Nearly all of us have heard the sage advice from the older married couples in our lives that goes a bit like: “The key to a long-lasting relationship is putting each other first/being on each other’s side/being a team.” It’s as if these phrases are oft-repeated by our elders to remind us to not be swayed by our modern, individualist tendencies, lest they get the better of us and will cause all the relationships we have built in our lives to crumble! Okay, that was a bit of an exaggeration – but what if they’re actually on to something?
New research conducted in the lab of the University of California, Riverside researcher Megan Robbins affirms that even couples’ use of language by that indicates interdependence in their relationships can positively affect their health and relationship outcomes. This research was built on some of her previous work in this area.
Robbins and her team reviewed and analysed masses of data gathered from 30 studies that assessed almost 5,300 people. Their goal was to emphasise that couples who use inclusive language by often using the first-person plural pronouns “we” and “us” are healthier, happier and have longer-lasting relationships.
This phenomenon, known as “we-talk”, is considered to be a sign of interdependent behaviours as well as positivity in a relationship according to Alexander Karan, a graduate UC Riverside student working in Robbins’s lab who is also the lead author of a similar research article.
The “we” factor: interdependence
So what exactly is interdependence? According to psychotherapist Barton Goldsmith Ph.D., it is the healthiest, most balanced way for us to interact in all our relationships. He says that interdependent people are able to be involved with each another without sacrificing their strength and individuality.
According to the Interdependence Theory, individuals in interdependent relationships rely on each other for support and are inclusive of one another when it comes to their thoughts, feelings and behaviours.
The research and results
For this research, Robbins and her team assessed the participants’ relationships (half of whom were in marriages) in five areas:
1. Relationship outcomes: This area dealt with factors such as the length of relationship and satisfaction.
2. Relationship behaviours: This area observed positive vs. Negative behaviours.
3. Mental health
4. Physical health
5. Health behaviours: This area dealt with how well participants took care of their personal health.
The results of this analysis concluded that we-talk benefitted the participants’ relationships in all five areas and that it is also equally beneficial for men and women.
Karan says that we-talk seems to be an indicator that couples are doing well overall, as the research shows its positive effects on a large number of couples in diverse contexts. We-talk appears to benefit couples of all ages; it even helps if used when couples are trying to resolve conflicts or when a partner is physically absent.
So is it the we-talk that’s making couples happy or are happy couples more likely to engage in we-talk?
Robbins believes that both scenarios are probably true. She says that using this type of language or hearing our partners use it could be a motivator for us to think more interdependently, which can lead to our having healthier relationships. On the other hand, being in a healthy, interdependent relationship can make partners more likely to engage in we-talk.
Whether you’re spoused up or just want to improve the relationships you have with your nearest and dearest (and maybe get mentally and physically healthier while you’re at it!) you can take something home from this. As the old adage goes, we are stronger together.
By Tesneem Ayoub