?”

“Do you really want to know?” he replied

“Yes,” I answered nervously

And then he shared with me his perspective of the events of the day.  It was enlightening.  His perception of my behavior was spot on and his story explained why he’d reacted the way he did. We were suddenly in a conversation again. It felt like we were sharing rather than snapping at each other.  Some of the things he said had a little sting for me, but I tried not to take it personally and I kept putting myself in his shoes and seeing from his perspective. It was immensely valuable feedback for my growth and development.

The following day started well and a few hours later it got messy again.


Because that’s what happens sometimes in relationships!

And again I employed the Curious Conversation steps – I realised I was in frustration, I breathed and calmed down and got over myself,  I also used a tool from my “Out of Fear into Fabulousness” Program – which is 2 questions:

“If I have this conversation, what’s the best thing that can happen?”

That we resolve our situation and find a connection again

If I have this conversation, what’s the worst thing that can happen?”

That by having the conversation it blows up even more.

But the reality is that it had already reached a point where we were disconnected and not really communicating. How much worse could it really get?

So I formulated the question and asked it

“I’m curious about whether in your previous relationships you’ve always been this practical and pragmatic?”

“Ummm, I guess so,” he replied

“I’m wondering if you’ve ever had real romance and spontaneity in any of your previous relationships?”

This question opened up a whole conversation in which I shared, he shared, I cried, he got uncomfortable, I got uncomfortable, we shared some more.  And I kept holding onto the intention to be curious and fascinated about his world.   And because I was truly holding that intention, he softened and was able to talk.

After the conversation he went out for a walk. I think he needed to process all of the emotion.

When he came back we had one of the most intimate and vulnerable conversations I’ve ever had the honour to be involved in.  He shared about his past, his fears and his perceived inadequacies.

It was Curious Conversation that created this possibility, his ability to soften and share his world, his willingness to open up, his ability to express some experiences he’d never expressed before.  Because he didn’t feel “judged” or “wrong” or “bad”, he felt accepted and heard.  And it was the same for me.

And with that, the intimacy, the gentleness and the kindness returned into our relating.

As I left Singapore he sent me this message “Thank you for allowing me to see and experience new feelings.”

While my story is about a partner relationship, this kind of Curious Conversation can be used with anyone.  My business partner, Timea and I use it all the time with each other.  In fact it has become our default method of communicating with each other.  We often use the words “I’m fascinated by…” and then share with the other person our perception of their world.  This has created an extraordinary relationship for the two of us.

So after reading this loooooong article (thank you!), it is now your turn to practice ;-)

Which relationship or relationships are “off” in your life at the moment?

And how can you apply the Curious Conversation steps into your life?

Here are some examples of Curious Conversation Question examples for different people in your life:

“I’m curious as to why you are no longer as inspired and enthusiastic about this job as you were six months ago?”

“I’m wondering why you are no longer calling me every week for a catch-up?”

“I’m curious about your health, how are you feeling, and what you think is causing this stress and illness for you?”

“I’m wondering why you think your school marks have dipped over the past year?”


When you read these questions, can you see how “non-judgemental” they are?

Can you feel that if someone asked you this type of question, you’d be open to answering it?


Please feedback below on some Curious Conversation Questions that you’d like to ask some people in your life, or your experience with conversations that have shifted relationships for you.

Feedback below and I’ll add my comments too!


Good luck with shifting the mess and remember

“Anything that is not love, is simply a misunderstanding!”

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