Why Don’t Relationships Deepen Naturally?

Why do some relationships endure while others crumble?  Why does intimacy develop between some partners and not others?  

This week we are exploring how to create more moments of connection that lead to stronger relationships.  

We typically think time is the key ingredient in strengthening relationships. Yet, maybe not.  

It’s Thanksgiving.  We are making the same small talk with our uncle we do every year.  After ten years, we still aren’t any closer.

Versus: We meet someone for the first time and within minutes, we feel a strong bond.

What’s going on here?

Yesterday we looked at the importance of responsiveness in building relationships as outlined in Chip and Dan Heath’s terrific book, The Power of Moments.  Chip and Dan share that responsiveness by itself does not necessarily lead to intimacy.  When coupled with openness, however, intimacy can develop quickly.

Here’s how it works.  

One person reveals something and waits to see if the other will share something back.  When they do, the other person responds further, deepening the exchange.  Intimacy is built in small steps.  

Reciprocity leads to understanding, validation and caring.  I hear you.  I understand and accept what you’re saying.  I care enough about you to disclose something about myself. 

Turn-taking can be incredibly simple.

Chip and Dan share the results of a study conducted at a bus stop which looked at the impact of asking two different questions:  

Question one: “Well, my day is over.  How about yours?

Question two: “I’m really glad this day is over…  I’ve had a hectic day.  How about you?”

This small bit of self-disclosure resulted in significantly more intimate comments in return.

An even more dramatic example of the power of turn-taking comes from social psychologist Art Aron and four colleagues.  College students from a psychology course volunteered to participate in an experiment.  They were paired up with a stranger and given 45-minutes to ask and answer a series of 36 questions.  Art and his colleagues designed the questions to become progressively more intimate. 

Afterwards, each participant completed a short survey that measured how close they felt.  Participants scored a mean of 3.82 on a maximum scale of 7.

The researchers surveyed another group of students about their closest, deepest, and most intimate relationship.  30% rated their most intimate relationship at less than 3.82.

Two strangers sat down, had a 45-minute conversation and felt as close to a stranger as 30% of college students feel about the most intimate relationships in their lives.

What?!?

The key insight here is that relationships don’t deepen naturally.  

We must start it.

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Reflection:  Which relationships in my life are stuck?

Action:  Experiment with taking a conversation to a higher level by pushing beyond small talk and sharing something real.

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