Building Intimacy In Relationships: Creating Closeness Quickly

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My previous article focused on ways to get closer to your partner over a long period of time through communication, planning, and sharing. I want to shift the focus a bit and discuss a way to generate closeness quickly- through the use of closeness-generating questions.

These are helpful if you want to get to know another person at a deeper level in a relatively short period of time.

The Aron et al. (1997) Experiment

You may have first heard about Aron, Melinat, Aron, Vallone, and Bator’s (1997) famous study in a viral social media article that circulated right before Valentine’s Day in 2015. Writer and teacher, Mandy Len Catron put the famous 36 questions to “make you fall in love” to the test by standing on a bridge with an acquaintance of hers. Over the course of two hours, Ms. Catron felt increasing intimacy with her partner, and as it turns out, is still with him.

A common misconception is that the goal of the original study was to create a long-lasting relationship between the individuals involved. Thus, many articles and smartphone apps incorrectly stated that the questions will make you fall in love. Rather, the purpose of the original study was to create a temporary feeling of interpersonal closeness.

The Aron et al. (1997) experiment was comprised of a series of smaller studies, the first of which I will briefly explain here. In this study, individuals were put into pairs and were given an envelope and told that they would be participating in a relationship building exercise. They were either to complete tasks that involved self-disclosure or small talk. An example of a small-talk question is, “If you could invent a new flavor of ice cream, what would it be?” An example of a closeness-generating questions is, “If a crystal ball could tell you the truth about yourself, your life, the future, or anything else, what would you want to know?” As you can see, the closeness-generating question requires you to dig deep to come up with an answer and potentially expose some truths about yourself when sharing. Results demonstrated that those in the self-disclosure group reported feeling closer to their partners than those in the small talk condition.

What is interesting is that these studies produced felt closeness after only 45 minutes. The closeness may be comparable to people who get to know one another over time. Basically, people created an intimate connection quickly. They were even able to build this closeness without shared history.

So how does this study benefit you? Some of the questions designed for the experiment may be too intense or off-putting on a first date such as, “Do you have a secret hunch about how you will die?” However, other questions are great as ice breakers and as a way to get to know your date on a deeper, more intimate level.

Below are a few of the closeness-generating questions from Aron et al.’s (1997) study.

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. What would constitute a “perfect” day for you?
4. Name three things you and your partner appear to have in common.
5. For what in your life do you feel most grateful?

Reference: 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 Bulletin, 23(4), 363-377.

Marisa T. Cohen, PhD is a psychology professor, relationship researcher and relationship coach. Learn more about Marisa at www.marisatcohen.com.

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