Archive for November, 2016

In Divorce Can You Still “Create” Intimacy?

Couples in pain are generally in a cycle of interaction that spirals out of control and can lead to personal withdrawal, separation and possibly divorce. John Gottman notes these as the four horsemen of the apocalypse and identifies the elements as criticism, defensiveness, withdrawal or stonewalling and contempt.

This is a powerful cocktail of emotion and behavior that renders the participants with a sense of being helpless and out of control. The emotional sense is that there is one way to resolve this – getting out of the relationship.

In our divorce mediation practice we approach couples with an important initial question: Are you ready for divorce or is there another option? While this may seem like a halting question at such a painful time in life, there are studies that indicate that even perfect strangers can build intimacy if they are mutually willing to be vulnerable to each other.

A study published in 1997 by Arthur Aron, Edward Meliant, Elaine Aron, Robert Vallone and Renee Bator took people – strangers – and paired them with the instructions that they were to interact for 45 minutes by asking 36 questions. At the end of that interaction they were to stare into each other’s eye for four minutes. This process was initially developed to include four key elements:

(a) gradually escalating reciprocal self-disclosure and intimacy-related behaviors,
(b) matching by non-disagreement on important attitude issues,
(c) expectations of mutual liking, and
(d) making closeness an explicit task

This fourth element was a key to the process – making closeness an explicit task.

In relationships that are headed toward divorce, closeness had been lost. In some instances, one person may have forfeited the right to closeness based on acts of violence or a violation of intimate trust. Those are elements that may not be resolved and require definitive action. But most relationships do not fall into those categories. Most couples find themselves drifting apart or feeling out of touch. They may not even be able to explain it other than to say they “fell out of love.”

In Dr. Gottman’s research part of building and rekindling the feelings of love involve discovery of each other all over again which is an explicit process. In Arthur Aron’s

study 36 questions were designed to open these channels by offering a path toward the sharing of more intimate information in a comfortable progression.

Those 36 questions were broken into three groups as follows:

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

13. If a crystal ball could tell you the truth about yourself, your life, the future or anything

else, what would you want to know?

14. Is there something that you’ve dreamed of doing for a long time? Why haven’t you done it?

15. What is the greatest accomplishment of your life?

16. What do you value most in a friendship?

17. What is your most treasured memory?

18. What is your most terrible memory?

19. If you knew that in one year you would die suddenly, would you change anything about the way you are now living? Why?

20. What does friendship mean to you?

21. What roles do love and affection play in your life?

22. Alternate sharing something you consider a positive characteristic of your partner. Share a total of five items.

23. How close and warm is your family? Do you feel your childhood was happier than most other people’s?

24. How do you feel about your relationship with your mother?


25. Make three true “” statements each. For instance, “We are both in this room

feeling … ”

26. Complete this sentence: “I wish I had someone with whom I could share … ”

27. If you were going to become a close friend with your partner, please share what would be important for him or her to know.

28. 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.

29. Share with your partner an embarrassing moment in your life.

30. When did you last cry in front of another person? By yourself?

31. Tell your partner something that you like about them already.

32. What, if anything, is too serious to be joked about?

33. 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?

34. 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?

35. Of all the people in your family, whose death would you find most disturbing? Why?

36. 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.

Once done, you would then stare into each other’s eyes for 4 minutes.

The results for the participants is that they felt close to each other and, in some cases, even went on to get married.

What this seems to show is that the direction of relationship choices can be a conscious effort that arrests negative behavior and moves people back onto a path of healthy intimacy. But is also is a message that if divorce is the option selected by a couple, that path does not have to be destructive. The relationship can be driven in a direction of a conscious parting with mutual respect and best wishes for a better life.

We have seen it happen and we know this is achievable for couples in mediation, should they choose to make their lives positive in the face of divorce.


Armand and Robbin D’Alo