To Fall in Love (again) with Your Spouse, Do This

Rebecca Hunter

Recently, a friend sent me a link to a piece in The New York Times called “To Fall in Love with Anyone, Do This.”  Fifteen years into my relationship with my husband,  I’m not looking to fall in love per se, though I should add that life with young kids doesn’t always bring out our most loving sides. But as a child of divorced parents, I’m forever intrigued by the idea of how love works—or doesn’t work.

I looked at the article’s title again. Could the magic answer to a life-long inquiry possibly exist in 850 words? This was The New York Times, so there must be some substance to the article, right? I should have been working—but this piece held a promise that was too intriguing to pass up. I clicked on the link.

If you haven’t read this or another article on the research study, the secret to falling in love is apparently as straightforward and unromantic as this: an exchange of 36 increasingly probing questions—followed by four minutes of staring into each other’s eyes—makes people fall in love.

The study is based on the idea that it’s not starry-eyed looks across the room or intense sexual attraction that causes people to fall in love—it’s emotional intimacy. These questions are designed to speed up that process.  And the results of both the research itself and the informal trial the author of the Times article gave it suggested the theory had merit.

Well. Could this really be the key to true love?

Even before I finished reading the article, my mind was already at work on my own variation of the original idea: If these 36 questions could coax two strangers fall in love, what would they do for a couple already in love?

To carry out my decidedly unscientific experiment, I’d need the consent of the second subject. I emailed the article to my husband Patrik and wrote, “I want to try out these questions this weekend—are you up for it?”

His answer: “Sure, if you want to.”

Well, that wasn’t an overwhelmingly enthusiastic response, but I’d take it. Even before I asked, I figured he’d say yes, just as he’d say yes to pretty much anything I’d ask— just as I would for him—but it wasn’t a guarantee that he’d take it seriously.

I resisted peeking at the questions for the next couple of days, hoping to keep my answers spontaneous and waited for Friday to roll around. That night, after we put the kids to bed, we sat down on the couch, facing each other.

“Ready?” I asked.

“Sure,” he said, looking more relaxed than I felt.

Was I nervous about this? Did I think these questions would uncover some terrible truth that I hadn’t picked up on all these years? That the strain of parenting two, not-particularly-cooperative kids had dragged our marriage into a slow death by a thousand cuts? We did tend to spend weekday evenings retreating to the quiet of our separate corners, me on the computer and him on the iPad—what did that mean?

I swallowed the lump in my throat at that thought and looked up the questions on my phone. This was my idea, so I might as well get it over with. I read the first question to him.

“Given the choice of anyone in the world as a dinner guest, who would you want?”

As I read the question, my mind began generating my own answers: Maybe Obama? He seems like he’s personable—

My husband’s voice cut into my narrative.

“You,” he said. No hesitation. I looked up into the warm, guileless expression on his face.

Oh. This was certainly not his usual half-serious manner. And it was the nicest thing I had heard all day.

We moved down the list, answering questions such as, “Name three things you and your partner appear to have in common?” and “When did you last cry in front of someone else?” (Me: “Do you remember? Was it last spring?”).

As you may have already guessed, no dark secrets were uncovered that evening. In fact, many of the questions touched on topics we regularly talk about, such as, “What would constitute a perfect day for you?” and “How do you feel about your relationship with your mother?”

In a way, this itself was a revelation: Even though our days are sometimes dominated by the frustrations and minutia of life with younger kids, we do manage to have real conversations. Intimate conversations. The kind of conversations that make people fall in love.

But as we made our way down the list, I was met with a different kind of surprise. It felt so good to hear the answers to questions like, “Tell your partner what you like about them” and “Alternate sharing something you consider a positive characteristic of your partner.” And I felt even better hearing those answers coming from Patrik.

I guess I’m still not tired of listening to what my husband loves about me—still, even after 15 years. And do you know what else? Giving my own answers felt just as good.

The end of the questionnaire felt like it came quickly, though the clock suggested otherwise. Now it was time for four minutes of staring. I started the timer and rested on a pillow, and after a few giggles (mine, not his), we relaxed and just, well, stared.

Surprisingly, it wasn’t at all awkward. He’s my husband, after all, the person who makes me laugh at the dinner table every evening, the person who holds me as I fall asleep at night (a practice we had to consciously re-establish after a particularly long spell of musical beds with our kids). The staring didn’t even take an explicitly sexual turn, which was my other hypothesis. It was just warm and comfortable. Just the way home should feel.

The timer rang at the end of the four minutes, and I let out a sigh. Patrik leaned over to give me kiss.

“Okay,” he said, slapping his hands on his knees, “Can we watch a movie now?”

Ahh, the workings of true love.

This post was written by Rebecca Hunter exclusively for BonBon Break Media, LLC.


To Find Love (Again) with Your Spouse, Do This

Rebecca Hunter is a writer, editor, and translator who lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband and two kids. On Rebecca's blog, The Reading Writer, she shares commentary about books she's reading from a writer's perspective. You can follow her on Facebook, or, if you'd like to receive an occasional newsletter on love, romance, Sweden and writing, send her a note at Watch for the first book in her new romance series, Stockholm Diaries, coming soon.