Tag Archives: relationships

Personal Pronouns as Relationship and Company Indicators

The personal pronouns used by couples during “conflictive marital interactions” are reliable indicators of relationship quality and marital satisfaction, according to a study tracking 154 couples over 23 years. The study showed that We-words‘ (our, we, etc.) were indicative of a more positive relationship than ‘Me- and You-words‘ (I, you, etc.) (doi).

Using We-ness language implies a shared identification between spouses, even when the conversation is focused on an area of conflict. Consistent with this, We-ness was associated with more positive and less negative emotion behaviors and with lower cardiovascular arousal. In contrast, Separateness language implies a greater sense of independence and distance in the relationship. Compared with We-ness, Separateness was associated with a very different set of marital qualities including more negative emotional behavior and greater marital dissatisfaction.

Similarly, the personal pronouns used by CEOs in their annual shareholder letters provide a useful way of predicting future company performance. No doubt gleaned from the Rittenhouse Rankings Candor Survey, this is from Geoff Colvin’s book, Talent is Overrated:

Laura Rittenhouse, an unusual type of financial analyst, counts the number of times the word “I” occurs in annual letters to shareholders from corporate CEOs, contending that this and other evidence in the letters helps predict company performance (basic finding: Egomaniacs are bad news).

via Barking Up the Wrong Tree (1 2)

Strangers and Friends: A Shared History and Less Graciousness

Ryan Holiday asks a very good question: why do we extend patience and tolerance to strangers, while simultaneously treating those closest to us less graciously?

It’s an interesting question with some equally interesting possible answers (is it a subconscious and inefficient way of attempting to ease our daily lives by telling those we spend the most time with how we want to be treated?). I like the conclusory piece of advice: we should give everyone “the graciousness of meeting them fresh each time”.

Some weirdo says something to you in the grocery store and you smile and nod your head, “Yup!” Just to avoid a scene right? You have a meeting with a sales rep and indulge the friendly but pointless chitchat even though you hate it. But a friend mispronounces a word and we leap to correct them. Your girlfriend tells a boring story and you’ve got to say something about it, you’ve got to get short with her. What kind of bullshit is this? We give the benefit of courtesy to everybody but the people who earned it.

Think of how much patience we have for total strangers and acquaintances. But what a short fuse we have for the actual people in our life. In the course of our everyday lives, our priorities are so very backwards. We do our best to impress people we’ll never see again and take for granted people we see all the time. We’re respectful in our business lives, casual and careless in our personal. We punish closeness with criticism, reward unfamiliarity with politeness.

This is a great example of why I read Ryan’s work: he’s adept at pointing out the everyday hypocrisies that we rarely notice.

The Source of Happiness

When, after twenty years of marriage, Laura Munson’s husband told her “I don’t love you anymore. I’m not sure I ever did.“, she chose to not believe him. Not because it didn’t hurt or that she wasn’t taking it personally, but because this wasn’t about her — it was about unmet expectations.

In yet another touching Modern Love column (is there any other type?), Munson tells an enthralling story of marital and familial disquiet, but also manages to cut to the core of happiness: that the source is not to be found through external validation.

I’d finally managed to exile the voices in my head that told me my personal happiness was only as good as my outward success, rooted in things that were often outside my control. I’d seen the insanity of that equation and decided to take responsibility for my own happiness. And I mean all of it.

My husband hadn’t yet come to this understanding with himself. He had enjoyed many years of hard work, and its rewards had supported our family of four all along. But his new endeavor hadn’t been going so well, and his ability to be the breadwinner was in rapid decline. He’d been miserable about this, felt useless, was losing himself emotionally and letting himself go physically. And now he wanted out of our marriage; to be done with our family. […]

I saw what had been missing: pride. He’d lost pride in himself. Maybe that’s what happens when our egos take a hit in midlife and we realize we’re not as young and golden anymore.

When life’s knocked us around. And our childhood myths reveal themselves to be just that. The truth feels like the biggest sucker-punch of them all: it’s not a spouse or land or a job or money that brings us happiness. Those achievements, those relationships, can enhance our happiness, yes, but happiness has to start from within. Relying on any other equation can be lethal.

