Is love an act of pure fate (as the happy couples surrounding you would seem to suggest) or a simple choice that can be prompted with a series of questions (as a recentModern Love column in The New York Timesimplied)?
The truth lies somewhere in between.
As the original paper that inspired the New York Times piece makes clear, any relationship requires effort. That study, by State University of New York psychologist Arthur Aron, aimed to test the idea that two people who were willing to feel more connected to each another could do so, even if they were only given a few minutes to accomplish this feat.
While asking Aron’s 36 questions won’t make you fall in love with someone, the questions do hit on three key components of any healthy relationship that you can start practicing now.
1. Show gratitude
Do you remember the last time your partner took out the trash? More importantly, do you remember how you reacted to that small act of kindness?
Don’t despair if you’re drawing a blank — showing gratitude is something you can do right now.
In Aron’s study, for example, he prompted participants to demonstrate they were thankful for their partners in question #22, by asking them to share five positive characteristics about other person.
Pointing out your partner’s strengths and showing that you’re grateful for those things doesn’t just make the other person feel good — research suggests it makes both of you feel more satisfied with the relationship and brings you closer together too.
In one recent study of couples, for example, researchers had each member keep a journal of all the things their partner had done for them over the past week that made them feel grateful. They were also instructed to write how connected they’d felt with their partner at that time. As it turned out, on the days when people reported being more grateful for their partner, they also reported feeling more connected to him or her.
The gratitude effect can be long-lasting as well. A series of recent studies found that the more grateful couples were, the more likely they were to still be in the relationship nine months later.
2. Talk through big decisions
Do you and your partner slide through big decisions, or do you take time to sit down and contemplate the options carefully as a team?
Talking through big decisions is an important component of any serious relationship, and Aron has his participants try it by having them “share a personal problem and ask your partner’s advice on how he or she might handle it” (question #36).
Couples who make big decisions as a team tend to be happier individually, feel more closely connected, and stay together longer. One recent study looking at two decades worth of research on more than 1,000 married American couples found that those who shared equally in making decisions were more likely to have happy, low-conflict marriages than those who did not.
When people in a relationship approach decisions as equals, they’re more willing to take responsibility for building and maintaining their partnership.
3. Share personal experiences
When’s the last time you opened up to your significant other and shared something personal with him or her? If you can’t remember, try it now.
Aron had his participants open up by having them take turns sharing an embarrassing moment (question #29). While it might seem silly, research shows that couples who are well-versed in speaking openly about their emotions tend to trust one another more and feel more pleased with the relationship overall.
Opening up also prevents misinformation from seeping into a relationship and leaving your significant other with the wrong impression. A recent study of 3,597 couples who participated in a national survey at two different points in time — once during the survey’s first wave in 1987-1988 and again about six years later — found that those who accurately assessed their partner’s happiness levels were significantly less likely to have divorced over the course of the six year period than those who assumed that their partner was happier than he or she actually was.
In other words, couples who had incorrect perceptions of each other’s true feelings were more likely to split than couples who had a finger on their partner’s satisfaction levels.
“The more private information there is [and] the more information two people keep hidden from each other, the worse decisions they make,” the study author told Business Insider.
Falling in love isn’t something that just happens to us, nor is it something we can force with a few simple questions. Any healthy, happy relationship takes effort, collaboration, and work. So the next time you decide you want to fall, remember that you’ll probably have to jump first.
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