If Your Partner Is Using These 2 Words, You May Be Headed for a Breakup

These two little words may be a subtle sign that your relationship is on the rocks, research shows.

It's not always easy to navigate relationships or to see their end on the horizon. But usually, there are subtle signs that can clue you in to which way things are headed—and some of those are hidden in the patterns of how we speak. According to a new study from researchers at the University of Texas at Austin, if you're hearing your partner say two particular words more often, it could indicate a breakup is imminent. Read on to learn more about this surprising relationship red flag, and for another sign of trouble that could be right under your nose, check out Your Relationship Is Doomed If Your Partner Does This, Experts Say.

After analyzing more than 1 million posts by 6,800 Reddit users who joined the r/BreakUps subreddit, the researchers discovered that there were marked differences in language during the time surrounding breakups. These changes took place starting an average of three months before the subjects' breakups and lasted an average of six months after, with the use of the words "I" and "we" peaking at the time of the breakup itself. These trends in language occurred not only within the r/BreakUps subreddit, but also in other, unrelated threads that the same posters joined.

"It seems that even before people are aware that a breakup is going to happen, it starts to affect their lives," explained the study's lead author, Sarah Seraj, a doctoral candidate in psychology at UT Austin. "We don't really notice how many times we are using prepositions, articles or pronouns, but these function words get altered in a way when you're going through a personal upheaval that can tell us a lot about our emotional and psychological state," she added.

The study, which was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, also found that the posts became less analytic or formal, instead becoming increasingly personal and introspective as the posters processed the potential breakup.

"These are signs that someone is carrying a heavy cognitive load. They're thinking or working through something and are becoming more self-focused," Seraj said. "Sometimes the use of the word 'I' is correlated with depression and sadness. When people are depressed, they tend to focus on themselves and are not able to relate to others as much."

While most subjects' language tended to return to normal after six months post-breakup, some still wrote with these modified patterns up to a year after their relationships concluded. In the researchers' assessment, these subjects were "less well-adjusted a year after their breakup compared to short-term posters."

Wondering what other subtle signs may point to an impending breakup? Read on for more red flags that your relationship might be in danger, and for the biggest indicator of trouble, check out The Tell-Tale Sign Your Partner Is Cheating, Experts Say.

1
You or your partner walk out during arguments.

young black woman yelling at black man while eating breakfast
iStock

When tensions are high during a fight with your spouse, it can sometimes be tempting to make a quick exit. But walking out during an argument is a "recipe for disaster," says Amanda Lopez, a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Vista, California.

"If you need time alone to process a disagreement, discuss this with your partner before the problem arises," she suggests. "The key is not to run away, but to cool down and come back later when tempers aren't so hot to finish the conversation." And for more phrases to remove from your vocabulary, check out The One Word You're Saying That's Ruining Your Relationship, Experts Say.

2
One of you plays the victim.

Crying couple
Shutterstock

It can be difficult in a relationship to acknowledge your own faults and shortcomings, especially when you perceive your partner as responsible for a conflict. But failing to own up to your own role in a disagreement in favor of playing the victim can shut down any productive conversations that may come out of it, and leave one partner feeling like they're continually on trial.

"Instead, listen to what your partner is saying, and try to see it from their perspective," says Lopez. "It may provide an opportunity for deeper connection rather than further division." And for more language to avoid, check out The One Word You Should Never Say When Apologizing.

3
You begin relying on other people for true intimacy.

Young woman comforting her friend after bad break up. Rear View.
iStock

While it's absolutely necessary to have strong relationships outside of your romantic partnership, the question is whether you feel your partner is an active part of that overall support system.

"The foundations of a positive relationship are being able to communicate with one another, provide support to each other, and create a place of security," says Kathryn Moore, PhD, a psychologist at Providence Saint John's Child and Family Development Center in Santa Monica, California. "If you notice that you're choosing not to share feelings and needs with your partner, or don't feel safe to, then your relationship might need some work," she adds. And for more relationship tips sent right to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.

4
You're communicating less.

Couple not talking fighting
Shutterstock

According to Mayra Mendez, PhD, LMFT, a licensed psychotherapist and program coordinator at Providence Saint John's Child and Family Development Center, collaborative communication and reciprocity are essential for a healthy relationship.

However big or small, "make an effort to share thoughts, ideas, and experiences daily," she suggests. "Show interest when your partner is sharing about their day and follow-up with sharing about your day." Taking even small steps to share more often may help open you both up to a whole new level of communication and intimacy. And if you really want to make things last, then avoid The Worst Thing You're Saying to Your Partner Without Realizing It.

Lauren Gray
Lauren Gray is a New York-based writer, editor, and consultant. Read more
Filed Under