So you’ve been going out with someone for a while now and things are great. You’re ready to commit. You're all in. You're practically the heart-eyes emoji in human form. But before you get ahead of yourself, there’s one important question to consider: Do you really know the person you’re dating?
We're not talking favourite food or gym schedule – we're talking the depth of knowledge that can't be discerned from the occasional deep-dive into their Instagram feed. What are their secret dreams? The events that shaped their lives? How do they behave when they’re feeling defensive or insecure? Knowing details like this about your partner can either highlight your compatibility as a couple, or conversely be a slew of early warning signs.
First published back in 1997, an academic paper by psychologist Arthur Aron - among others - basically compiled a list of 36 questions to ask that can make you "fall in love with anyone." Catchily titled, The Experimental Generation of Interpersonal Closeness, the questions that appeared in the appendix were designed to help couples reach higher levels of intimacy. Instructions were: "This is a study of interpersonal closeness, and your task, which we think will be quite enjoyable, is simply to get close to your partner.” How lovely.
We think there's something to be said for cutting to the chase like this, so we asked a panel of experts what questions they think we need to be asking our partners in order to learn exactly who they are, not who we think they are. Here’s what a counselor and psychotherapist, a life coach, and an energy healer suggested we ask...
1. If your younger self got the chance to have a chat with your older self today, what would younger you be proudest of? - Muna Shakour, Founder and Coach of Personal Development practice, Inside Out with Muna
Not many people find it easy to talk about themselves, especially to highlight their successes. This question allows your partner to talk about their proudest moments without feeling like they’re gloating. It will also give you a glimpse of what is important to them in an indirect way.
2. Tell me about your parents and siblings, and your relationship with each of them as you experience them today? - Helen Williams, Psychotherapist and Mindfulness & Meditation Teacher at MindfulME Dubai
This question aims to understand the importance of family relationships. It's also a way of discovering how the person you’re dating experienced attachment while growing up. The answer will show the type of attachment and bonding style that will effect their own adult relationships, as well as the impact of emotional security, safety and stability in current relationships.
3. How do you react to stress? - Shayanne Salama, Energy Healer & Postpartum Doula based in Dubai
Understanding how someone reacts during stressful situations (for example, do they withdraw? Leave? Talk a lot or get irritable?) will give insight into how best to support your partner at this time. If you've ever read The Five Love Languages, finding out the way your other half best receives support can be a revelation. It’s our job as a partner to deliver the love, care and compassion that our partners are receptive to, not the support we think they should be receptive to. This helps you see if you're able to give each other the care and love you both need in certain situations or not.
4. What wounds are you healing? And how have you dealt with emotional wounds in the past? - Shayanne Salama & Helen Williams
Everyone has wounds that they're healing. Understanding what they are will help bring awareness to why people think or react in certain ways in specific situations. This awareness also allows us to navigate relationships better. - Shayanne
We all experience emotional wounding, even trauma, in our lifetime, and this question highlights the importance of the way our partner seeks help, rather than the details about the wounding itself. It shows how this person feels about being vulnerable. - Helen
5. Who do you think you need to be in order to be loved? - Helen Williams
This addresses authenticity, attention to truth, integrity and awareness, and highlights any emotional understanding around adapting, codependency, attachment styles, and fears of inadequacy. One hopes the reply will highlight emotional strength and self-awareness, self-worth and the need for consciousness in relationships.
6. What do you bring to the world and to this relationship? - Shayanne Salama
Relationships are made up of two individual people and the relationship itself is a third entity that has its own qualities and purpose. Understanding what your partner believes they are bringing into this bubble allows you to understand what you are building together as a couple.
7. If you weren’t doing what you’re doing, and if money wasn’t an issue, what other job would you like to do instead? - Muna Shakour
People’s eyes light up when they talk about their dreams, even if they think the dream is unrealistic or unachievable. This question is fun for the person talking and the one listening. You get to see the dreamy side of them, and maybe even help them realise that their dream isn’t so far-fetched after all.
8. What is the core value that you base most of your decisions and actions on? - Shayanne Salama
Everyone has a core value that determines most of their daily actions, thoughts and decisions. It’s the thing you come back to check yourself against anything you do - it’s how you dictate your life. It could be ambition, success, appearances, kindness, honesty, etc. These are the values that guide people. Someone whose core value is success, for example, will put work and networking opportunities above anything else. A person whose driving force is honesty will be honest at all costs – even if it means being blunt or hurting people.
When someone’s core value is appearances, they will always care about what people think and let others' thoughts dictate the way they live. It’s important to figure out your partner’s core value to understand the things they prioritise in life and how it guides them in most of their decisions. If your values align somewhat you have greater potential for success than if they don’t.
9. What differences do you love about me now but could find aggravating in a few years? - Muna Shakour
At the beginning of a relationship, the differences between two people may seem exciting and appealing. Maybe a controlled type of person admires their partner’s spontaneity. Perhaps a reckless person is attracted to the stability in a more restrained partner. But the differences between two people - which can range from lifestyle to values to sleeping patterns (a night owl vs. an early bird, for example), can lose their appeal over time as they start to grate on your nerves.
Contrary to belief, opposites don’t attract in a marriage - which is why it’s important to recognise if the differences between you add a greater dimension to your life or will eventually drive a wedge between you. For example, if your partner isn’t religious and you want to raise your kids in your faith, it may prove to be too big of a challenge. However, if your partner loves working out and you don’t, perhaps eventually you may start appreciating the benefits of exercise. And if not, it still isn’t a deal breaker. Recognise the difference and how it fits in the bigger picture.
10. How does your anger manifest itself? - Shayanne Salama
Everyone holds anger and releases it in different ways, and their behaviour and moods alter depending on that. It's important to see how your partner deals with their anger to know if you are capable of dealing with the person’s reaction, and if you can help diffuse it. For example, some people like to be alone when they're angry. If their partner doesn’t give them the space they need to release and regroup, and instead asks a thousand times if they're okay, it would drive their partner crazy. Knowing how your partner manifests and moves their emotions can teach you how and when to be supportive, engaging and when to give them their space.
11. How many of your decisions are influenced by your family's opinion? - Muna Shakour
There's an Arab saying which states, “When you marry a person, you marry their whole family.” In a way, that's very true. How much stock does your partner put in his parents' opinion? How much information about your relationship does he share with his family? Do they often change his mind about things? This foreshadows the role in-laws will play in your life - and in your children’s too. Seeing to what extent your partner allows them to be involved in your daily life (in a good or bad way), and with financial issues, for example, will affect the dynamic of your relationship, thus having a huge impact on your marriage and how you raise your own kids.
12. Are you hoping I will change? - Muna Shakour
Expecting your partner to change is like expecting a leopard to change its spots. In other words, it won’t happen. Yes, people can grow and go as far as to change their habits, but committing to someone that you hope will change over time is foolish. Instead, take a really good look at your partner’s fundamental characteristics and either decide to take them as they are, or move on.
Photos: Unsplash and Instagram