Dr. Arthur Aron studies the science of intimacy and love at the Stony Brook University School of Medicine in New York. He's found out a lot of interesting data about how couples fall in love, deepen their connection, and stay satisfied in relationships. He also studies interpersonal closeness as a cognitive overlap between self and other and how self expansion motivations relate to and can be used to alleviate the common decline in relationship satisfaction over time. He's a fellow of the American Psychological Society, and a main investigator on a major national science foundation research grant. He's an editor for several professional journals.
I was reminded of his work this week when I read the New York Times column on Sunday, January 11, 2015 by writer Mandy Lee Catron for their Modern Love column. Catron tells her own story of using some of Dr. Aron's findings on her own behalf to see if she and a university acquaintance from rock climbing could fall in love. Instead of a lab, they met at a bar and later on a bridge. She tried applying some of Aron's findings. If love is an intense desire to form and maintain a close relationship with another person, then some of the building blocks are kinds of communication that create intimacy, connectedness, commitment, loyalty, willingness to be with that other person and least central, but still part of it, are passion and intensity.
The New York Times writer and her acquaintance used the 36 questions that Aron developed to help build connection. They can be used for bringing you and your partner closer together. You can also adapt them to use in other close relationships. It should take only about 45 minutes. Here are the questions, which should be done in this prescribed order, alternating between the two people:
1.Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest?
2. Would you like to be famous? In what way?
3. Before making a phone call, do you ever rehearse what you are going to say? Why?
4.What would constitute a perfect day for you?
5.When did you last sing to yourself? To someone else?
6. If you were able to live to age 90 and retain either the mind or the body of a 30-year old for the last 60 years of your life, which would you choose?
7. Do you have a secret hunch about how you will die?
8. Name three things that you and your partner appear to have in common.
9. For what in your life do you feel the most grateful?
10. If you could change anything about how you were raised, what would it be?
11. Take four minutes and tell your partner your life story in as much detail as possible.
12. If you could wake up tomorrow having gained one quality or ability, what would it be?
13. If a crystal ball could tell you the truth about yourself, your life, the future or anything else, what would you want to know?
14. Is there something you've dreamed of doing for a long time? Why haven't you done it?
15. What is the greatest accomplishment of your life?
16. What do you value most in a friendship?
17. What is your most treasured memory?
18. What is your most terrible memory?
19. If you knew in one year you would die suddenly, would you change anything about the way you are living now? Why?
20. What does friendship mean to you?
21. What roles do love and affection play in your life?
22. Alternate sharing something you consider a positive characteristic of your partner. Share a total of five times each.
23. How close and warm is your family? Do you feel your childhood was happier than most other people's?
24. How do you feel about your relationship with your mother?
25. Make three true "we" statements each. For example, "we are both in this room feeling..."
26. Complete this sentence "I wish I had someone with whom I could share..."
27. If you were ever to become a close friend with your partner, please share what would be important for him or her to know.
28. Tell your partner what you like about them:be honest this time, saying things that you might not say to someone that you've just met.
29. Share with your partner an embarrassing moment in your life.
30. When did you last cry in front of someone else/by yourself?
31. Tell your partner something that you like about them already.
32.What, if anything, is too serious to be joked about?
33. If you were to die this evening with no opportunity to communicate with anyone, what would you regret not having told someone? Why haven't you told them yet?
34.Your house, containing everything you own, catches fire. After saving your loved ones and pets, you have time to safely make a final dash to save any one item. What would it be? Why?
35. Of all the people in your family, whose death would you find the most disturbing? Why?
36. 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.
Here are a couple variations:
If you could chose the sex and physical appearance of your soon-to be-born child, would you do it?
Would you be willing to have horrible nightmares for a year if you would be rewarded with extraordinary wealth?
While on a trip to another city, your spouse/partner spends a night with an exciting stranger. Given that they will never meet again, and could never otherwise learn of the incident, would you want your partner to learn about it?
These questions remind me of some of the things I try to develop between couples I see in couples counseling: openness, vulnerability, self-disclosure, expressiveness of emotion, being generous with specific compliments, listening, joining, sharing hopes and dreams, and communicating about fears, values and needs. Have some fun with engaging with your partner if you want to deepen your connection.
And what happened to the New York Times columnist Mandy Lee Catron who embarked on these questions with her friend from rock climbing? They fell in love. Dr. Aron would be so happy, but not surprised.