If you’re allergic to small talk like I am and always feel a desire to strike cords of greater connection, then you’ll want to learn these 36 questions for fostering greater closeness in your relationships.

It can be very easy to get frustrated with the automatic “how’s the weather” questions that feel like dead ends to actually arriving at some semblance of intimacy.

But if we want to experience more depth in our relationship, the onus is on us to steward that process. It can be very easy to complain about the surface level conversations for those who crave more meaningful interactions but complaining isn’t a recipe for more meaning. Instead, we need to take the responsibility, grab our conversational partner by the hand and swim towards the deep end together.

Arthur Aron’s work can help us do that.

In 1997 he designed an experiment to see if he could get strangers to feel a sense interpersonal closeness after only a brief encounter.

He took pairs of people and had them spend time answering 3 sets of questions. Each set was more emotionally provocative than the last. The participants would take turns sharing their answers with each other, this created a mutually reciprocated vulnerability that by the end of 45 minutes the individuals felt a kind of intimacy you would expect to experience with a close friend or romantic partner. What’s astonishing is that this process will even work with complete strangers who you just met before answering the questions.

Here are the 36 Questions To Foster Greater Intimacy

SET I
  1. Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest?
  2. Would you like to be famous? In what way?
  3. Before making a telephone call, do you ever rehearse what you are 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 want?
  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 any one quality or ability, what would it be?
SET II
  1. If a crystal ball could tell you the truth about yourself, your life, the future or anything else, what would you want to know?
  2. Is there something that you’ve dreamed of doing for a long time? Why haven’t you done it?
  3. What is the greatest accomplishment of your life?
  4. What do you value most in a friendship?
  5. What is your most treasured memory?
  6. What is your most terrible memory?
  7. If you knew that in one year you would die suddenly, would you change anything about the way you are now living? Why?
  8. What does friendship mean to you?
  9. What roles do love and affection play in your life?
  10. Alternate sharing something you consider a positive characteristic of your partner. Share a total of five items.
  11. How close and warm is your family? Do you feel your childhood was happier than most other people’s?
  12. How do you feel about your relationship with your mother?
SET III
  1. Make three true “we” statements each. For instance, “We are both in this room feeling … “
  2. Complete this sentence: “I wish I had someone with whom I could share … “
  3. If you were going to become a close friend with your partner, please share what would be important for him or her to know.
  4. Tell your partner what you like about them; be very honest this time, saying things that you might not say to someone you’ve just met.
  5. Share with your partner an embarrassing moment in your life.
  6. When did you last cry in front of another person? By yourself?
  7. Tell your partner something that you like about them already.
  8. What, if anything, is too serious to be joked about?
  9. 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?
  10. 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?
  11. Of all the people in your family, whose death would you find most disturbing? Why?
  12. 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.

How to Use The Questions

To apply these questions, find someone you’d like to feel closer to in your life. It could be a parent, a romantic partner, a friend, or even somebody you have historically had challenging interactions with.

Carve out 45 minutes and take turns answering each question, one after another. It’s important that you alternate who goes first for each question.

Answer the questions as honestly as you can and by the end of this process, you will feel significantly closer to the person you’re interacting with. You’ll likely discover surprising things about them you wouldn’t have expected as well as unearthing things within yourself you hadn’t yet realized.

If you like, you can even use this online tool to guide you through the process.

How To Use This In Daily Life

Of course, not everyone you meet will have 45 minutes to expose their soul to someone they just met but that shouldn’t stop you from applying the principles of this exercise to develop closer connections in all of your interactions.

There are 2 practical steps you can take to foster this love and intimacy

1) Ask better questions

The questions that have been listed aren’t an exhaustive list of closeness inspiring prompts. There are thousands of questions you can ask that all lead to a place of love and intimacy. Use these 36 questions listed above as inspiration but also give yourself permission to ask questions that cut deep into what a person cares about. Ask questions that allow them to share little details about their history. Find ways to hear there about their hopes and dreams.

2. Answer vulnerable questions (even if they haven’t asked).

This isn’t just about hearing what they have to share. Closeness is a 2-way street. If you open up and share something meaningful, that paves the way to a more intimate conversation through your leadership. This exercise only works because of the mutuality of disclosure. If one person does all the sharing without hearing details about the other persons life, they are likely to end up feeling naked while the other person hasn’t even removed a sock. Answer deep questions they haven’t even asked. This will build rapport and support in creating a sense of safety.

We can all have more meaningful conversations, we can skip the small talk and get real very quickly. And more people are open to diving into the deep end with you than you might expect.

So how will you use these tools to experience more closeness in your relationships?