My husband had become lost in the myth.

Health Effects of Marriage

There are wide-ranging health benefits to be gained from being happily married, the research suggests, but just how extensive this effect is (and its intricacies) is hugely surprising.

In Tara Parker-Pope’s comprehensive look at the physiological effects of marriage, we are told how just by getting couples to discuss a marital disagreement their healing of wounds can be delayed by days; that those in unhappy relationships have weakened immune systems; and most surprisingly that when women were subjected to mild electric shocks (to simulate stress) holding the hand of their husbands “resulted in a calming of the brain regions associated with pain similar to the effect brought about by use of a pain-relieving drug”.

[Studies] have shown that married people are less likely to get pneumonia, have surgery, develop cancer or have heart attacks. A group of Swedish researchers has found that being married or cohabiting at midlife is associated with a lower risk for dementia. A study of two dozen causes of death in the Netherlands found that in virtually every category, ranging from violent deaths like homicide and car accidents to certain forms of cancer, the unmarried were at far higher risk than the married.

What if you get divorced or are widowed? Remarriage won’t help and you will suffer “a decline in physical health from which [you will] never fully recover”. In these cases even the singletons fared better (traditionally considered to be worse-off due to having fewer resources and less emotional and logistical support).

How different styles of conflict (and conflict resolution) affected the sexes differently was fascinating, too:

The women in his study who were at highest risk for signs of heart disease were those whose marital battles lacked any signs of warmth, not even a stray term of endearment during a hostile discussion […] or a minor pat on the back or squeeze of the hand, all of which can signal affection in the midst of anger. “Most of the literature assumes that it’s how bad the arguments get that drives the effect, but it’s actually the lack of affection that does it […] It wasn’t how much nasty talk there was. It was the lack of warmth that predicted risk.”

For men, on the other hand, hostile and negative marital battles seemed to have no effect on heart risk. Men were at risk […] when their marital spats turned into battles for control. It didn’t matter whether it was the husband or wife who was trying to gain control of the matter; it was merely any appearance of controlling language that put men on the path of heart disease.

In both cases, the emotional tone of a marital fight turned out to be just as predictive of poor heart health as whether the individual smoked or had high cholesterol. […] The solution, Smith noted, isn’t to stop fighting. It’s to fight more thoughtfully.

via Mind Hacks

Friendship Differences by Gender

This slowly absorbing article on the differences between male and female friendships seems to have been compiled with an observant eye… but then I am the same sex as the author.

Researchers say women’s friendships are face to face: They talk, cry together, share secrets. Men’s friendships are side by side: We play golf. We go to football games. […]

Studies show that in their late 20s and 30s, women have a harder time staying in touch with old friends. Those are the years when they’re busy starting careers and raising children, so they don’t have time to gather for reunions. Money is tighter, too. But around age 40, women start reconnecting. Before the 1990s, researchers assumed this was because they had more time for friendship in their 40s, as their children became self-sufficient. But now researchers consider this middle-aged focus on friendship to be a life stage; as women plan the next chapter of their lives, they turn to friends for guidance and empathy.

Men, meanwhile, tend to build friendships until about age 30, but there’s often a falloff after that. Among the reasons: Their friendships are more apt to be hurt by geographical moves and differences in career trajectories. Recent studies, however, are now finding that men in their late 40s are turning to what Dr. Grief calls “rusted” friends—longtime pals they knew when they were younger. The Internet is making it easier for them to make contact with one another.

That’s not to say men don’t have these intimate, sharing relationships:

But again, it’s a mistake to judge men’s interactions by assuming we need to be like women. Research shows that men often open up about emotional issues to wives, mothers, sisters and platonic female friends. That’s partly because they assume male friends will be of little help. It may also be due to fears of seeming effeminate or gay. But it’s also an indication that men compartmentalize their needs; they’d rather turn to male friends to momentarily escape from their problems. The new buzzword is “bromance.”

via @vaughanbell