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Powerful questions for illuminating the hidden spaces of love with Topaz Adizes


The modern world is filled with connectivity, yet for so many people the need for authentic connection goes unmet. Even in a long term relationship we can hide our vulnerability and true desires, sometimes for decades. When we avoid having the important and risky conversations with the people we love we miss a precious opportunity for deeper intimacy and healing old wounds. The questions we ask have the power to illuminate and transform any relationship for the better.

In this episode of Awake In Relationship I speak with Topaz Adizes, an Emmy Award-winning director, experience design architect and author of 12 Questions For Love: A Guide to Intimate Conversations and Deeper Relationships. Since 2014 Topaz has been documenting intimate conversations in a celebrated series called THE AND, which has been viewed by millions of people online.  In this chat we talk about the nature of love, the modern hunger for intimacy and how to hold space for conversations that matter. We also discuss how the questions we ask can help us see loved ones in a new light.

  • To get a copy of Topaz’s book 12 Questions For Love: A Guide to Intimate Conversations and Deeper Relationships head over to The Skin Deep
  • To learn more about Topaz Adizes’ work check out his personal website
  • To watch the Emmy Award-winning documentary series THE AND check out The Skin Deep on YouTube.

If you enjoyed this episode on intimate conversations about love you might also enjoy Episode 43: Fear as a stepping stone to fearless love with Susan Gillis Chapman


Episode Transcripts

[00:00:00] Silas Rose: Hello friends, my name is Silas Rose, and this is Awake in Relationship. It’s Valentine’s Day, so I wanted to offer something special on the topic of love. In this crazy copromial world that we live in, there are few things more elusive or harder to render in words than love. How do we talk about or describe the invisible space between two lovers or two old friends?

There’s a certain electricity or magnetism in that space that we yearn for. But for many reasons, it can be hard to find. Even in the context of a long term relationship, it’s possible to hide our true vulnerability and desires, possibly for decades, when we avoid having the important and sometimes risky conversations with the people we love. We miss a precious opportunity to experience deeper intimacy and healing in relationship. In this episode, I welcome Topaz Adizes, an Emmy award winning director and experienced design architect and the author of the Twelve Questions for Love, a guide to intimate conversations and deeper relationships.

Since 2014, Topaz has been documenting intimate conversations in an award winning series called The And, which has been viewed by millions online. In this chat, Topaz shares some of the wisdom gleaned from more than 10 years of holding space for life changing conversations. We also discuss the architecture of questions that illuminate and heal, and how to hold a container for love, even in the midst of conflict. If there’s a conversation that you’ve been putting off for a while, I think you’ll enjoy this episode.

Topaz Adizes, welcome to Awaken Relationship.

[00:02:03] Topaz Adizes: Good to be here, thanks for having me.

[00:02:05] Silas Rose: Yeah. I’m excited to have this conversation with you. So, my first impression of you is that you are a prolific creator, in the sense that you are, of course, a filmmaker , you write books, you just authored a new book, and you’re also getting into podcasting. So my first question is, when do you sleep?

[00:02:26] Topaz Adizes: We gotta add to the list, I have a four year old son and a one year old daughter. Wow. So, it’s sleep is not consistent I’m a really good sleeper. All my friends will tell you that probably one of my super skills is I can sleep anywhere and in seven seconds, so wherever I can get some shut eye, I will, and sometimes I get shut eye when like, whether it was in school, in class, or holding a boom pole on a shoot in a documentary film, you know, just wherever, wherever I can.

[00:02:56] Silas Rose: I’m jealous. I’m jealous. That’s great. So, it’d be interesting just for you to introduce yourself, and I’m particularly interested in you know, you describe yourself as an experienced design architect. What is that?

[00:03:10] Topaz Adizes: It’s funny how we give ourselves different names. You know, most of my career earlier in the first 15, 20 years was as a filmmaker. And then when I, we launched The Skin Deep, which was an experienced design studio focused on transformative power of human connection. Then I started, you know, in order to give myself permission to Not just make films, but other things like interactive experiences in the car game and a retreat and all these different things.

