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Couples Who Say “We” Are Better Able to Resolve Conflicts

A new study shows there’s no “I” in happy couples. Here’s how to speak the language of love.

What’s the magic word? Turns out, it’s “we.” Couples who use “we” language are better able to resolve conflicts—and are happier in their relationships—than those who don’t, according to a new study from the University of California, Berkeley.

Researchers analyzed conversations over disagreements between 154 middle-aged and older couples. They found that those who used pronouns such as “we,” “our,” and “us” acted more positively toward each other and were happier in their relationships. However, couples who used pronouns such as “I,” “me,” and “you” were less satisfied in their marriages. What’s more, those with the highest “we” quotient were less stressed during the conversations, having more relaxed heart rates and lower blood pressure. Relationship satisfaction decreases the risk of cardiovascular disease, the number-one cause of death among Americans.

Previous research has shown that the use of “we” language is a strong indicator of marital satisfaction in younger couples, but this is the first study to show that the effect is true over the long haul.

How can such little words make such a big difference? “We” language is a natural expression of a sense of partnership, of being on the same team, says licensed marital and family therapist Anne Brennan Malec, PsyD, Managing Partner of Symmetry Counseling in Chicago. Words such as “I,” “me,” and “you,” however, express sentiments of separateness.

“If partners are able to consider themselves as members of the same team, sharing the mutual goals of a respectful, loving relationship, they will recognize the benefit of jointly addressing problems,” she says. “If partners view themselves as being on opposing teams, however, they are less inclined to work together. They will try to win arguments rather than solve them.”

If spouses are more concerned about asserting their side of things than about coming together, neither will gain a deeper understanding of the underlying issue of their disagreements. What’s more, when one person wins, the other loses. And that person is likely to have some residual anger that can fuel the next fight. It’s a never-ending battle that no one wins.
Want to join forces? Before an argument ever arises, tell your partner that you want to be on the same team, and accept responsibility in your relationship’s current fighting style, Malec says. And when in conflict, listen respectfully to your partner. This will set a healthy tone for disagreements and help set a new normal.

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