Thursday, February 4, 2010

I, Me, Us, We: Little Words, Big Impact

There are magic words that contribute to a happy marriage, but they might not be the ones you think. A new study suggests that spouses who use the language of "we" instead of the language of "me" are happier and better at resolving conflicts.

To the annoyance of singles everywhere, University of California in Berkeley researchers have found that couples who use pronouns such as "we," "our" and "us" have more harmonious relationships. Researchers analyzed conversations between 154 middle-aged and older couples about points of disagreement in their marriages. They found that those who used the words "we," "our" and "us" behaved more positively toward one another and showed less stress.

Conversely, couples who used pronouns such as "I," "me" and "you," emphasizing their "individuality" and "separateness," were found to be less satisfied in their marriages. The findings were especially true for older couples. According to the study, the use of these pronouns by older couples was most strongly linked to discordant relationships.

What's more, the study found that older couples who were together longer identified themselves more as "we" than their middle-aged counterparts. This suggests that facing obstacles and overcoming challenges together over a long period of time may give couples a greater sense of shared identity.
"Individuality is a deeply ingrained value in American society, but, at least in the realm of marriage, being part of a 'we' is well worth giving up a bit of 'me,'" said UC Berkeley psychology professor Robert Levenson, a co-author of the study published last semester in the journal Psychology and Aging.
Earlier studies have shown that use of "couple-focused" language is a strong indicator of happiness in the relationships of younger people. This study shows how this factor plays out over time as relationships become more mature, with couples either becoming closer or more polarized with their disagreements.
"The use of 'we' language is a natural outgrowth of a sense of partnership, of being on the same team, and confidence in being able to face problems together," said study co-author Benjamin Seider, a graduate student in psychology at UC Berkeley.
Researchers would like to note that the person using the "we" word is not the one who receives the most benefit. Rather, the words have a soothing effect on the partner, creating a feeling of unity and attachment. Use of "me" words carries with them an inherent separateness.

So, to give your relationship a boost, try sprinkling in a liberal amount of "our," "us," and "we," and do away with the "you," "I," and "me." It's less fattening than candy, cheaper than flowers, and more likely to create a lasting impression.

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