Can You Build or Rekindle Romance with Just 36 Questions?

Rear view of couple on shoreline at dawn. Foreground of picture centers on beach chairs and lanterns close togetherWhen falling in love, we tend to view our romantic feelings as deep and unique, born of the extraordinary and wonderful qualities of the person we are in love with.

But according to research conducted by Arthur Aron, a psychologist who specializes in the study of romance and love, this process is governed by chemistry, or chemicals in the brain. How’s that for romance?

So Being in Love Is Just Chemistry?

In 1997, Aron, along with his colleagues, conducted an experiment by pairing off college student volunteers who were not acquainted and giving them 36 questions to answer. These questions were divided into three segments, and each segment’s questions became more personal. After both partners had answered all the questions, they answered questions on how “emotionally close” they felt to each other. Not only did the pairs report feeling closer, one pair who had been part of a preliminary experiment that used a similar method even married!

Is love just a trick, then? If our feelings of being wildly in love develop from mere chemicals, can that still be considered “romantic”?

It can, and here’s why: Our chemistry can be brought under our own control. We can generate this chemistry ourselves, and we can use the knowledge of how to do so to recreate the excitement that often diminishes over the course of a long-term relationship, thus re-igniting romance.

We can also use this knowledge to strengthen the bonds of budding relationships—and to recognize who might not be a good romantic partner.

All This From Asking a Few Questions?

Aron’s description of love, that it is an expansion of our Self, certainly makes sense to me.

Human beings have always been discovering, exploring, experimenting, and questioning. Why? Out of curiosity. Curiosity is a natural part of who we are. It can help us improve our lives, and it can also enrich them by adding excitement and fun.

It follows, then, that when we meet other people, they have the potential to expand us, too. When we talk to others, when we exchange our deeply held values and thoughts, we discover a little bit more about ourselves while also learning about them.

One New York Times reporter, Mandy Len Catron, discovered this after going through the 36 questions with a man she knew. She explained that going through the questions not only allowed her to see another person, really see them, but also to see herself through the eyes of another.

We are hardwired to enjoy learning, creating, trying out new things, and discovering new connections between ideas, so it is no surprise, really, that many of us enjoy the thrill of discovery in talking to a new person, in learning both about the other person and the self.

We all change and grow over time. People often use this as an explanation for “growing apart” and claim boredom as a result. But we can use this very condition to spice up a relationship and discover new territory in our significant other.

Aron’s 36 questions are not ordinary, “Is it sunny or rainy outside?” questions. The first question, for example, asks who one’s preferred dinner guest would be, if they could choose anyone in the world. The questions go deeper from there, and the answers, accordingly, become more exclusive. This trusting of another person with information that a person generally wouldn’t give out too readily parallels the development of intimacy. (It is, in fact, the development of a kind of intimacy.)

This rare information, which you, yourself might not have even thought of until you found yourself answering a question, has value. Just as a commodity very few people have can have greater market value than something common, privileged information may feel valuable to own, and it may confer upon the owner a somewhat higher status than that of those individuals who don’t possess it.

That status may be an additional bonus to the pure excitement of discovering something new, which Catron learned in her own experiment. Yes, she knew the person and had already been interested in knowing more—but as a result of going through the questions together, she and her partner fell in love!

From Boredom to Spice

Logically, then, this experience can be harnessed by couples to reinvigorate long-term partnerships that are becoming somewhat stale. This may happen at least partially because one or both partners believe they already know everything there is to know about the other, that there is nothing left to learn.

We all change and grow over time. People often use this as an explanation for “growing apart” and claim boredom as a result. But we can use this very condition to spice up a relationship and discover new territory in our significant other.

After all, if a partnership ends because of supposed “differences,” wouldn’t we be searching for those same, exciting things in a new partner? I believe that discovering differences is what makes falling in love happen, with one caveat: the differences have to be interesting.

