Ever wondered why some people are easy to make connections with and others aren’t?
You can have someone that you have worked with for 5 years and never gone past cordial greetings. On the other hand, you could bump into someone at the pub (when we could do such things) and have a boozy conversation that could lead to you spending the rest of your life together!
What is it that deepens relationships past the simple ‘hi’? ‘The Power of Moments’ by the Heath Brothers has led me to think a little deeper on the topic.
When it comes to intimate relationships - with our partners and the people closest to us its ‘responsiveness’.
Our relationships are stronger when we perceive that our partners are responsive to us.
Responsiveness consists of three ingredients:
Understanding: My partner knows how I see myself and what is important to me.
Validation: My partner respects who I am and what I want.
Caring: My partner takes advice and supportive steps in helping me meet my needs.
In a list like this, it appears very self-centred. It's all about me, myself and I. But it's reciprocal selfishness - our partner will expect the same from us.
Non-responsiveness is corrosive for any relationship.
Imagine, if you will, having a shitty, stressful day and your partner doesn’t notice your sour mood. It makes it 100x worse. A simple “are you ok” and a hug could help ease the stresses of the day.
Even on a less intimate scale, if you go to a restaurant and they take forever to bring you the menu, you feel ignored and more importantly, not special.
A ‘responsive’ restaurant is the one that gives you a free bottle of wine because they learnt it was your birthday today.
Australian Red Cross Lifeblood does a great job of being responsive. I’m O- (a universal donor) with a massive vein popping out of my arm. I donate every 12 weeks because I’m able to but I keep going back because they make me feel special.
Every time I go in, the lady at the front desk says “Thank you so much for coming in today, we appreciate you”. The whole experience - while basically being a medical procedure, it's full of “Thank yous” (and mentos for some reason). A few days after the donation I get a text from Australian Red Cross Lifeblood saying:
“Hi Jessica, Thank you for your 0- blood donation! It’s already on its way to give life to someone at The Epworth Hospital, Vic. Thanks, Australian Red Cross Lifeblood.”
I look forward to these 12 week appointments because they make me feel special.
Responsiveness doesn’t necessarily lead to intimacy - like my relationship with Australian Red Cross Lifeblood. There are no tears when we part ways.
However responsiveness combined with openness is how you encourage intimacy in a relationship.
This happens when one person reveals something and waits to see if the other person will share something back. By doing so it's a sign of understanding, validation and caring.
“I’ve heard you, I understand and accept what you’re saying, and I care enough to disclose something about myself.”
It’s about taking-turns.
In 1997 Art Aron, a social psychologist, conducted a study called “The Experimental Generation of Interpersonal Closeness”. Pairs of College students, who didn’t know each other, had to go through a list of 36 questions together. The questions start off quite general but get more intimate as they progress. I’ve included them below because they are pretty interesting.
The conclusion was that even though the pairs had only spent 45 minutes with each other, they rated the “closeness” of the engagement at the same level as their “closest, deepest, most involved and most intimate relationships”. That’s insane.
The questions themselves aren’t that special, it's the turn-taking and escalating cycle of vulnerability that deepens the relationship. The most important thing to note is that the cycle didn’t start naturally. You must start it.
All it takes is to share something real - something that makes you feel a little bit vulnerable.
It's been interesting to reflect on how I’ve made friends over the last few years and it normally starts with a moment of vulnerability. Admitting that you don’t know anyone one here, or that yes, that is your kid who is wee-ing on the playground. People's response to those moments have been the start of some really treasured friendships.
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