If Your Relationship Lacks Intimacy, Can You Create Some?

This post is sponsored by Right To Desire.

Did you ever read that article about how two strangers can ask each other a specific series of 36 questions and they’ll fall in love? It came out in 2015, but I never read it until this week. I suppose I wasn’t interested, mostly because I’m already in love and not looking for a new romantic partner. And also because my impression was the whole idea was too gimicky. So I ignored it. But as I was reading about the topic of intimacy this week, that original article crossed my path again. I finally read it, and I loved it.

Here are two paragraphs I keep thinking about:

The moments I found most uncomfortable were not when I had to make confessions about myself, but had to venture opinions about my partner. For example: “Alternate sharing something you consider a positive characteristic of your partner, a total of five items” (Question 22), and “Tell your partner what you like about them; be very honest this time saying things you might not say to someone you’ve just met” (Question 28).

Saying things like, “I like your voice, your taste in beer, the way all your friends seem to admire you,” makes certain positive qualities belonging to one person explicitly valuable to the other.

The 36 questions the article references were developed by psychologist Arthur Aron, whose research focuses on creating interpersonal closeness (you can read the 36 questions here). And it turns out it’s not just Dr. Aron who think the questions we ask can have a huge impact on the closeness and intimacy in our relationships. A whole lot of experts agree.

I loved what Glennon Doyle of Momastory wrote:

We need to ask questions that carry along with them this message: “I’m not just checking the box here. I really care what you have to say and how you feel. I really want to know you.” If we don’t want throw away answers, we can’t ask throw away questions. A caring question is a key that will unlock a room inside the person you love.

And I found this list of 99 Questions to Strengthen the Emotional Intimacy of Your Relationship quite helpful too. Unlike, Dr. Aron’s experiment, where you ask the 36 questions in one sitting, Annie Wright, who came up with the 99 questions list suggests that you do not “sit your honey down and plough through this list together.” She wants you to check out the list, make a mental note of questions that stand out to you, and try them out when you’re stuck in traffic, or out on a dinner date. Here are the first five questions on her list:

  1. What do you remember thinking to yourself the first time you saw me?
  2. When did you know you were in love with me?
  3. What are three qualities about me that you were first attracted to?
  4. What are three of your happiest memories of our early days together?
  5. Is there a smell or a sound that you remember from those early days that still makes you smile?

I think those questions are wonderful, and know I would love to hear Ben Blair’s answers — and I would love to come up with answers too. Just knowing someone is actively going through their memories of you and pulling out the positive ones is amazing. If you are sitting across from your partner, looking at them, and you know they are right that second thinking of when they fell in love with you, how could you not feel instantly more connected and intimate?

These lists of questions are designed to increase emotional intimacy, which is a part of any good relationship. But if you want to increase physical intimacy, will focusing on emotional intimacy get you there? For sure it can. But it’s no guarantee.

In fact, if someone is very much attracted to and in love with their partner, but they just don’t want to have sex with them, they might have a medical condition called HSDD – Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder. If you used to have a “normal” desire for sex, but you’ve lost that desire, and it’s been missing for a while, and you’re frustrated or upset by the loss, head to the Right To Desire website for more info. There’s even a quiz to help you figure out where your level of sexual desire falls.

What are your thoughts on developing emotional intimacy and physical intimacy? Do you feel like it’s a chicken and egg situation? Like maybe for you, physical intimacy increases emotional intimacy, but you don’t feel like being physically intimate unless you’re emotionally intimate?

Both types of intimacy require pretty hefty amounts of vulnerability. Do you find it’s easier to be vulnerable emotionally or vulnerable physically? (I think emotional intimacy is harder for me.) Have you ever tried asking questions designed to increase emotional intimacy? Did it help? Have you (or someone you know) ever tried that whole 36 questions sequence? What was the result?

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