According to the latest cutting-edge relationship science from the University of California, Berkeley, the key to peace, love and happiness for couples is using the word “we,” instead of divisive singular pronouns like “I,” “me” and “you,” which may ramp up conflict.
Psychologists observed 154 couples in conversations about relationship conflicts and found that the couples who tended to use “we” more tended to have fewer negative emotional and physiological reactions over the course of the conversation.
The word seemed to have a soothing effect on the partners and create a sense of togetherness, although I’m sure there are context-based exceptions (Classics like “We need to talk,” or “We should see other people,” come to mind).
Maybe, but before you go “we, we, we” all the way home, let us try to square this insight with other research into pronoun choice at the University of Texas.
James Pennebaker, developer of language analysis software called Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count (LIWC), has found that when people lie, they tend to use fewer first-person pronouns in order to distance themselves from the bogus statements. By, um, replacing “I” with “we,” for example.
So, do these studies, taken together, suggest deception is the secret to a happy relationship? Some of us would be more surprised than others to discover that was the case.
Pennebaker and colleagues have also noted that women tend to use “we” more than “I” in everyday speech. This does not make women more (or less) apt to be lying, of course. So, is the message to men either that they should prevaricate more or just be more like women? It seems less than helpful, either way.
In the Berkeley study, older couples tended to be bigger users of “we” than middle-aged couples. Younger people weren’t even studied, and perhaps that’s important. After a few decades together, a couple has more cause to see themselves as a “we.” It doesn’t necessarily follow, however, that simply using the word is the way to rack up those decades. I’m going to guess that there’s a little more to it than inclusive pronoun use.
It’s not hard to imagine circumstances in which all this “we” business could cause more trouble than it solves. It’s probably a little much on the first date, for example.
Beware also the dreaded “royal we,” with which a dominant partner increasingly presumes to speak for the couple.
And then there’s the flip-side of the royal, the patronizing “diminutive we.” Sample usage: “Are we a little grumpy today?” Don’t do it. I implore you.