Watch your words. The difference between “I” and “we” may be an important distinction in the quality of your relationship. A new study by UC Berkeley researchers suggests couples who refer to themselves as “we” have healthier relationships and are better able to resolve conflicts than are couples in which spouses use the pronoun “I” instead. Other positive pronouns were “our” and “us” rather than “me” and “you”. Results were published in Psychology and Aging.
Researchers studies 154 middle-aged and older couples discussing disagreements. Couples who used “I” pronouns that emphasized their separateness tended to be more unhappy and less able to manage conflict, while those who used “we” identifiers showed less stress and smoother interactions.
“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 study co-author and psychology professor Robert Levenson.
The study results were not a surprise, as earlier studies have compared the “me-ness” and “we-ness” of younger couples’ relationships and found the “we” identity was strongly linked with happier younger couples, while “I” language tended to be polarizing. This study shows how the “we-ness” of a relationship may carry over a longer time period to more mature relationships. It also takes the earlier results further by linking emotions and physiological responses with the word choices.
The bottom line: couples with a team mentality may be able to better overcome obstacles both within and outside of the relationship. Using these team-like pronouns may be an indicator of the unity the couple feels and expresses. On the flip side, spouses who highly value individuality and personal opinion may focus more on themselves, at the detriment of their marriage union.
The next time you are addressing a conflict with your partner, or you are trying to nudge your marriage in a particular direction, try using more unifying language of “us” or “we.” It may help you each see your relationship in a different light–as a partnership.