I, I came up with story breaker, story breaker, someone that, you know, we all tell ourselves stories and then something happens in your life that breaks your story. You’ve had a number of things you talk about on the site that break your story and that create, give you the opportunity or force you to create a new story and a new identity and with that story comes new possibilities. So I call myself a storybreaker because that gave me permission to do different things. And now that was 10 years ago. And now I say the last 2, 3 years, I’ve been really questioning what is it underneath that? What is it in the work that I’ve been exploring and interactive design and creating retreats or even the and production itself? And I, and I’ve kind of come to like, it’s, it’s creating the architecture and design of experiences, you know, it’s not just experienced design. It’s like the architecture of it. What’s the physiology? What’s the space we move in? What’s the approaches? What are the building blocks? And then on top of that is the design element, you know, and I guess you could say that design and architecture might be, might be redundant, but I think they’re somewhat different.

I mean, so an experienced design architect, but in essence, it’s how do you create spaces? How do you create vortexes for people to have certain experiences? And not that your experience, not that you want them to have this experience, but you want to create a space in which they can have certain experiences, the spectral experiences.

[00:05:06] Silas Rose: Right. Creating a container.

[00:05:08] Topaz Adizes: A container. Yeah. And I’m really, that’s what I really love. And I think if I look back, making a film, I mean, I almost, I loved the process of the filmmaking being on set. Because then you, that is a container right there and you are shaping the space and I enjoy that as much as the final product.

[00:05:30] Silas Rose: Well, you’ve had a lot of success in your life and your career, you know, including winning an Emmy, which is, I think you’re definitely are my first Emmy winning guest. What do you attribute to that success?

[00:05:44] Topaz Adizes: Luck. But what’s luck? I don’t, I don’t, you know, that’s a good question.

I work hard. I’m very focused and committed. to sometimes the detriment of my health. There was a period there where I fell into a depression and it was about 10 years where I couldn’t really walk very well. And I got back surgery about 18 months ago, just minimal invasive, but it’s just, I remember the day after getting the surgery and going for my first walk without my feet going numb.

And I started crying because I thought, well, what kind of human being puts up with that much pain for that long? And I think, and when I say that story, just because I think I think what part is I’m really tenacious and I really can like grind it out and do the work and kind of push it through. And so maybe it’s like having a vision, but being able to execute a vision and I didn’t really get that till I was about 22 or three.

I moved to New York and. Until that point in my life, I always had ideas, but never fully executed. And then I said, I’m executing this short fill. I’m going to execute this thing. If I have to draw it on pieces of paper and take a picture of it. And I think I’ve just carried that execution idea. Like it’s had the idea, but see it all the way through.

And maybe that’s what’s been putting me in positions to be plotted. But I don’t know. It’s a good question. Maybe it’s a better question for the people around me who like open up with you. Yeah. Who put up with me? Exactly.

[00:07:13] Silas Rose: You mentioned, you know, that moving to New York in your twenties in the introduction to the book, you talk about at that period of your life, really encountering a crossroads, you know, you’ve graduated and you actually acknowledge that you have a lot of freedom and you want to use that freedom well, and the choice is really to kind of, you know, sort of follow your peers into the corporate world or hit the open road with a, a video camera.

Why did you choose the latter?

[00:07:42] Topaz Adizes: Because I knew I was lucky. I knew that I was very fortunate. I was a white male, it was 1999, 2000, I was a white male, who was healthy, whose parents were healthy, who had a college degree with no student debt. And I was very fortunate and I said, wow, I am like 0. 0001 percent of the population globally that has this luxury to choose and this freedom to choose.

I better not fuck, excuse me, but I better not effing take it for granted. And I used the F word there because it was serious. It was like, let’s not mess around. This is a, this is a. Luxury, and it comes with responsibility, and that responsibility is to make the most of this journey I have on the world in the physical plane as a soul.

So I’m not gonna go follow the zombie mode into making money, you know, into being zombie mode for what? I need to go find how I can contribute. To my community and whatever the community was, it could be my block, it could be the street, it could be the world, it could be the city, I don’t know. It was like, I need to contribute and I need to find out the best way, the most unique way that I can contribute.

And I need to do that by following my passion and I bought a one way ticket to Australia. And this is where, before, what was it, like, what was the thing that everyone was worried about to, what was it called? Y2K. Y2K, remember Y2K? Yeah. It was like the biggest fear. I was like, if Y2K hits and everything falls apart, at least I’ll be in Australia.

