If you could listen in on the private conversations of happy couples, what would you find? Researchers interested in finding out this answer recorded everyday conversations of ten satisfied couples over one week. The ten cohabiting and committed couples wore wireless microphones everyday they were home together. Researchers then coded two days of conversation for each of the couples – grouping bits of conversations into segments of thought. For example, “I love you, but I just don’t want to talk about this right now” was divided into two segments for analysis.
What was the most common topic of conversation? Me, myself, and I. Participants talked about themselves over a quarter of the time they were with their partners. They also made general observations, talked about other people, television programs, and their partner’s experiences.
Couples in this study had relatively little conflict (.08% of the total coded segments), although when they did happen, fights were more likely to occur on the weekends. Surprisingly, happy couples in this study also had relatively few positive statements (1%), like giving partners compliments and expressing verbal affection. They also made few humorous attempts (3%).
Were you expecting more overt positivity and humor from couples in these happy relationships? While it often takes many phrases and statements to describe complex ideas – like the events of your day – it can only take as little as one phrase or sentence to communicate a positive affirmation like “I love you.” It is also important to note that this study focuses on verbal conversation, and leaves out other types of non-verbal communication like holding hands or hugging that may have been occurring during these conversations.
This study shows that even in happy relationships, couples engage in a lot of mundane talk, using conversation to negotiate their daily lives together – like sharing experiences of times when they are apart and making plans for the future. Everyday conversation becomes the heart of the relationship and a means through which relationships are maintained.
This study also suggests that there is more opportunity for people to inject statements of positivity, humor, and gratitude in their relationships. Given that positivity and humor is a relatively limited occurrence even in happy relationships, a little extra positivity in the relationship may go a long way.
Find more from Dr. Erina Lee on eHarmonyLabs.com.
Alberts, J., Yoshimura, C. G., Rabby, M., & Loschiavo, R. (2005). Mapping the topography of couples’ daily conversation Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 22 (3), 299-322 DOI: 10.1177/0265407505050941