Investigators believe striking up a friendship with another couple in which you discuss personal details of your life will bring you closer to your own partner.
“Passionate love is one of the first dimensions of love to decrease in couples over time as the newness of a relationship begins to wane,” said Keith Welker, a doctoral student at Wayne State University.
“Relationships have widely been thought to flourish and develop in a broader network of social relationships, while emerging research has suggested that novel, arousing experiences can increase feelings of passionate love.”
The new research fuses together the two research areas, showing that novel, high-self-disclosure interactions with other couples can increase feelings of passionate love.
Such interactions, the researchers say, may cause us to perceive our partners and the relationship in a new light.
Emerging research suggests perception is vital in a relationship. Additionally, whether we perceive a long-term commitment as marriage versus merely cohabitating can change how we respond to stress.
Welker, with adviser Rich Slatcher, Ph.D., had previously studied how self-disclosure increased closeness within couples. They wanted to extend the research to investigate how self-disclosure between couples affects closeness and feelings of passionate love.
“We were expecting that the formation of a friendship between two couples in the lab would increase closeness and relationship satisfaction,” Welker said. “However, we found the robustness of the effects on passionate love surprising.”
In two studies with about 150 couples, the researchers used the “Fast Friends” activity, originally developed by Arthur Aron, Ph.D., of Stony Brook University, a co-author on the new study.
Over 45 minutes, couples answered basic “get-to-know-you” questions, such as “What is your idea of a perfect day?” or “Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest?”
The questions progressed to much deeper, personal topics such as “What was the most embarrassing moment in your life?” or asking for advice on personal problems.
“This task has been repeatedly shown to make both strangers and friends closer to each other,” Welker said.
In one of the studies, couples who met each other through the high-disclosure Fast Friends activity reported higher feelings of passionate love than those assigned to a low-disclosure task, which involved non-emotional, small-talk questions.
In a second study, the researchers found that how responsive another couple was to personal disclosure predicted the increase in passionate love following the Fast Friends task.
“The more that the other couple responds to your self-disclosures in a validating and caring way when on a double date, the more passionate you feel about your own relationship,” Welker said.
“Although we still need to investigate why responsiveness from other couples predicts increases in passionate love, one possibility is that having another couple respond positively to yourself and your partner may provide you with a fresh, positive view of your partner and relationship.”
In the meantime, this Valentine’s Day, Welker suggests picking a double-date activity that facilitates personal disclosure.
“Any setting where couples can talk, exchange information about each other, and respond to each other in a validating, thoughtful manner could apply,” he said.
“One very practical application could be going out to dinner with another couple.” But Welker advised dinner at home, as that will engender more disclosure than a date at a public restaurant.