And I was heading to the Marquesas Islands. I read this book by Paul Thoreau and I loved it and I wanted to be a, anyways. That’s why I just, you, I was fortunate I just shouldn’t take it for granted and I should just find my way to contribute to the, to, to community, whatever that meant, through, through pursuing my passions and turn them into gifts.

[00:09:38] Silas Rose: You eventually turned your lens on relationships. What was it about that topic that really gravitated you?

[00:09:46] Topaz Adizes: It was kind of, you know, I see in the book where I talk about that that seed of pain was laid very young when I was basically like. My experience was moderating and mediating my parents divorce at a very young age, which was very passionate and tumultuous and there’s a lot of fighting between all, you know, it was, it was intense, very intense for a three year old, four year old.

And I think that laid the seed for an exploration of what does it mean to be connected. It was me to be intimate, and I always had that in me. And then that, that seed of pain turned into a hunger to search for it. And so I was always interested in it. And even when I was just traveling the country, you know, Australia and India and Europe with the camera, I was talking to people.

So I was just really interested in trying to find something below the surface. And I realized that the camera was that bridge, the bridge into other people’s worlds that they would open up that they wouldn’t otherwise open up without the camera. And so that’s why I was kind of inspired to, to, to play with filmmaking as a skill set to explore other people’s humanity.

And then that, then, then ended up into like, you know, one thing led to another and then use that skill set to do the end. Which is the Emmy awarding experience, which explores the space between. And so that’s, that’s how it got me to, to that project, which I’ve been doing for the last 10 years.

[00:11:14] Silas Rose: Yeah, which has been, you know, really viewed by millions of people, which is incredible. What is the format that is so magnetizing?

[00:11:22] Topaz Adizes: What, yeah, what draws people to that? Well, it illuminates the space between, you know, I think about two magnets. I usually have an example of two magnets where you have two magnets in your hand and you bring them together, you could feel the magnetism, the pull, and you could flip one around so that they’re pushing against each other.

You can feel it in your hand, but when you look between them, you see nothing, but you feel it. And that energy exists between all of us. So what if I could take a little bit of powder and sprinkle it between the connections between all of us that we have and share that connection, illuminate the threads that bind us, that connect us.

And so that’s what the end is because the end we bring two people together in a room, we have them facing each other with a little coffee table between them or a little bench at knee height. And we put questions that we custom make for them. And they sit in front of each other and they ask each other these questions.

And we’ve done this for the last 10 years, over 1200 conversations, they’re on YouTube and they’re asking each other incredible conversation, questions, and that’s part of what the book is. How do you make quality conversations? And secondly, how do you create the space? And when you put that together, you’re creating the space for cathartic conversation, which will deepen your relationships.

And so, The And films it with two cameras. That are close up. So you’re seeing both face at the same time and a wide shot kind of. So you see both in profile, but a very minimal, you always see both face at the same time in a bipanel. And what that do, what’s that do, what that does is. It elevates the position of the listener on equal standing as that of the speaker.

If you think about all of the content we watch, films, TV, and even on social media, you’re always seeing the person talking. You’re never also seeing the person listening at the same time. It’s not grant, the listener is not granted the same amount of importance. Right, or gravitas is that of the speaker, which I think bodes well for like, look at the world we’re in now, everyone’s shouting at each other and no one’s really listening to each other.

And so in The And, you’re always seeing both people at the same time. And that’s when you, you know, you know, father asked his son, son, what do you think is the hardest thing for me being your father? And the son has to answer, and before they even talk, you see them both processing what they think they’re going to say.

What they, what the father thinks the son will say, the son thinking what he’s going to say, and you, in that space, you’re illuminating the space between, and us as a viewer get to feel that. I have a friend who said, you know, there’s reality TV topaz, and what you have is reality of feeling. That’s what you’re capturing here.

And I invite. Our audience members, if they want to have a digital dose of humanity, you know, cause right now social media, fear and fury is spreading six to seven times faster than anything else on the internet, right? With the algorithms. Cause, but we see ourselves as a corner of the internet where we are offering digital doses of humanity.

And what we do that is by sharing, illuminating the connection, the shared connection between us all through conversation. So that’s what The And is in 10 years, 1200 pairs learned a lot. It’s been a beautiful journey and now we’re in year 11. So.

