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I blame you, I hear you: Couples’ pronoun use in conflict and dyadic coping


Meier, Tabea; Milek, Anne; Mehl, Matthias R; Nussbeck, Fridtjof W; Neysari, Mona; Bodenmann, Guy; Martin, Mike; Zemp, Martina; Horn, Andrea B (2021). I blame you, I hear you: Couples’ pronoun use in conflict and dyadic coping. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 38(11):3265-3287.

Abstract

In dyadic interaction, a verbal focus on one individual (“you-talk,” “I-talk”), rather than on the couple (“we-talk”) has predominantly been linked to dysfunctional relationship processes. However, context differences in these links have not yet been systematically examined. Is it functional to asymmetrically focus on one partner during support interactions but problematic during conflict? Does a high level of couple-focus represent a resource across contexts? In this preregistered study, we investigated dyad-level pronoun use (we-/I-/you-talk) and their link to situational relationship functioning (SRF) across three interaction tasks (one conflict, two dyadic coping tasks) within couples ( N = 365). More specifically, we examined associations of couple-means, i.e. pronoun use as a shared resource/vulnerability between partners, and couple-differences, i.e. functional/dysfunctional asymmetric pronoun use with observed interaction positivity and relationship climate. Results revealed both context differences and similarities. Asymmetric partner-focus (i.e. you-talk) was dysfunctional in conflict, whereas asymmetric partner- and self-focus (i.e., you-talk/I-talk; focus on the stressed partner) were functional in dyadic coping. Beyond asymmetry, you-talk (couple-mean) showed consistent negative associations with SRF in all tasks studied. We-talk (couple-mean) was positively linked to SRF, but only in conflict interactions. In conflict, couple-focus thus represented a shared resource that can buffer from dysfunctional conflict interaction characterized by partner-focus. In line with conceptual frameworks, the dyadic coping results emphasize the importance of focusing on the partner in need. The study corroborates the prospect of pronoun use as a context-specific indicator of relationship functioning. Gender differences, implications for future research and possible interventions are discussed.

Abstract

In dyadic interaction, a verbal focus on one individual (“you-talk,” “I-talk”), rather than on the couple (“we-talk”) has predominantly been linked to dysfunctional relationship processes. However, context differences in these links have not yet been systematically examined. Is it functional to asymmetrically focus on one partner during support interactions but problematic during conflict? Does a high level of couple-focus represent a resource across contexts? In this preregistered study, we investigated dyad-level pronoun use (we-/I-/you-talk) and their link to situational relationship functioning (SRF) across three interaction tasks (one conflict, two dyadic coping tasks) within couples ( N = 365). More specifically, we examined associations of couple-means, i.e. pronoun use as a shared resource/vulnerability between partners, and couple-differences, i.e. functional/dysfunctional asymmetric pronoun use with observed interaction positivity and relationship climate. Results revealed both context differences and similarities. Asymmetric partner-focus (i.e. you-talk) was dysfunctional in conflict, whereas asymmetric partner- and self-focus (i.e., you-talk/I-talk; focus on the stressed partner) were functional in dyadic coping. Beyond asymmetry, you-talk (couple-mean) showed consistent negative associations with SRF in all tasks studied. We-talk (couple-mean) was positively linked to SRF, but only in conflict interactions. In conflict, couple-focus thus represented a shared resource that can buffer from dysfunctional conflict interaction characterized by partner-focus. In line with conceptual frameworks, the dyadic coping results emphasize the importance of focusing on the partner in need. The study corroborates the prospect of pronoun use as a context-specific indicator of relationship functioning. Gender differences, implications for future research and possible interventions are discussed.

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:06 Faculty of Arts > Institute of Psychology
Dewey Decimal Classification:150 Psychology
Scopus Subject Areas:Social Sciences & Humanities > Social Psychology
Social Sciences & Humanities > Communication
Social Sciences & Humanities > Developmental and Educational Psychology
Social Sciences & Humanities > Sociology and Political Science
Uncontrolled Keywords:Sociology and Political Science, Developmental and Educational Psychology, Communication, Social Psychology
Language:English
Date:1 November 2021
Deposited On:21 Sep 2021 15:22
Last Modified:25 Feb 2024 02:43
Publisher:Sage Publications
ISSN:0265-4075
OA Status:Hybrid
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.1177/02654075211029721
Project Information:
  • : FunderSNSF
  • : Grant ID31CA30_196255
  • : Project TitleThe language of the COVID-19 Pandemic: Investigating official communication and its relations with collective and individual emotions
  • Content: Published Version
  • Language: English
  • Licence: Creative Commons: Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)