Love can, at times, be hard to define. We know when we feel it, and we know the difference between platonic and romantic love, but often we aren’t quite sure why it is that we fall in love. There are many theories about how love comes about, such as: attachment theory, which explains that we fall in love with those whose attachment styles complement our own; or Imago theory, which explains that we fall in love with those who will help us to evolve and grow towards healing our childhood wounds. But one common factor to falling in love with someone is that, for whatever reason, we choose to reveal deeper parts of who we are with this person.
Often, in the beginning of a relationship, we self-disclose for the purpose of getting to know someone, and to be seen by the other. Initially, it is fairly simple to disclose information about ourselves, because we are usually talking with a stranger about whom we hardly know. Divulging facts about ourselves such as where we grew up and what we enjoy doing seems easy because these are facts that most of our friends and acquaintances may know about us. As time progresses, we may feel that there is less to disclose to a partner, but often this is because the information becomes more personal, making us feel more vulnerable.
In an experiment with strangers, Arthur Aron and his colleagues instructed participants to ask a set of questions to one another to test if self-disclosure could create an instant bond. This included questions such as:
- For what in your life do you feel most grateful?
- What is your most treasured memory?
- Share 5 positive characteristics about your partner.
- How do you feel about your relationship with your mother?
- What, if anything, is too serious to be joked about?
These questions, along with 4 minutes of eye contact made in silence, were seen to create a deep bond between participants, even though they were strangers. It would make sense, in this case, that asking these questions with an already established partner along with the eye gazing exercise, could serve to significantly enhance intimacy.
Sometimes, in a more established relationship, it can feel more risky to become vulnerable. We human beings love certainty, and revealing parts of ourselves which may create uncertainty might instill fear. Knowing that we know all there is to know about our partner makes us feel safe, so revealing aspects that the other may not yet know could seem unsafe. But surely, knowing that increasing self-disclosure can nudge the relationship to deeper connection, the risk outweighs the benefit?
Sometimes, forgetting everything we assume to know about our partner, and revisiting those intimate conversations can forge a profound bond. Remembering that often there are so many parts of others and ourselves that are hidden, even in the closest relationships, creates a space for unexpected affection. While it might feel scary to engage on a deeper level with the one you love, you may be surprised at both the depth of love you feel, as well as the increased respect you feel for the one you love.
Reference: Aron, A., Aron, E. N., & Smollan, D. (1992). Inclusion of Other in the Self Scale and the structure of interpersonal closeness. Journal of personality and social psychology, 63(4), 596.