[00:14:45] Silas Rose: Well, I definitely watched a few episodes and it is, it’s remarkably intimate and at times kind of painful to watch. I sort of felt a bit uncomfortable in some, in some of the conversations because people are sharing so openly. Why do you think people are so open on The And?

[00:15:04] Topaz Adizes: Well, one is because we create the container and the container is we don’t say action. We don’t have people in the crew that are about themselves, right?

So that when you walk in, you know, you don’t get hair and makeup. You don’t get action. You don’t have people yelling, saying, okay, here we go. All right, sit down, you know, queue up, you know, the experience starts from just our response on emails to the experience of the end, you know, starts from them walking in to the space before they even, meaning the producers are coming into the space after they parked their cars to then walking into where the cameras are set up.

And I think ultimately, you know, there’s a lot of little, I say, tricks we should do. Like, we make sure that whoever’s filming, you know, there’s no, you know, people speaking to each other don’t see a camera person behind the person they’re speaking to. So there’s no one in their eye line, if you will. And so then kind of create this little envelope of space.

And then the question comes up and the questions are so well constructed and so powerful that, you know, regardless of what you’re thinking about, when your best friend, your partner, your wife. Your your grandpa, your son looks at you and says, why do you love me? Or what are you hesitant to ask me, or what is the biggest challenge in our relationship right now?

And what do you think it’s teaching us? Or when was the, you know, what was the worst fight we had? And what did it teach you about loving me? When you’re asked that question by someone you care about, you have a connection with. You all of a sudden are more interested in answering that question than anything around you.

And because the space around you is quite calm and peaceful and it’s not noisy and it’s not moving, you can really focus into the person who’s asking you the question. So the question kind of sets them up to have this conversation. And that’s why they, and then obviously we, we structure the architecture of the questions.

Both the way they’re written, but also in the sequence, sets it up so that we can actually drop in deep to places of gravitas, of profundity, of, of real vulnerability. And so that’s, that’s why I think it works.

[00:17:17] Silas Rose: The book you just written, The 12 Questions for Love. really harvests a lot of learning from your experience of witnessing all these amazing conversations. You say you’re an experienced design architect, what is the architecture of a good question?

[00:17:36] Topaz Adizes: So in the context of a relationship, a good question has five parts in my opinion. You know, one is, let’s start with the easy one, don’t make it binary. Do you love me? Yes, no, done. You know? Are you angry at me?

Yes, no. I mean, we’re not talking. It’s like, yeah, at least a yes, no, does not invite exploration, does not invite a conversation, so that’s one. Second, another one is, you know, and this is, this is so often missed, but I think asking a question that acknowledges the relationship, that’s a connective question.

What I mean by that is someone comes in and says, what are you scared of? If I ask you that, and your father asks you that, and your, you know, the waiter asks you that. You’re going to answer that in the same thing, in the same way. I’m scared of snakes. I’m scared of the apocalypse. But if I ask you, what do you think we’re both scared of, that question acknowledges our relationship.

You know, you’re going to answer that differently than when I ask it, than if your father asked it, than if the waiter asked it. It’s that question acknowledges the person asking, it acknowledges the relationship. So having that element in the question is a great way to pull the thread of your relationship because now both of us are interested.

I’m interested in what you’re going to say because it’s also a reflection of me. It’s a reflection of us. Third part is have questions that don’t have an agenda because if you ask, you know, why are you always so angry? Well, that’s immediately, a person’s going to react defensively. Offering a question as a gift versus an agenda, or instead of pointing your finger with your question, you know, by You know, basically metaphorically pointing a finger at someone with your question, offer them an open hand.

It’s a lot easier to shake the open hand than the shake of finger. Fourth one would be make it constructive. You know, our minds are built to protect us, but our hearts are built to connect us. And if you ask a question, why do we fight so much? Your mind that’s built to protect you is going to come up with every, it’s going to, it’s going to come up with the reasons why we fight so much.

Whatever you ask the brain, it’s going to come up with, it’s going to find answers to. It’s like you throw a stick, and the dog will chase the stick wherever you throw it. So if you throw it into the mud, it’ll go into the mud. If you throw it up on the grass, it’ll go up on the grass. We should be very conscientious about where we’re throwing the stick.

