- Researchers found that if your partner starts using words like “I” or “we” more than usual, this may be a warning sign of a looming breakup.
- As people increasingly post about their relationships on Reddit, researchers have an unprecedented view of how breakups unfold in real time.
- A therapist said if you’re in a healthy relationship, and you sense a change in your partner, it’s possible to overcome problems.
If your partner starts to make minor changes in their word choice, a breakup might be around the corner, a new study finds.
The study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, analysed Reddit users’ posts talking about breakups, and found that that their language changed three months prior to their breakup, and remained that way for six months after separating.
Regardless if a Reddit user initiated the breakup, or got broken up with, people started to use words like “I” and “we” before and after their split. Researchers said these words show that users were in cognitive thinking mode â€” searching inward and trying to process a relationship â€” and saw a dip in analytical thinking.
“The fact that there are language changes before the breakup event occurred means that even if people didn’t necessarily see the end of the relationship coming, it was already affecting their life,” study author Sarah Seraj, a doctoral candidate in psychology at the The University of Texas at Austin, told Insider.
Kelly Scott, a senior therapist in New York City, found the study fascinating, and said it underscores how, when people talk about their relationship with others, it can reveal things they are unconsciously feeling.
Social media has given researchers a glimpse into how breakups unfold in real time
Up until now, research about breakups has been hard to capture, as surveys can be intrusive, and memory fades. But as more people start to post about their relationships on social media in real time, researchers are able to get a raw glimpse into people’s relationships as they unfold.
“Breakups are so central to the human experience,” Seraj said. “But it can be hard to study in real world context.” However, social media users leave clues and hints about how they’re faring in a relationship.
In this study, researchers analysed over 1 million Reddit posts by 6,803 users one year before, and one year after a breakup. They looked at language in both conversations dedicated to breakups, and conversations about other topics.
In addition to finding that users’ language changed before and after a breakup, researchers found that some users’ language did not return to normal six months after a breakup, as they were retelling a breakup story or ruminating about their relationship, which may make it harder for people to heal, according to Seraj.
In the cases in which users’ language didn’t change for six months or longer after the breakup, Seraj said that that might be a sign to get professional help, or remind yourself that breakups take months to work through.
What to do if your partner starts using these words
If you start to notice your partner using “I” and “we”, Seraj says it’s unclear if you can change the outcome of the relationship.
But Scott said if you hear these warnings signs, and you’re in a healthy relationship, it may be worth it to work through the problem by either initiating a frank conversation, or going to couples therapy.
“It’s certainly worth the effort to build with another person and try to repair what’s broken,” Scott said.