Do you remember when you and your significant other first became a “we”? I’m not talking about when the two of you agreed to date exclusively or even when you got engaged. Rather, I’m referring to the moment you stopped saying “[name of partner] and I” in regular conversation and started using “we” instead.
You know, the moment your coupledom started to annoy your single friends? As in, “We play HQ Trivia every day,” “We’re obsessed with Peruvian food” or even “We’re pregnant!”
The change is often so subtle that many people don’t notice. But words do matter, especially when it comes to our love lives. And according to a recently published study in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, couples who often say “we” and “us” have more healthier, happier relationships.
Plenty of studies have already looked at “we-talk” and its impact on relationships. For the recent study, however, researchers from the University of California Riverside wanted to look at the big picture: just how strong is the link between "we-talk" and relationship and personal functioning?
They surveyed the data of 30 published and unpublished studies that included nearly 5,300 participants—about half of whom were married. Specifically, they focused on data related to relationship outcomes (such as marital satisfaction), positive and negative relationship behaviors, mental and physical health outcomes, as well as self-care behaviors (such as abstinence from alcohol).
We-talk, the study’s authors explain, is one manifestation of interdependence. That is, as you and your partner turn to each other for support over time, you learn to better understand and care for one another—i.e., become interdependent. “For example,” the authors write, “if a couple is interdependent, they may say, ‘we can work this out’ rather than ‘you and I can work this out.’ Partners’ identities may start to merge into one unit—we—rather than two separate entities—you and I—as couples become more interdependent; their orientation may shift from individual to relational as partners influence each other.”
In general, the authors found in their review that referring to your partnership in the form of “we” and “us” actually benefited the relationship as well as your health (this was the case for both men and women). In other words, when you focus on the needs of your dynamic duo instead of thinking about your own selfish desires, you’re likely to be more satisfied with your relationship.
“The more romantic partners used we-talk, the better their relationship functioning tended to be,” the authors write. Furthermore, while it’s pretty great if you refer to yourselves using “we,” it’s even better when your partner does it. The authors suggest it may be because you see it as “a signal” that your partner is willing to do what it takes to make this relationship work. After all, there’s nothing sexier, right?
As psychologist Tamar Chansky pointed out in a blog for Psychology Today a few years ago, adjusting your language to include more we-talk is really about fostering a better connection with your partner. “Thinking in terms of ‘we’ doesn’t mean you lose yourself in your marriage,” Chansky wrote. “[I]t means that there are now two people on the job of looking out for you instead of just one.”