Plenty of relationship advice books stress the importance of communication with your partner. But a new study takes that advice one step further, looking at how specific words correlate with relationship satisfaction and stability.
In the study, published in the journal Personal Relationships, UCLA psychologist Richard Slatcher and his colleagues analyzed 10 days of instant message (IM) conversations between members of 68 couples. The researchers looked at how each partner used personal pronouns (e.g., "I," "we," "you") and emotion words (e.g., "sad," "happy," angry"). Besides running the IM transcripts through word count software, Slatcher also analyzed the context in which a word or phrase appeared, in order to detect sarcasm (e.g., "oh great").
Slatcher found that women who used "I" more frequently were more likely to be satisfied with their relationship, have partners who were satisfied with their relationship, and still be in that relationship six months later. Similarly, when men used positive emotion words, they and their partner were both more satisfied with their relationship. The researchers also found that sarcasm was associated with lower relationship satisfaction and higher rates of break-up six months later.
Though many psychologists have argued for the importance of using "we" in communication between relationship partners, Slatcher and his colleagues found that pronoun to be unrelated to relationship satisfaction and stability.
Slatcher speculates that using "I" was so significant among women because it suggests they might be willing to disclose more about themselves, which could lead to greater intimacy and closeness; it might also show that these women can maintain their own sense of autonomy within the relationship, which is good for relationship health.
It's important to keep in mind that this study wasn't set up to determine whether using these words had an effect on the relationships, or the other way around. Still, it does suggest the significance of the words we choose when communicating with our partner. It gives me a new reason to try to assert myself with "I," be positive, and maybe even drop the sarcasm.