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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Art Aron’s 36 Questions

  1. Given the choice of anyone in the world, who would you want as a dinner guest?
  2. Would you like to be famous? In what way?
  3. Before making a phone call, do you ever rehearse what you're going to say? Why?
  4. What would constitute a perfect day for you?
  5. When did you last sing to yourself? To someone else?
  6. If you were able to live to the age of 90 and retain either the mind or body of a 30-year old for the last 60 years of your life, which would you choose?
  7. Do you have a secret hunch about how you will die?
  8. Name three things you and your partner appear to have in common.
  9. For what in your life do you feel most grateful?
  10. If you could change anything about the way you were raised, what would it be?
  11. Take four minutes and tell your partner your life story in as much detail as possible.
  12. If you could wake up tomorrow having gained one quality or ability, what would it be?
  13. If a crystal ball could tell you the truth about yourself, your life, the future or anything else, what would you want to know?
  14. Is there something that you've dreamt of doing for a long time? Why haven't you done it?
  15. What is the greatest accomplishment of your life?
  16. What do you value most in a friendship?
  17. What is your most treasured memory?
  18. What is your most terrible memory?
  19. If you knew that in one year you would die suddenly, would you change anything about the way you are now living? Why?
  20. What does friendship mean to you?
  21. What roles do love and affection play in your life?
  22. Alternate sharing something you consider a positive characteristic of your partner. Share a total of five items.
  23. How close and warm is your family? Do you feel your childhood was happier than most other people's?
  24. How do you feel about your relationship with your mother?
  25. Make three true "we" statements each. For instance, "we are both in this room feeling..."
  26. Complete this sentence "I wish I had someone with whom I could share..."
  27. If you were going to become a close friend with your partner, please share what would be important for him or her to know.
  28. Tell your partner what you like about them. Be honest this time, saying things that you might not say to someone you've just met.
  29. Share with your partner an embarrassing moment in your life.
  30. When did you last cry in front of another person? By yourself?
  31. Tell your partner something that you like about them already.
  32. What, if anything, is too serious to be joked about?
  33. If you were to die this evening with no opportunity to communicate with anyone, what would you most regret not having told someone? Why haven't you told them yet?
  34. Your house, containing everything you own, catches fire. After saving your loved ones and pets, you have time to safely make a final dash to save any one item. What would it be? Why?
  35. Of all the people in your family, whose death would you find most disturbing? Why?
  36. Share a personal problem and ask your partner's advice on how he or she might handle it. Also, ask your partner to reflect back to you how you seem to be feeling about the problem you have chosen.
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