I was never a big fan of couples’ therapy. My disillusionment is explained by my pre-marital therapy leading to my marriage, which ended in divorce six months later. It always seemed strange to me that my ex and I sat side by side, shoulder to shoulder, both airing our grievances to the therapist, who in turn talked directly back to each of us. It was as though therapy increased our separation, the end of every session had us thinking more about our issues than feeling love for one another.
Recently, a viral article touted 36 questions to fall in love. It piqued my curiosity, as it did 8 million other readers, and I too wanted to try the questions, but the time commitment of 2-4 hours has kept me from doing so. Sadly, the fast pace of our lives often gets in the way of simple presence and attention towards one another.
The article reminded me of the recent intense couples’ therapy I took part in, 9 hours over two days, which changed my mind and reinstated my faith about couples’ therapy. This particular therapist situated my partner and I facing each other so that we could hold eye contact the entire time. Similar to the 36 questions, we dove into how we were raised, past memories, hurts, and accomplishments. After awhile, the therapist’s presence faded away and the focus became our connection to each other as he coached us through sharing vulnerabilities and eventually heartfelt apologies that helped us heal the relationship. By the time we left, we were very much back in love.
Many of us aren’t taught the ways of love and relationships. I had well-meaning and good parents, but I still wouldn’t call them relationship role models. Their arguments weren’t always fair. They didn’t always protect each other publicly. They didn’t always have each other’s backs. They didn’t fully understand what made the other tick and how not to inflame irritations. They weren’t always totally transparent and honest with one another.
Some of these skills I have learned from Glue couples, as thankfully many of them have been able to articulate how to practice these loving behaviors in relationship. But intimacy is scary and hard and taking the time to pay close attention and learn about a partner is a skill that many of us don’t have.
Those 36 questions are about paying close attention and learning about your partner. They are about vulnerability, presence, mindfulness, and connection–things that we all crave. We live in an odd world where many make decisions about the worthiness of a potential partner based on a photograph, and the fate of the relationship lies in the direction of a swipe. We often think we know enough about the other based on a digital profile, but we don’t take the time to really find out what makes the other tick.
If we were to collectively put our phones away and ask each other questions with wide open curiosity and a blank slate in the form of time, we wouldn’t need 36 questions, and perhaps we would need less therapy. Part of why 36 questions and therapy in general successfully lead us to connection is that they both require time and presence and attention. The 36 questions take 90 minutes to 3-4 hours; we hardly pay that kind of attention to anyone or anything these days.
We seemed to have lost the art of connection. That recent therapy session taught me how to better love and connect to my partner, but it also made me realize that so much of what I lacked was simply paying close attention. I am not alone. 8 million people were interested in finding an outside catalyst in the form of 36 questions, in order to create vulnerability and meaningful connection. This has me thinking about what that says about our culture, and more than ever I believe love does need a conservation effort.