Aron tested this idea with people in long-term marriages, and he learned that becoming involved in exciting or challenging new activities together sparked a feeling of romance previously thought to be lost. He specifically tested whether couples would react differently to “mundane” activities as opposed to “challenging” ones and found that the latter sparked romance while the former did not.

Let’s put this all together to make a formula you can use right now.

  • Go through the 36 questions with your partner. Be sure to plan ahead so there are no distractions. You could even try them in a romantic atmosphere—candles, soft music, etc.
  • If you are finding your relationship with your partner a bit dull, plan exciting activities to do together. Go whitewater rafting, hike in the mountains, explore a different country or culture, try out new restaurants on the other side of town, or take a course in something together—a new language, guitar, pottery, or cooking, for example.
  • Obviously, the rest of the house must be in order for all this to work. There can’t be conflict or abuse; there must be basic friendship and respect. Couples should have a strong enough sense of self-love to tolerate well-meant complaints or differences. But when all that is in good order, the next step should be fun and excitement. Sky-diving, anyone?

References:

  1. Aron, A., Melanit, E., Aron, E. N., Vallone, R.D., & Bator, R. J. (1997, April). The experimental generation of interpersonal closeness: A procedure and some preliminary findings. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 23(4), 363-377. Retrieved from http://psp.sagepub.com/content/23/4/363.abstract
  2. Catron, M. L. (2015, January 11). To fall in love with anyone, do this. (Updated with podcast). The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/11/fashion/modern-love-to-fall-in-love-with-anyone-do-this.html
  3. Godson, S. (2014, April 9). ‘Spending time together isn’t enough.’ The legendary Arthur Aron on how to make love last forever. Retrieved from http://suzigodson.com/2014/04/arthur-aron-on-how-to-make-love-last-forever

© Copyright 2016 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Deb Hirschhorn, PhD, therapist in Far Rockaway, New York

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Calleigh

    Calleigh

    November 8th, 2016 at 7:51 AM

    what a fun idea!
    can’t wait for the opportunity to try this out!

  • Mavis

    Mavis

    November 8th, 2016 at 1:30 PM

    So the concept of this is fairly solid, I will give you that. But to expect that the same 36 questions will be a deal maker or breaker for every single couple out there is pretty generalistic and frankly unrealistic. I know that it could give you some guidelines to go by, but real love is based on so much more than the answers to a specific set of questions don’t you think? Sometimes there is just no explaining it.

  • DrDeb

    DrDeb

    November 9th, 2016 at 11:45 AM

    Mavis, that is a very smart answer! You are certainly correct. But the idea of getting inside someone’s head and heart still remains a key to intimacy. As I said in the article, the rest of the house must be in order first, but once that happens, really getting to know the other person as if they were someone new — listening with genuine interest — is powerful.

  • Evie

    Evie

    November 9th, 2016 at 9:03 AM

    Wish i had known this as I pined for that one boyfriend I could never seem to let go of in college

  • DrDeb

    DrDeb

    November 9th, 2016 at 11:46 AM

    Well, Evie, that was the past. Now you have a future.

  • Corbin

    Corbin

    November 9th, 2016 at 11:40 AM

    I hardly can believe that it would be so easy

  • DrDeb

    DrDeb

    November 9th, 2016 at 12:46 PM

    Don’t forget, Corbin, that you already know this person. So it is a matter of deepening what you know. Did you try out the questions yet?

  • Corbin

    Corbin

    November 11th, 2016 at 11:25 AM

    No but I talked to my wife about it last night and it is definitely on our weekend to do list! We can’t wait to look at them and see how we respond now, that we have been together all this time and how we might have answered the questions when we were first getting to know each other.
    I guess there is no real way to go back and know, but still we thought that would be a fun little twist to add to it.

  • royston

    royston

    November 14th, 2016 at 10:20 AM

    so not the differences that bore me huh?

  • Cecile

    Cecile

    November 16th, 2016 at 3:15 PM

    For me it was love at first sight literally when I met my future husband so 36 questions does not seem at all unreasonable to me.

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