There’s an interesting thing that happens when you enter into a relationship with another person. Two people who were formerly independent become more tangibly entwined. It happens in a variety of ways, some noticeable, some microscopic, but all of them involve one concrete detail.
In a relationship between romantic partners who are serious about pursuing a future together, attributes of the individual people involved begin to mesh until they eventually meet in the middle. Language is no different.
Using similar language is a sign that your relationship is deepening
So, if you find yourself using the same words and phrases as your partner, you’ll know that this is a sign that your relationship is deepening. New research out of Penn State University shows us that language begins to mix and change even in text messages with our partners.
Lead author and graduate researcher Miriam Brinberg looked at text messages between subjects and their partners for a period of 200 days. She and her team analyzed over one million texts from 41 couples to determine just how far people will go to shift their language to match that of their partners.
Jacob Brown, a couples therapist in San Francisco who was not involved in the study, agrees with the findings.
“This sounds absolutely true,” he says. “It’s a natural biological process process to get us to connect. We kind of find a way to meet in the middle because differences make us uncomfortable and threaten our sense of attachment. We’re learning a common language where we can both feel confident. We text each other in the same kind of way.”
Romantic partners speak the same language
The study confirms something that many people have noticed unofficially in their own relationships for years. The fact that partners adopt the same language has been the subject of a great deal of schoolyard teasing. But it’s much more than that. It’s a method of eliminating the risk of miscommunication altogether, so that couples may begin to understand each other as best they can.
Not only do partners begin to use the same words and phrases, but they begin to meet in the middle on other things as well. Couples match up on all kinds of fronts. It’s part of an effort to connect and demonstrate that they’re serious and willing to put the work in to form an active partnership.
In the beginning, romantic attachments cause individuals who are serious about one another to actively accommodate the other person in a variety of ways. From making concessions on household chores, career ambitions, and even core values, there are several examples of areas where relationships can mute the characteristics of the individual in favor of the staying power of the couple.
But this doesn’t last. Even in language.
Brinberg concedes that the study isn’t conclusive about any long-term effects. “Unfortunately, the conclusions we can draw from our study can’t extend to how couples’ language use might change at later stages in their relationship,” she says.
It’s possible that the short-term conditions that couples experience are only temporarily instituted in order to cement a firm connection.
“Later on when that attachment is stable and safe and strong,” Brown surmises, “I wouldn’t be surprised if our original personality starts to show through and our texts become a little different again.
“After a few years, each partner moves back to where they were before. After the relationship is cemented and you feel safe, everybody goes back to where they really are.”
Many couples are said to “drift apart” over time, and this could be the mechanism that accounts for it. In the beginning, when we’re looking to deepen our connection and become safe in a partnership, we’ll often go above and beyond to make sure it happens. After that, though, our individuality begins to emerge once again. Instead of a pair, we become two coexisting individuals.
What happens when common language breaks down?
This can be a struggle for some couples to deal with. A large part of that fresh feeling of budding romance comes from your partner’s willingness to accommodate your needs. When partners become exceedingly themselves again, some of the magic can be seen to wear off.
At that point, differences begin to emerge in multiple areas of the relationship. Perhaps these are no longer celebrated or even tolerated as well as they once were. In couples with poor communication levels, these differences can lead to fractures that may never be healed.
“The relationship learns how to navigate those differences and accept those differences or it doesn’t,” says Brown.
“After the blush is off the rose. Strong relationships learn to adapt to those differences and weak relationships struggle, and they come and see me.”
Kevin Lankes, MFA, is an editor and author. His fiction and nonfiction have appeared in Here Comes Everyone, Pigeon Pages, Owl Hollow Press, The Huffington Post, The Riverdale Press, and more.