The stick is the question. The dog is chasing it. It’s the mind. So, why do we fight so much? Well, that’s throwing it Okay, where are we What about, you know, what’s our big What’s our biggest disagreement, and what is it teaching us? How does conflict make us better? Right? You’re asking a different question, you’re throwing the stick in a different spot.

And then last and final is, if you can ask things that connect two different ideas, it’s great. Also, or a question that puts someone in someone else’s shoes. So, two different ideas. What does earning money cost you? What’s your favorite memory from your worst relationship? Or how does conflict make us better?

We don’t often think about conflict making us better. Or for businesses, I say, you know, what’s one value? You know, in the organization, what’s one value we do not share with our clients. So asking questions that put two different ideas that don’t often come together in the same question, such that your mind is going to find what is the answer to that.

And that’s the space of creating like a new pattern in the head, in the mind, right? And then in terms of putting yourself in each other’s shoes, that’s really helpful because that helps create a sense of compassion or empathy.

[00:21:22] Silas Rose: How do you want people to use this book?

[00:21:25] Topaz Adizes: Yeah. Well, the book I think is great because it’s a book that gives you an experience.

On a very prescriptive level, ask these 12 questions with anyone you’re intimate with, whether it’s your partner, your best friend, a family member, a sibling, you know, whoever you’re intimate with, not romantic, it doesn’t have to be romantically, and just ask these 12 questions, you’re going to have a cathartic conversation, arguably one that will forever change that relationship, only because this much more conscientiousness was brought to it by asking these questions.

It’s the questions themselves, and it’s the structure of the questions in terms of, you know, the order, the sequence. And then, underlying that is, if you read through the book, you see why does this work. And so then it’s, you know, someone else was talking about, you can watch a basketball game, or a sports game.

You can watch a game, a sports game, a basketball game, let’s say. But not know how to dribble, not know how to shoot and not, but you can watch it and you can enjoy, or you can also come learn how to dribble, learn how to shoot and you could actually play it. And this book is giving people the tools for how to play.

So they can have, learn how to ask questions or how to create the space to step into it and learn how to listen or bring a different type of listening, what I call deep listening to the conversation so that. You learn how to ride the bike. You learn how to play basketball and be on the court. On the court of the relationship, of deepening the relationships in your life.

Because ultimately, we’re souls bouncing around, bouncing off each other, having these physical experiences. And what better way? There’s a number of ways, you know, we don’t just have to talk. But being in each other’s presence, and reflecting to each other, this experience we have called life, and walking through it in relationship, is a beautiful way to amplify the experience of what it means to be alive.

What it feels to be alive. And so my hope is that this book gives you a toolkit, a tool, like the blueprint for how to have cathartic conversations. I wish we had time to go through the 12 questions, you know, independently, because yeah, they are very deep. And, you know, some of them just are basically, especially at the beginning, really just about inviting curiosity.

[00:23:43] Silas Rose: When you get into kind of the meat of it, they can be quite probing and you know, potentially emotionally charged. If someone gets to that stage in the book and are having these kind of really deep personal questions and conflict what do you adives?

[00:24:00] Topaz Adizes: I advise slowing down and breathing, and when you feel discomfort, that’s an indication that growth is on its way. Because the path to growth is lit by discomfort, it’s lit by fear. So pursue discomfort and fear wherever you see them. Because on the flip side, beyond that is growth. I also think we need to make a very clear distinction between safety and discomfort. Just because you’re uncomfortable does not mean you’re not safe.

Just because you’re comfortable doesn’t mean that you’re safe too, right? So if you are in a safe relationship, you’d feel it’s not toxic, that you feel that there’s a mutual trust and respect, that you feel that we are on a journey together, we acknowledge that, we take responsibility for our feelings, for our actions, for our communication, and you feel that.

Look, we can face uncomfortable things together, because then lean into the discomfort. If you feel that it’s safe on that, you know, the basis of safety, then you, it’s great to lean into as much discomfort as possible in your relationships. Because on the flip side of that is more resiliency, is more fulfilling, right?

It’s a more vital relationship. And ultimately, it’s just amplifying your experience of what it means to be human. Hmm. Second, I think another one is when the conflict comes up, it’s like, we don’t have to have conversations that resolve things immediately. We don’t have to, you don’t have to win. What kind of conversations are we having?

