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The Married Couple's 36 Questions for Staying in Love

Here is my stab at the 36 questions that I think are important -- or at least helpful -- to think and talk about after the first big rush of love has faded.
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I am sure that by now you have probably read the recent Modern Love column in The New York Times by Mandy Len Catron. In "To Fall in Love With Anyone, Do This," Mandy unpacks the 36 questions that can help two people fall in love. The exercise suggests that both parties answer the questions and then, as a bonus, stare into each other's eyes for four minutes.

The questions, based on the work of psychologist Arthur Aron, become more and more probing as they go: "For what in your life do you feel most grateful?" "What is the greatest accomplishment of your life?" "What roles do love and affection play in your life?" "How do you feel about your relationship with your mother?" "When did you last cry in front of another person? By yourself?"

Reading the questions I can see how it would be such a heady, intoxicating feeling to get into deep, important topics on a first date -- some of these issues, like relationships with family, embarrassing moments, thoughts about illness and death -- might not normally come up until much later dates. I can definitely still remember that feeling when you are just getting to know someone and how exhilarating it is when you feel like you are getting at something important, something at the very core of the other person.

And then you look into each other's eyes. Instant love.

My husband and I went through some of the 36 questions, but we already know so much about each other -- there weren't any big surprises. What struck me the most is that I realized that the questions that are important at the beginning of the relationship are very different from the questions -- and answers -- necessary to keep that love going once you are in the trenches. Once you don't have time to ponder the big questions of love, death, illness, childhood or life goals over a glass of wine, what questions become essential for survival? When you don't have four minutes to stare into each other's eyes, how do you stay in love?

Here is my stab at the questions that I think are important -- or at least helpful -- to think and talk about after the first big rush of love has faded.

1. Who will control the thermostat?
2. Can you tolerate it when I sing in the shower and I am convinced that I am Celine Dion?
3. Your three best lullabies?
4. How good are you at assembling furniture/bikes/Legos?
5. Can you take out the trash even when I don't ask you to do it?
6. What are the subtle signs that it's time for you to take the kids to swimming class because I need a Saturday morning by myself?
7. What are your plans for my old college t-shirt that I can't live without?
8. What do you think about my best friend?
9. How do you feel about your relationship with my mother?
10. Can you see the humor in my negative characteristics?
11. The things you found unique and charming about me when we first met are now driving you crazy. How will we remind each other why we first fell in love?
12. If I tell you the truth about yourself, are you brave enough to hear me?
13. Tell me about your coping skills when we are at the emergency room at 1 a.m. with a sick kid.
14. How are we going to make decisions about whose career comes first?
15. We have a date night planned -- our first in months. The babysitter cancels at the last minute. What do you do?
16. We disagree about a parenting issue -- bedtime, rewards, homework, whatever--how will you help us come to a compromise?
17. I am a spender, you are a saver. Tell me how we are going to find common ground when it comes to finances.
18. Will you encourage and support me to pursue my hobbies, spend time with my friends, find things that make me happy outside of our relationship?
19. Will you notice when I wear new lingerie? (Alternatively: Will you put away the comfy cotton panties every once in a while?)
20. Even if we don't have time or energy to have sex, can we still fall asleep in each other's arms every night?
21. Let's make time for sex. What's the plan?
22. When life is scary and confusing, can I count on you to stay up with me all night and make tea and let me cry?
23. I wake up one morning and realize that I want to change my life. Your reaction?
24. How soon after an argument can we laugh about it all?
25. I can joke with you about anything, right?
26. Can you be the person who grounds me but also lets me fly?
27. How do you respond when I tell you I want to be alone?
28. We know about each other's childhoods and families. How will we go about making up our own rules, our own traditions, breaking away from whatever wasn't working in our own families?
29. What family traditions are important to you?
30. Are you willing to give up at least a small part of your dreams to make mine come true?
31. The kid is sick and there is puke on the carpet and a screaming toddler in the bathroom. Your first move? The kid or the mess?
32. It's the end of a long day and I need to vent about my job -- again. Can you listen without judgment or trying to fix my problems? I just need your ears.
33. Your idea for a perfect day is hiking. Mine is hanging out with friends. How will we spend the day together?
34. How do you react to stress when you are tired?
35. There are wrinkles on my face, flab on my stomach, and I have droopy boobs. Can you still see the young woman you first fell in love with?
36. When our wedding song comes on the radio, we will always dance to it, right?

Zsofi McMullin blogs at

Photo by Dennis Skley, flickr