News And Views
Marriage in the News
March 2010: When Married Couples Speak in Terms of “We” and “Ours”
“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 Robert Levenson, a University of California, Berkeley, psychology professor who is widely known for his marriage research, particularly related to somewhat older couples. Levenson pointed to a recent study at the university showing that pronouns matter in marriage. The researchers monitored couples as they discussed points of disagreement. Would a husband and wife team up or become polarized as they approached a divisive issue, and what difference would that make?
Husbands and wives handle conflict better if they tend to speak of “we,” “our” and “us,” rather than “me,” “I” or “you,” the researchers found. They analyzed 15-minute conversations focused on points of conflict between 154 middle-age and older couples.
Spouses who employed what the researchers called “we-ness” language in these conversations behaved more positively toward each other than did those who tended to employ terms of “separateness” such as “I” and “me.” In fact, couples characterized by a greater use of “we-ness” terminology even fared better than the others in terms of blood pressure and heart rate.
The study also found that older couples tended to speak more in terms of “we” and “us” than did their middle-age counterparts. This may mean that over the years couples gain a greater sense of shared identity by facing challenges, raising children and overcoming obstacles together.
In a report on this research in the September 2009 journal of Psychology and Aging, the researchers associated the language of “we” and “us” with greater levels of marital satisfaction than is experienced by couples whose conversations accent their separateness.