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36 questions

Do you ever wish you could fall deeper in love with your husband, recapturing that intense closeness that you had at the beginning? The most-talked-about relationship story of the year may point the way to doing just that.

You may have already seen this in your social media feeds, but here’s a quick recap. Researchers Arthur and Elaine Aron — who are married themselves — have spent almost 50 years studying love.

For a 1997 study, the Arons wanted to find out if they could create conditions in the lab that would make two strangers become emotionally close, perhaps even fall in love, in a very short period of time. They developed a list of 36 questions for the two people to discuss. Here’s a sampling:

  1. Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest?
  2. What would constitute a “perfect” day for you?
  3. Before making a phone call, do you ever rehearse what you’re going to say? Why?
  4. What is your most terrible memory?
  5. What is the greatest accomplishment of your life?

Inevitably, within the hour, respondents said they felt unusually close to the person they were paired with for the experiment.

Although they’ve been around for a while, the 36 questions didn’t capture the popular imagination until this year, when they became the subject of a Modern Love column in the New York Times.

The column’s author, Mandy Len Catron, and an acquaintance experimented with asking each other the questions and with another aspect of the Aron’s research designed to increase intimacy: staring into each other’s eyes for four minutes.

And, yes, they fell in love.

Catron writes:

I’ve begun to think love is a more pliable thing than we make it out to be. Arthur Aron’s study taught me that it’s possible — simple, even — to generate trust and intimacy, the feelings love needs to thrive.

Of course, there’s something deeply romantic about the idea that these questions can induce two people to fall in love. But I think it’s just as romantic to consider how they might also rekindle intimacy and trust between long-term partners.

We all know how our busy daily lives can erode those feelings between partners. The closeness with your husband can easily get lost in the stress of household tasks, taking care of kids, and managing work. It can feel impossible to get intimacy back, but Aron’s studies give us at least two clear strategies to try:

  1. Set aside some with your spouse to explore the 36 questions. The full list of questions is online at the New York Times website, or try out the Times’ app with the questions by visiting nytimes.com/36q with your mobile device. You may be surprised at what you learn about that husband you think you know so well!
  2. After you’re done with the questions, don’t forget the part about staring into each other’s eyes for four minutes. Yes, it may feel uncomfortable, but do it anyway. What kind of feelings does eye contact stir up for you?

These two exercises are incredibly powerful because there is nothing so flattering and moving as having another person genuinely notice us, want to know who we really are, and listen with true curiosity. We have a deep need to be seen, especially by those we love.

I’d love to hear about your experiences using the 36 questions. Did they spark intimacy with your spouse all over again? Share what happened by leaving a comment here or on the Strong Women, Strong Love Facebook page.