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Language Style Can Predict Relationship Success

By Debbie Mandel

ďHow do I love thee let me count the ways.Ē The poetic language of Elizabeth Barrett Browning matched her husbandís Robert Browning, and they had a long and happy marriage. In contrast, Sylvia Plathís and Ted Hughesí styles were not in sync and their relationship ended tragically. A new study from the University of Texas claims that when you are happy, you mimic the speaking and writing style of your beloved, a colleague or friend. When your styles donít match, watch out for the downward spiral. Language style matching is automatic Ė unless you do it intentionally for the purpose of manipulation.

James Pennebaker, psychology professor and co-author of this study explains, "When two people start a conversation, they usually begin talking alike within a matter of seconds. This also happens when people read a book or watch a movie. As soon as the credits roll, they find themselves talking like the author or the central characters." So, if you are a business rival or involved in a love relationship, taking an objective look at language style can provide clues or serve as a crystal ball about the future of this relationship according to Pennebaker.

You might need to consult an English teacher. Our verbiage is powerful, shaping perception. For example, when women say, ďIím crazy busy,Ē busyness will become the reality as their to-do lists inevitably keep growing. When any of us say, Iím so bored,Ē boredom will rule the day, blind to any potential novelty. Many people who anticipate disaster at family gatherings actually trigger bitter family feuds because of their subconscious self-fulfilling prophecy Ė using words that push a personís buttons. Iím not suggesting that you recite affirmations; anyway affirmations donít work if you donít believe them. Nor, do you need to write poetry or start pretending and lying to people.

While mismatched styles provide a barometer for breakups, perhaps re-mimicking someoneís style will get it back on track. You might be able to improve your current faltering relationships (if you wish to) with more optimistic word choices like when you were initially happy and excited to be with them:
  • Speak kindly
  • Filter out the bad voices in your head to listen to the good ones. Your focus becomes what you pay attention to
  • Use an inspiring quote as a screensaver ; change it periodically
  • Count your words and make them count
Here are specific examples to change your perceived reality for the better:
  1. Original version: Life isnít fair. I have to struggle financially. My kids are deprived.
    New and improved version: I would prefer life to be fair, but is it really? Itís true that I work hard, but are my kids really deprived? Maybe theyíre rich in values.
  2. Original version: My son didnít make the team. I feel terrible for him.
    New and improved version: I want the best for my child, but canít take away his disappointments. Actually rejection builds character. Who among us has never been rejected? He can build on his strengths and either make the team next year, or find another activity where he can excel.
  3. Original version: I was so embarrassed when my husband said to me in my front of my friends, ďYou donít know what youíre talking about!Ē I felt stupid.
    New and Improved Version: My husband must be stressed and maybe my words accidentally hit a raw nerve. My friends know my capabilities and donít think Iím stupid. Iíll talk to him later and see whatís bothering him and help.

Debbie Mandel, MA is the author of Addicted to Stress: A Woman's 7 Step Program to Reclaim Joy and Spontaneity in Life, Changing Habits: The Caregivers' Total Workout and Turn On Your Inner Light: Fitness for Body, Mind and Soul, a stress-reduction specialist, motivational speaker, a personal trainer and mind/body lecturer. She is the host of the weekly Turn On Your Inner Light Show on WGBB AM1240 in New York City , produces a weekly wellness newsletter, and has been featured on radio/ TV and print media. To learn more visit: