I came across this article titled "Study Suggests 'We' Words Strengthen Marriages" in the New York Times from last week. It marries the Gladwell topic we discussed last week with the language topic we are blogging about this week. Last week we talked about how Gladwell claimed to be able to determine the future of a couple's relationship through some interviews, down to a very specific measurement. This article, while it doesn't discuss Gladwell specifically, delves into the idea of diagnosing the disease of the couple through the symptoms they present interacting with one another. Specifically, the symptoms they display in their use of language. The article narrowed it down to one thing: what pronoun did each person use? If they each used "me" or "I", the prognosis was not good. However, using "we" or "us" signified a sense of unity and understanding between the two, and maybe they'd make it after all. Similar to the studies we talked about last week, other things were measured, as well, including heart rate and blood pressure. This helped to determine percieved stress levels of each indivdual. Each interview lasted only 15 minutes, and again as in the studies we talked about last week, were based around a point of contention between the two people.
I considered the fact that this is a fairly easy to recognize symptom of a troubled relationship...for example, in an unhappy relationship, aren't you likely to realize you're saying "me" instead of "us"? And if you don't wish to be percieved as being a part of an unsuccessful relationship, you would maybe adjust your language accordingly, right? *****
So what came first: the chicken or the egg? Does saying "we" make a happier couple, or does only a happier couple use "we"? My initial reaction is that although the latter seems more likely, does that mean using "we" when you might really want to say "me" wouldn't have an effect? Wouldn't small, subtle signs of unity and understanding subconsciously create these feelings? Psychologist Doreen Arcus disagrees, stating:
"A practical test of the power of pronouns, she said, would be to instruct people ''feeling deeper conflict to use more `we,' and if you change the way they speak, does it alleviate the conflict? Language that does not reflect behavioral realities won't fool anyone for long.''
Maybe she's right...but I still wonder if it couldn't have at least a small positive effect, like positive energy.
Is everyone overthinking the value of a couple pronouns? Does saying "me" mean you're not thinking about "us"? Or is it just a natural way to speaking evolving from decades of thinking "me" as a single person? One man in the article says, "I still have a tough time saying `we' versus `me' in many realms of our relationship. It was `me' for 26 years of my life." Furthermore, insisting on "we" seems to paint a narrow picture of marriage. Some people live more independently from one another than other couples, but that does not necessarily make them less successful, happy, or likely to stay together in the long run.
Still, a sudden shift from "us" to "me" could clearly be a negative indicator in the relationship, of course. The relationship is clearly changing if you're thinking about "your" plans and not "our" plans.
...right? Maybe, maybe not.
Article available here.