They say actions speak louder than words, but apparently, that doesn’t apply to the pronouns you use to refer to your relationship.
According to researchers at the University of Texas, the small words used in everyday conversations with your friends and family could indicate a breakup is looming between you and your partner, long before you’ve even decided to have The Talk.
In their research, the team analysed more than 1 million posts by 6,803 Reddit users one year either side of their breakups, which they shared in the r/BreakUps subreddit.
They discovered that around three months before a breakup, the user began to change their language, peaking in the week of the split, and they didn’t even change back to their previous patterns until around six months after the relationship had dissolved.
“It seems that even before people are aware that a breakup is going to happen, it starts to affect their lives,” lead author Sarah Seraj, a doctoral candidate in psychology at UT Austin, said according to Science Daily.
“We don’t really notice how many times we are using prepositions, articles or pronouns, but these function words get altered in a way when you’re going through a personal upheaval that can tell us a lot about our emotional and psychological state.”
According to the research, users engaging in the thread shifted their language use to become more informal and personal, which the researchers say shows a drop-off in analytic thinking. The users also began using the “I” and “we” pronouns a lot more, and showed signs of increased cognitive processing via their choices of words. These patters were clearly seen even when people posted to other groups that didn’t relate to breakups at all.
Seraj said: “These are signs that someone is carrying a heavy cognitive load. They’re thinking or working through something and are becoming more self-focused.”
“Sometimes the use of the word ‘I’ is correlated with depression and sadness. When people are depressed, they tend to focus on themselves and are not able to relate to others as much.”
While many returned to their previous language patterns at the six-month mark, others took longer — up to a year. Then again, some users needed even more time to process their own breakups, and the researchers noted a fair number of users staying behind even longer to engage in the r/BreakUps subreddit, even reposting their breakup stories on more than one occasion.