Those deeply in love speak and write alike, mimicking and repeating words and phrases that each other use. But if the relationship sours then the common language breaks down and they begin to sound more like strangers again.
Researchers at the University of Texas made the discovery after studying the poetry and letters of two famously passionate marriages – the Victorian poets Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning and their 20th century equivalents Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath.
They found that in both their work and their private letters the couples used “language style matching” that became most intense as their relationships became most intense.
In the case of Hughes and Plath – whose relationship was far more volatile – it dramatically peaked and then troughed as their marriage fell apart.
The study suggests style matching has the potential to quickly and easily reveal whether any given pair of people — ranging from business rivals to romantic partners — are psychologically on the same page and what this means for their future together.
“When two people start a conversation, they usually begin talking alike within a matter of seconds,” Professor James Pennebaker, a psychologist who co-authored the study. “This also happens when people read a book or watch a movie. As soon as the credits roll, they find themselves talking like the author or the central characters.” He and his co-author Molly Ireland said that computer analysis of the number of language style matches is an objective way of testing the current state of someone’s relationship.