To build trust in a relationship, we want to develop genuine rapport with that other person. Moving past simple broadcasting of information and ideas in our conversations, to sharing more of ourselves – our opinions, beliefs, feelings and emotions.
Yet with that commitment to connecting in this way, comes the challenge of exposing ourselves to the potential risk that arises with greater vulnerability. Saying something that another may not like or disagree with, daring to lower our carefully constructed façade to reveal the ‘real’ person underneath that could be either accepted or rejected.
Experimenting with being more mutually vulnerable, demonstrating greater empathy, honesty and skills of reflection, have long-proved a way of fostering greater closeness and understanding. Yet allowing ourselves to be vulnerable with another person can be exceedingly difficult.
In 2015, the New York Times published an article that references the methodology applied in a study by psychologist Arthur Aron and colleagues in 1997 that explored interpersonal closeness, claiming they "led to love".
Using a set of questions in a specific order, pairs of individuals were guided through a process of sharing and completing tasks that gradually escalated in intensity. Instead of engaging in well-versed small-talk using prompts such as “What’s your favourite holiday?” or “What’s the best book you’ve read recently?”, the process forced a pattern of sustained, escalating, reciprocal, personal self-disclosure.
Further details of the study (including the small-talk questions) are available to download here.
However the 36 ‘closeness-generating’ questions asked are listed below…. with an invitation to go forth, get curious and experiment with some questions that may enable you to be more vulnerable in your conversations and perhaps develop a stronger relationship as a result.
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 four 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?
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 five 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?
25. Make three 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.