You know? And the ones I’m offering in the book are exploratory ones, are deepening ones. They’re not, they’re not, they’re not ones that we’re going to discuss, we’re going to come to a solution, we’re going to execute it. It’s a different conversation. Or, if you need to get to the execution part, just have a clear demarcation.

We’re going to explore, we’re going to discuss, we’re going to feel, okay. And then we’re going to do something that demarcates that we’re moving into the next phase of our conversation, which is now we meet to make a decision. But in this place of demarcation, you don’t need to win, you don’t need to be right.

You just need to be present in the space. Even if a couple, one of the rules in the book is that, when playing the game, is that you don’t have to answer any question you don’t want. You earn the right to pass by looking the other person in the eye for 10 seconds. We’re just being silent for 10 seconds and saying pass.

There’s a lot there in that moment of silence. The fact that we can sit in discomfort together, the fact that I can hear your opinion of something that I can improve or whatnot, the fact that we’re asking the question even if we don’t answer it but we’re sitting in that discomfort, that means that we’re able to hold a space together in this relationship.

And oftentimes when people go to therapy, which can be very helpful sometimes. The rule, the person who holds a space and makes the rules is the therapist. Oftentimes they’re asking the question that, right? So that’s not. Enabling the couple or whoever’s in the therapy to practice at holding the space themselves.

And in this case, where there, there is no therapist, and by the way, I’m not a trained therapist, so these are just, this comes from 10 years of trial and error practice, observations. Take it or leave it. By being in the space where you and someone else in your relationship are asking these questions, sit in that space.

At the very least, you guys are practicing sitting in discomfort, which is an aspect of resiliency. And we don’t have to come to solutions. We could just practice feeling. We could practice being. That’s incredibly valuable conversations.


[00:27:38] Silas Rose: In wrapping up, I want to focus in on something you already mentioned, which is this, this great vision of creating a essentially a wiki or archive of human relationships. Why is that important now?

[00:27:54] Topaz Adizes: So for a long time, and we’re continuing to just, okay, we have the library of all these conversations. Incredible. And you can have access to other people’s experiences and learn for yourself and realize that A, I’m not the only one. B, there’s hope. There’s multiple ways to tackle this.

That’s incredibly useful. Also, it’s incredibly useful as a tool of advice, right? I mean, if you think about any type of advice you’ve ever given or received in your life, it’s always based on someone’s actual experience. Someone actually lived that experience, whether you read it in a book. Or you heard it on a documentary or someone told you, Oh, you go try this, try meditation, try that.

It worked for me. It worked for my friend. Someone had to do it to that. No one just makes something up from nowhere and says, try this. Well, why? Because I think it should work. And when, so that means that the quality advice you get is commensurate to the number of people or things that people have experienced that you have access to.

The books, the films you watch, the conversations, what you have access to. We are making these over 1200 relationships, great breath and scope available to you. That’s giving you a greater tool to give you better. Lived experience. I could offer you advice in your own journey of life. And I think that is a beautiful tool to lead for future generations.

I mean, for present generations, but also future generations. So they can see how humanity has the emotional experience of being human is shifting, especially in this pivotal age of time, right? Where now, you know, the internet, social media, Yeah. AI, blockchain, like all these things are changing the way we’re relating to one another.

And it’s nice to, and then 60, 70 years when my grandkids look back, they’ll have this incredible tool to see at least what was humanity experiencing at the turn of the century, the year of the great pandemic. What were people feeling? How did they communicate? So there’s both like a short term tool for now, but also a long term archival value to this project.

And that’s why, that’s why it inspires me to create this library of human connection, human relationships.

[00:30:10] Silas Rose: Well, Ive really enjoyed this conversation. Thank you so much. If people want to connect more with your work or get the book, where can they go?

[00:30:19] Topaz Adizes: Skindeep. com. And all our social media, mostly. You know, we’re on all the social media channels, the skin deep my personal website’s topazadizes.com, but all our products, the books, the content, it’s just the Skin Deep.

[00:30:33] Silas Rose: Awesome. Well, I hope we can connect again.

[00:30:37] Topaz Adizes: Thank you, Silas. I really appreciate your time, your energy, especially. Thank you.

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