When it comes to relationships, it’s not what you say but how you say it that makes all the difference.
At least that’s what a new study from the University of Southern California suggests.
Researchers used a computer algorithm program to analyse the tone of speech couples used to determine whether they would stay together in the long run and found it is incredibly revealing.
A team led by Shrikanth Narayanan and Panayiotis Georgiou from the university's School of Engineering used the new algorithm they developed to record hundreds of conversations between over 100 couples during their marriage therapy sessions over the course of two years.
They then followed each relationship for a following five years.
And by assessing the tone of voice used in the therapy sessions – such as pitch, intensity and ‘jitters' that track aspects of emotion in the voice – the algorithm was able to predict if the relationship between spouses would improve or deteriorate across the period.
It was accurate 79% of the time.
In fact, it was more accurate at predicting the outcome of the marriage than experienced relationship experts, who analysed behavioural aspects of the relationship such as blame and acceptance.
"What you say is not the only thing that matters, it's very important how you say it. Our study confirms that it holds for a couple's relationship as well," Nasir says, in a paper published in the journal Proceedings of Interspeech.
"Psychological practitioners and researchers have long known that the way that partners talk about and discuss problems has important implications for the health of their relationships. However, the lack of efficient and reliable tools for measuring the important elements in those conversations has been a major impediment in their widespread clinical use.
"These findings represent a major step forward in making objective measurement of behavior practical and feasible for couple therapists."
So forget actions speak louder than words, it’s the tone and emotion of our speech we’ll be tuning into the next time we’re caught in a relationship rut.