RIVERSIDE, Calif. — When it comes to marriage, your words may signal the strength of your relationship with your spouse. A new study finds that a balanced focus on the spouse is a good indicator of a healthy relationship.
In this case, researchers at the University of California, Riverside were specifically looking at the quality of relationships while one spouse was dealing with a serious illness.
The researchers found that using the right words was a huge indicator of quality in a relationship. To reach their conclusion, the team studied 52 couples in which one partner was suffering from breast cancer. The couples were equipped with an “Electronically Activated Recorder” that would record snippets of their conversations over a weekend. Then the researchers analyzed the conversations that were not about cancer, which accounted for 95 percent of the recordings.
They found that the patient using the pronouns “you,” and “your,” and the other spouse using “I,” “me,” and “my,” demonstrated good balance in the relationship. They also found that frequent usage of positive words like “love” were associated with a good marriage, while the frequent use of negative words like “resent” were associated with the opposite.
“It may seem like an insignificant thing, but our research shows words can reflect important differences among romantic relationships,” says study author and psychology professor Megan Robbins, in a university news release. “Spouses’ use of first-person singular pronouns, and patients’ use of second-person pronouns, was positively related to better marital quality for both partners as the focus wasn’t always on the patient. So, it reflects balance and interdependency between partners.
Robbins and her team also found that pronoun use demonstrated the strength of the bond in a relationship as well.
“Personal pronoun use can tell us who the individual is focusing on, and how he or she construes themselves within the relationship,” adds Robbins. “It seems like a small word, but it says a lot about the relationship during a trying time. We found that focus on the spouse, rather than on the patient, lent to better marital quality for both partners. It was an indicator for us that the couple thought of themselves as a team, or a unit—not exclusively focusing on the patient.”
The study was published this month in the journal Personal Relationships.