Love Triangle

Can you fall in love with someone by staring into his/her eyes for four minutes? According to Mandy Len Catron who wrote an article in New York Times about it, you can. She applied a model from a study focusing on making two people develop a strong interpersonal closeness by Dr Aron and his team. This involves a very precise procedure where you ask each other 36 questions in a special sequence, and at the end stare into each others' eyes for about four minutes. The first question is "Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest?" and the second last one is "Of all the people in your family, whose death would you find most disturbing?" to give you an indication of the escalation in intensity.

I can understand why this works, because I have participated in such self-disclosure and relationship-building tasks myself, although in another context. The same kind of rigorous method with an interview protocol and with questions that make you feel good about yourself and interested in the other is namely exactly the foundation for Appreciative Inquiry session.

By being asked questions about when you did something that you are proud of and when things went really well, you connect with positive memories. By telling these things to the person doing the interview you also connect to each other, and you actually create a new common and positive memory. This can be reinforced by asking strength-based follow-up questions. Developing all these positive thoughts and feelings, opens up your mind. This makes it easier to come up with really good ideas concerning what your wish for the future and what you can contribute in order to make it happen. If you have the good fortune of having a really skilled person doing the interview, he or she will also add an enthusiastic summary of your interview making you feel really special and smart. This in turn makes you want to engage and co-create something good, not only for yourself but for everybody in the group or organisation. However, it is really important to design good questions and to follow the instructions. Just smalltalk doesn't have the same kind of impact.

This has been studied in the field of Positive Psychology, for example by Barbara Fredrickson. She has developed the broad-and-build-theory that suggests that positive emotions lead to novel, expansive, or exploratory behavior, and that, over time, these actions lead to meaningful, long-term resources such as knowledge and social relationships.

Aron's work is based on Robert Sternberg's Triangular theory of love. At the corners we find intimacy, passion, and commitment. Intimate love felt between two people means that they each feel a sense of high regard for each other ("warm" love). They wish to make each other happy, share with each other, be in communication with each other, help when one is in need. Passionate love is based on drive ("hot love). Couples in passionate love feel physically attracted to each other. Committed love ("cold" love) is for lovers who are committed to being together for a long period of time.

The three components interact with each other and with the actions they produce so as to form seven different kinds of love experiences: non-love, liking/friendship, infatuated love, empty love, romantic love, companionate love, fatuous love, and consummate love. The last kind of what is often associated  with the “perfect couple" and where intimacy, passion and commitment is balanced. It is placed in the middle of the triangle, making some sense of the conceptual metaphor of falling in love.  Sternberg stresses the importance of translating the components of love into action. "Without expression," he warns, "even the greatest of loves can die.
So, how do you keep the music playing? According to John Harvey and Julia Omarzu at University of Iowa you need to stick to five rules when you are minding a close relationship (if you don't want to read the book, you can glance at the article): First, you have to do things that makes you know each other better. This implies self-disclosure, telling stories about dreams and hopes, listening and observing. Second, you need to believe that the other is not behaving badly on purpose, but stick to a positive explanatory model and a constructive focus. Thirdly, you need to accept and respect each other based on what you know about each others' strengths and weaknesses. Fourthly, you have to actively engage in creating and maintaining the relation, to be reciprocal in thoughts, feelings and behaviour. Lastly, you need to plan and create strategies for getting closer, to discover what works.

However, what do you do when you don't even have a person to do a strength-based love-inducing interview with? Well, I suppose you can always try the Invisible Boyfriend (at least if you live in North America). It would be really interesting to see what would happen if a customer started to ask the 36 questions, since apparently the service includes getting text-messages from a real person.

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