“You” and “I” need to talk about “us”: Linguistic patterns in marital interactions

Authors

  • KATHERINE J. WILLIAMS-BAUCOM,

    Corresponding author
    1. University of California, Los Angeles
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    • Katherine J. Williams-Baucom, Department of Psychology, University of California, Los Angeles; David C. Atkins, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, University of Washington, Seattle; Mia Sevier, Department of Human Services, California State University, Fullerton; Kathleen A. Eldridge, Department of Psychology, Pepperdine University, Malibu; Andrew Christensen, Department of Psychology, University of California, Los Angeles.

  • DAVID C. ATKINS,

    1. University of Washington
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    • Katherine J. Williams-Baucom, Department of Psychology, University of California, Los Angeles; David C. Atkins, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, University of Washington, Seattle; Mia Sevier, Department of Human Services, California State University, Fullerton; Kathleen A. Eldridge, Department of Psychology, Pepperdine University, Malibu; Andrew Christensen, Department of Psychology, University of California, Los Angeles.

  • MIA SEVIER,

    1. California State University, Fullerton
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    • Katherine J. Williams-Baucom, Department of Psychology, University of California, Los Angeles; David C. Atkins, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, University of Washington, Seattle; Mia Sevier, Department of Human Services, California State University, Fullerton; Kathleen A. Eldridge, Department of Psychology, Pepperdine University, Malibu; Andrew Christensen, Department of Psychology, University of California, Los Angeles.

  • KATHLEEN A. ELDRIDGE,

    1. Pepperdine University
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    • Katherine J. Williams-Baucom, Department of Psychology, University of California, Los Angeles; David C. Atkins, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, University of Washington, Seattle; Mia Sevier, Department of Human Services, California State University, Fullerton; Kathleen A. Eldridge, Department of Psychology, Pepperdine University, Malibu; Andrew Christensen, Department of Psychology, University of California, Los Angeles.

  • ANDREW CHRISTENSEN

    1. University of California, Los Angeles
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    • Katherine J. Williams-Baucom, Department of Psychology, University of California, Los Angeles; David C. Atkins, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, University of Washington, Seattle; Mia Sevier, Department of Human Services, California State University, Fullerton; Kathleen A. Eldridge, Department of Psychology, Pepperdine University, Malibu; Andrew Christensen, Department of Psychology, University of California, Los Angeles.


  • The research was supported by research grants to Andrew Christensen at UCLA (MH56223) and Neil S. Jacobson at the University of Washington (MH56165) for a two-site clinical trial of couple therapy. After Jacobson's death, William George served as principal investigator (PI) at the University of Washington. A methodological supplement to this grant to study language, with David C. Atkins as the co-PI, also supported this study. The International Association for Relationship Research's Steve Duck New Scholar Award, received by the first author in July 2006, also supported this study. We would like to thank Brian Baucom for his contributions to this study, and Felicia De la Garza Mercer, Meghan M. McGinn, and Marietta J. Watson for their suggestions on a previous version of this article.

Katherine J. Williams-Baucom, Department of Psychology, University of California, 1285 Franz Hall, Box 951563, Los Angeles, CA 90095-1563, e-mail: kwilliams@ucla.edu.

Abstract

Links between pronoun use, relationship satisfaction, and observed behavior were examined during 2 problem-solving interactions in which 134 distressed and 48 nondistressed couples participated. Results supported hypotheses that distressed and nondistressed couples would use pronouns at significantly different rates, and that rates would also differ for partners depending on whose topic was being discussed. Actor–partner interdependence models (APIMs; D. A. Kenny, 1996) revealed actor and partner effects of pronoun use on satisfaction and observed positivity and negativity. Interestingly, I-focus pronouns were found to be linked with satisfaction in distressed partners and dissatisfaction in nondistressed partners. The pattern of findings was otherwise largely consistent across topics and levels of distress. These findings have implications for both future research and clinical interventions.

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