I first saw this YouTube Clip of the Still Face Experiment when I attended the Emotion Focused Therapy Summit in NYC in 2013:
I couldn’t get it out of my mind and ended up watching it maybe 15 times, all the while, sharing it with friends and colleagues. In the clip a baby and mother are engaging in a playful interaction, when the mother – instructed to do so – goes blank. All the emotion and responsiveness drains from her face. The baby is confused, then upset. She finally shows quite a bit of distress at the fact that her mother emotionally abandoned her. When the mother “reawakens”, her baby easily reengages, eager to reunite and continue discovering the world and their relationship together.
This all happens in a span of about 60 seconds. It’s amazing.
What the mother was expressing during the ‘engaged’ phases of this experiment was clearly love – the smiling, mirroring, rhythmic interaction exhibited a deep connection between mother and child. And an essential component of that expression of love was curiosity. I can imagine the mother thinking, “what is my child feeling? What is she looking at? Who is she now? Who will she become?” When we are curious, we are engaged, we care and want deeply to understand the other.
This extends naturally to romantic love. We want to understand our partner, feel what they are feeling, know what they are thinking. When we begin to get bored in our romantic relationships, sometimes we begin to wonder why: Is it a sign of falling out of love? Maybe an indication that we have grown distant from our partner? Boredom can be viewed as a signal, one that is telling us a component of our relationship is lacking.
How curious are you feeling about your partner? Are you asking questions? Wondering what they might be thinking and feeling at any given moment? Reigniting your own sense of interest in your partner may be an important first step in helping you reconnect.