When it happened to me for the first time, I was hit hard with feelings — happiness, excitement, concern for another person that went deeper than anything I’d experienced before. Suddenly, my body felt light — weightless, even. I was floating. I’d lost control, but I knew everything was going to be ok.
Falling in love, I quickly realised, felt an awful lot like, well, falling.
But what if love wasn’t as passive as we tend to picture it being? What if — instead of stumbling into it as a result of chance or fate — we actively choose it?
Some research suggests this is what actually happens when we find ourselves deeply bonded to another person: We don’t fall in love — we jump.
In 1997, State University of New York psychologist Arthur Aron tested the idea that two people who were willing to feel more connected to one another could do so, even within a short time frame. (The experiment featured prominently in a recent Modern Love column in The New York Times.)
For his study, Aron separated two groups of people, then paired people up within their groups and had them chat with one another for 45 minutes. While the first group of pairs spent the 45 minutes engaging in small-talk, the second group got a list of questions that gradually grew more intimate, from things like, “Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest?” to “Of all the people in your family, whose death would you find most disturbing? Why?”
Not surprisingly, the pairs who asked the gradually more probing questions felt closer and more connected after the 45 minutes were up. Six months later, two of the participants (a tiny fraction of the original study group) even found themselves in love — an intriguing result, though not a significant one.
Still, Aron’s findings — that getting to know someone is simple, but takes effort — are particularly meaningful for our most intimate partnerships.
When we see love as a choice or an action rather than something that simply happens to us, we’re more willing to take responsibility for building and maintaining the relationship.
For one of the questions in Aron’s experiment, participants had to identify characteristics about their partner that were important to them. When practiced regularly, this simple exercise of telling your partner what about them is meaningful to you can help both of you feel closer and more connected. A recent study found, similarly, that couples who took time to feel grateful for their partner’s kind acts felt happier and more connected.
Aron’s study hit on several other key components of any strong relationship, from talking through big decisions (#36: “Share a personal problem and ask your partner’s advice on how he or she might handle it”) to discussing personal experiences openly and honestly (#29: “Share with your partner an embarrassing moment in your life”).
Married couples who make big decisions as a team, for example, are not only happier individually but feel closer to one another and stay together longer. Similarly, couples who speak openly about the physical and emotional parts of their relationships tend to trust one another more and feel more satisfied with the relationship.
So next time you think about falling in love, picture yourself leaping — not stumbling.
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