How do we, as human beings, get close to one another? It’s no secret that asking your partner though-provoking questions, and learning more about them, can create a deeper intimacy. However, the question remains: what can we ask that will provide real insight? Psychologist Arthur Aron and his colleagues set out to determine just that.
Their very detailed, thoroughly conducted, and widely tested experiment confirms that asking your partner a specific set of thirty-six questions, and sharing your answers with one another, can cause you to develop a startling level of intimacy in a very short time. “One key pattern associated with the development of a close relationship among peers,” said the study’s authors, “is sustained, escalating, reciprocal, personal self-disclosure.”
The questions are divided into three sets of twelve. Although none of the questions are at all superficial, the first set are the least intimidating. If you could wake up tomorrow having gained any one quality or ability, what would it be? Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest? These are questions you have likely been asked before, and sharing the answers will feel comfortable and fun.
The second set delves a little bit deeper. How do you feel about your relationship with your mother? How close and warm is your family? Do you feel your childhood was happier than most other people’s? This is where things really start to get intimate. The real truth bombs, however, get dropped in section three. When did you last cry in front of another person? By yourself? Complete this sentence: “I wish I had someone with whom I could share …”
You can find the full list of thirty-six questions here. I highly recommend going over them with your partner, your children, or even your best friend. However, a full arsenal of thirty-six questions can be a little bit intimidating for a new relationship or a first date, and few of us have the intensity to demand so many answers so early on. For this reason, I have compiled the ten questions I find to be the most probing and enjoyable to answer – three from each of the latter sections, and four from the first – to serve as an abbreviated version of this experiment.
HERE ARE MY TOP TEN QUESTIONS YOU SHOULD ASK A NEW PARTNER TO CREATE INTIMACY:
1. WHEN DID YOU LAST SING TO YOURSELF? TO SOMEONE ELSE?
2. WHAT WOULD CONSTITUTE A “PERFECT” DAY FOR YOU?
3. FOR WHAT IN YOUR LIFE DO YOU FEEL MOST GRATEFUL?
4. IF YOU COULD CHANGE ANYTHING ABOUT THE WAY YOU WERE RAISED, WHAT WOULD IT BE?
5. IS THERE SOMETHING THAT YOU’VE DREAMED OF DOING FOR A LONG TIME? WHY HAVEN’T YOU DONE IT?
6. IF YOU KNEW THAT IN ONE YEAR YOU WOULD DIE SUDDENLY, WOULD YOU CHANGE ANYTHING ABOUT THE WAY YOU ARE NOW LIVING? WHY?
7. WHAT DO YOU VALUE MOST IN A FRIENDSHIP?
8. SHARE AN EMBARRASSING MOMENT IN YOUR LIFE.
9. MAKE THREE TRUE “WE” STATEMENTS EACH. FOR INSTANCE, “WE ARE BOTH IN THIS ROOM FEELING …”
10. Share a personal problem and ask your partner’s advice on how he or she might handle it. Also, ask your partner to reflect back to you how you seem to be feeling about the problem you have chosen.
A little intense? Sure. Effective? Absolutely. Mandy Len Catron, of the New York Times, tested this theory with the full set of thirty-six questions. Did she fall in love? Actually, yes – and she’s not the only one. At least one couple partnered through the initial experiment – who were previously strangers – were married only six months later. It sounds crazy, sure – but doesn’t love itself involve more than a little bit of insanity? Try these questions on your next date. Abbreviate to three or four if ten seems like too many, or try the full set of thirty-six if you’re feeling bold. What have you got to lose?
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