Writing down how you feel about your romantic relationship could help it last longer. That’s according to Richard Slatcher and James Pennebaker at the University of Texas at Austin. They recruited 86 heterosexual undergrads and asked half of them to spend 20 minutes a day for three consecutive days writing about “…their deepest thoughts and feelings about their current relationship”. The other half of the undergrads were asked to spend the same amount of time writing about their daily activities. Three months later, 77 per cent of the undergrads who’d written about their relationship were still in the same relationship, compared with just 52 per cent of the students who’d written about their daily activities.
So why does writing about one’s relationship have this effect? Slatcher and Pennebaker analysed instant messaging communication (like instant email) between the study participants and their partners, recorded before and after the writing exercise. They found that after a student had written about their relationship for three days, both they and their partner used more positive emotional words when they communicated with each other. If it was a man who had written about the relationship, then there was also more use of negative emotional words.
“That people may enhance their romantic relationships by simply writing down their thoughts and feelings about those relationships has clear implications for clinicians”, the researchers concluded.
The findings come as a survey of 2000 women by the UK government Department of Skills and Education (DfES) found 44 per cent had not received a love letter in over a decade. The DfES said its Get On campaign, which encourages adults to improve their literacy, could help men brush up on their love letter writing skills.
Slatcher, R.B. & Pennebaker, J.W. (2006). How do I love thee? Let me count the words. The social effects of expressive writing. Psychological Science, 17, 660-664.
Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.