Want to Get Closer to Your Partner? Try These 36 Questions

These 36 prompts could help you gain greater intimacy with your partner.

Posted Jan 20, 2015

We are constantly looking for ways to improve our closest relationships. Because intimacy is so important for our mental health, most people seek to maximize their chances of finding and keeping the bonds of love alive. Tests of love can help you determine how strong those bonds are with your particular partner. However, what if you don’t have a long-term partner? Is there a reliable way to produce one?

In a New York Times Modern Love column, writer Mandy Len Catron cited a study carried out a number of years ago by Stony Brook University psychologist Arthur Aron and collaborators. She claimed that by asking a potential love interest these 36 questions, you could not only determine whether this is a good mate for you, but you could actually use them to jump-start your relationship with this person.

The column generated a number of comments, but the most revealing comes from Aron’s wife and collaborator, Elaine Aron, Ph.D. She pointed out that the original purpose of the test was not to help people fall in love, but help guide people in gaining greater intimacy. As often happens when psychological studies are translated for the media, they lose their nuances. In the case of the Aron et al. study, it seems that there were plenty of nuances left unattended to.

In the actual study, college students participated in a study in which they completed a “sharing game” in which they read instructions on 36 slips, grouped into three sets. One person was asked to read each slip and then both were told to follow the slip’s instructions. They were given 15 minutes to go through each of the three sets, but they were not required to go through all 12 tasks in each set. The partners were paired based on prior information the researchers had about their personality, and not all of the pairings were of opposite-sex participants (due to the higher proportion of female student volunteers).

The researchers hoped that their work, completed now nearly 20 years ago, could help advance the science of close relationships. Even the article's title includes the word "preliminary." It’s even more important, then, that we keep in mind the cautions and limitations of the actual test. As they observed, “it is time for researchers of close relationships to find ways to welcome back our wayward friend, the true experiment” (p. 373). 

In addition to the 36-item test to help develop intimacy, the researchers created a parallel set of questions intended to be used to generate small-talk. They are far less philosophically oriented and don’t require as much thought or self-disclosure. Sample questions ask about music preferences, the name of a childhood pet, and which foreign country you would like to visit. These questions may be helpful if you're trying to figure out what to say to get a conversation started, but they don't really stimulate feelings of closeness. To increase intimacy, it's necessary to increase your level of self-disclosure with another person. 

With this background in mind, here are the 36 questions intended to promote intimacy grouped into their original three sets of 12 items each. The sets increase in the level of self-disclosure they require, and within each set, the level of self-disclosure increases from question to question. Remember that you don’t need to answer each question with your partner or prospective partner. By covering each of the three categories, though, you give yourself a better chance of gaining knowledge that may help promote your intimacy with that person:

Set 1:

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 telephone 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 the age of 90 and retain either the mind or body of a 30-year-old for the last 60 years of your life, which would you want?

7. Do you have a secret hunch about how you will die?

8. Name three things you and your partner appear to have in common.

9. For what in your life do you feel most grateful?

10. If you could change anything about the way you were raised, what would it be?

11. Take 4 minutes and tell your partner your life story in as much detail as possible.

12. If you could wake up tomorrow having gained any one quality or ability, what would it be?

Set 2:

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 that 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 that in one year you would die suddenly, would you change anything about the way you are now living? 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 5 items.

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?

Set 3:

25. Make 3 true "we" statements each. For instance '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 going 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 very honest this time, saying things that you might not say to someone you've just met.

29. Share with your partner an embarrassing moment in your life.

30. When did you last cry in front of another person? 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 most 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 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 you have chosen.

These 36 questions, or however many you are able to ask, may help you achieve greater intimacy. At the same time, asking yourself these questions may stimulate some soul-searching of your own, not a bad way to help promote your feelings of fulfillment.

 Feel free to join my Facebook group, "Fulfillment at Any Age," to discuss today's blog, or to ask further questions about this posting.

Copyright Susan Krauss Whitbourne 2015

Image source: http://pixabay.com/en/love-heart-colorful-heart-349631/


Aron, A., Melinat, E., Aron, E. N., Vallone, R. D., & Bator, R. J. (1997). The experimental generation of interpersonal closeness: A procedure and some preliminary findings. Personality And Social Psychology Bulletin23(4), 363-377. doi:10.1177/0146167297234003