It can often feel like a breakup has come completely out of the blue, but a new study has revealed that there are subtle signs which could reveal a romance is doomed months before either party even realise.
Turns out, small changes in our use of language can reveal a coupling is nearing its end.
Researchers at the University of Texas studied more than a million posts by 6,800 Reddit users in the year before and the year after they shared news about their relationship breakup.
Their findings, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, revealed that the Reddit users’ use of language began to change three months before their relationship ended and did not return to normal until about six months after.
This held true whether someone was about to get dumped or was the one doing the dumping.
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In general, the researchers noted that leading up to a breakup the language used by ill-fated lovers became more personal and informal.
In particular, the subjects started saying ‘I’ and ‘we’ more often.
“It seems that even before people are aware that a breakup is going to happen, it starts to affect their lives,” explains study 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.”
The study authors say that the use of the word ‘I’ is correlated with depression and sadness, and is a key sign that someone is carrying a “heavy cognitive load”.
“They're thinking or working through something and are becoming more self-focused,” Seraj explains.
“When people are depressed, they tend to focus on themselves and are not able to relate to others as much.”
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This research is thought to be the first to examine the breakdown of romantic relationships in this way.
Study co-author Dr Kate Blackburn, a research fellow in psychology at UT Austin, added: “What makes this project so fascinating is that for the first time, through technology, we can see the way people experience a breakup in real time.
“Implications for this research are far reaching. At the most basic level, it gives you, me, and everyday people insight into how loved ones may respond over time to the end of a romantic relationship.”
Interestingly, researchers say the language patterns uncovered in the study seemed to peak on the day of the breakup and remained up to six months later, even when people were discussing other topics in different Reddit communities.
Researchers believe that one thing to take away from the study is that it isn’t a good idea to dwell on a breakup.
They point out that the language of some of the subjects had not returned to normal a year after their relationship had ended, with some users lingering in a part of the Reddit website dedicated to discussions about failed romances.
“Rehashing their stories may have made it harder for them to heal,” Seraj adds.
Couples may well decide to call it quits over an annoyance of living together which has been exacerbated during lockdown.
Back in December 2020, a survey revealed some of the most common grievances for cohabiting partners.
Leaving clothes, bags and shoes everywhere, topped the list with other top ten irritants cited as leaving the toilet seat up, not doing the washing up, leaving hair in the drain and spending too much time on video games.
Turns out these habits can take a devastating toll on relationships, as the study found that 56% of people surveyed said they had broken up after moving in together.
Out of this group, 9% said they broke up after four to six months, 8% after less than three months and 2% called it quits after less than one month of living together.