If Your Partner Is Overusing This Word, They May Break Up With You, Study Says
This language shift could start happening up to three months before the relationship ends.
Breakups can be messy, especially when they seem to come out of nowhere. But the truth is there are almost always portents of impending doom, and we just don't want to accept that the end is nigh. If you're worried you might be getting dumped in the near future, it's a good idea to look out for the subtler signs of trouble. Not sure what those are? One recent study determined that your partner's language is likely to change leading up to a breakup. Read on to find out what one word your significant other might start overusing before they end the relationship.
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People may wait months or even years to break up with a partner.
Caroline Madden, PhD, a licensed marriage and family therapist and author of Blindsided By His Betrayal, tells Best Life that most people don't decide to end a relationship without first having thought about it for some time. "It is rare for people to have a single moment where they decided 'I'm out.' Usually it is a painful process that can take months and even years," she says.
Madden adds, "In deciding whether or not to stay, a person has to evaluate if they would be happier in the relationship or on their own. Because of that, people imagine two separate futures and think of which future they personally would be more happy in."
According to Madden, most people only reach this point of weighing the pros and cons of their two possible, separate futures after they've communicated their needs to their partner. "They then reach a point that they believe that whatever those needs are are not fixable," she says.
But how can you tell that your significant other might be mulling over their options? Pay close attention to the words they're using.
Your partner might start overusing one word months before they break up with you.
In Feb. 2021, researchers from the University of Texas, Austin, sought to explore the language shifts that occur before a relationship ends. According to their study, which was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), "language markers can detect impending relationship breakups up to three months before they occur."
The researchers analyzed more than a million posts from 6,803 Reddit users who had posted about their breakups. According to the study, they found that users started increasingly using the word "I" three months before they broke up with their partner. There is "an increase use of 'I' words as the breakup nears," the researchers wrote in an accompanying editorial for The Conversation. "This is common during a stressful life event, and other studies have shown an increase of self-referential language in people who are depressed or anxious."
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This word indicates they have become more self-focused.
According to the PNAS study, first-person singular pronouns like "I," or "myself," "me," or "mine," are clear verbal signs of self-focus. "People's language will become more self-focused before, during, and after a breakup," the researchers explained. Lori A. Husband, PhD, a licensed clinical psychologist based in Nashville, Tennessee, says this is because your partner is likely starting to think about their future without you.
"Before someone initiates a breakup there is a process of contemplating what their life will be like without their partner," Husband explains. "They may begin to imagine where they would live, what vacations they might take or what they would do when they are single."
Joseph Puglisi, a relationship expert and the CEO of Dating Iconic, says words like this reflect impending separation because they're a "significant change and deviation" from the 'we' language often used in a relationship. "Someone who is constantly putting you in mind and their decision-making would not be selfish in their language," Puglisi explains. "'I' is a personal pronoun that signals that they only care about themselves and not you."
If you notice this, you should talk to your partner about it.
You might be tempted to either run for the hills or ignore it altogether if you notice your partner has started to overuse self-focused language. But according to experts, this is the last thing you should do—especially if you have any hope of saving the relationship.
Husband advises that you "ask your partner about this directly" if you start to hear them using the word "I" more in conversation. "For instance, you could say, 'I noticed you said you want to travel to Europe, and it made me wonder if you thought about us going together,'" she says. "You could also check-in with your partner about how they are feeling in the relationship."
Puglisi also recommends not being "in a hurry to assume the worst immediately," as this language shift doesn't always guarantee a breakup is coming. "Take out time to observe if their choice of word is merely a coincidence and if they truly involve you in their plans," he says. "Time often tells on things like this and the partner cannot pretend for long."
Additionally, Husband says some level of self-separation is necessary for a good relationship. "Using 'I' in relational conversation does not automatically signal a problem. It can be normal and even healthy for couples to maintain some separateness in a relationship, including having separate activities, friends, and outlets," she says. "To avoid jumping to conclusions, it would be best to communicate directly with your partner any concerns or recent shifts you've noticed in their speech or mindset."