Taking the “I” Out of Marriage

By Katie Goldsmith | February 9, 2010 | 3 comments

We all know there's no "I" in team. But a new study suggests having too much "I" in a marriage might be a problem as well.

The study, published recently in Psychology and Aging by a team of UC Berkeley researchers, looked at more than 150 middle-aged and older married couples; the middle-aged couples had been married for at least 15 years, the older couples for at least 30. The couples, who varied in the level of happiness they reported with their marriage, engaged in a 15-minute conversation about a conflict they'd had. During this discussion, the researchers monitored each spouse's physiological signals, such as their heartbeat, as well as emotional signs like their tone of voice, facial expressions, and body language.

They also recorded how frequently the spouses used words like "we," "our," and "us"—words that previous research has linked to feelings of interdependence, shared responsibility, and partnership. They also looked for "separateness" words like "I," "me" and "you," which signify dividedness and a focus on oneself.

The results showed that couples who used "we"-words had interactions with high levels of positive emotional behavior, low levels of negative emotional behavior, and low levels of physiological stress. Interestingly, when one spouse used we-language, it was the other spouse who felt better.

On the other hand, spouses who used a lot of "me/you" language experienced high levels of negative emotional behaviors and said they were more dissatisfied with their marriages; their partners felt the same way.

What's more, the researchers found that older couples tended to use more "we" words than the middle-aged couples, but the same amount of separateness words. The researchers explain this finding by proposing that because older couples have been together longer, their many shared experiences have likely fostered a greater sense of joint identity.

"It appears that pronouns," the authors conclude, "a seemingly innocuous part of everyday speech, provide an important window into the inner workings of intimate relationships, the qualities of the connections between partners, and the ways that emotions are expressed and regulated as couples deal with the inevitable problems that arise in married life."

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About The Author

Katie Goldsmith is a Greater Good editorial assistant.


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It would be great if there were discussions about the articles.  For instance, the Helen Fisher article seems to counter the other advice, in that there doesn’t seem to be any way of intentionally inducing ‘positive illusions’ or ‘love blindness’.  If one is not under the illusion of something I don’t see how it would be possible to become so.  At least Ms. Fisher doesn’t seem to propose any actions, unlike most if not all of your other articles.  They all seem to offer some advice.

c gilbert | 3:54 pm, February 10, 2010 | Link


We can all grow and expand our consciousness by merely becoming aware of the personal pronouns we use. Then we can begin to find alternative ways of expressing ourselves without using them.
For example:  “I” love the way you are touching “me” could be expressed as: touching like this feels so good. This could open a mindfulness that touching is not “me” centered. Rather it is a loving exchange of energy that does not differentiate between giving and receiving.

Illuminating insights into the truth of our Oneness
will shower us with love as we alleviate our use of personal pronouns with this simple awareness.

Rod Templin | 6:51 am, May 19, 2010 | Link


I wanted to read the original article from uc Berkeley: tho could
not find it….what is the issue or authors? thx.

alan larson, md. | 7:47 am, May 19, 2010 | Link

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