The Tone of Love

Written by Angela Silva

We’ve all been taught the phrase, “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” But new researchers have found that not only can words hurt you, but how you say those words can hurt you, and those you talk to, even more.
That’s right, your tone of voice may be the best predictor of your future marital success and happiness, even more so than what you actually say.

So If your “I love yous” and “thank-yous” to your spouse have been disingenuous, you might be in more trouble than if you weren’t saying them at all.

The study, which was published in Proceedings of Interspeech in September, involved the recorded marital therapy sessions of over 100 couples, which were taken over the span of two years. These recordings were analyzed using an algorithm developed by the research team. They were listening for various characteristics of speech, including pitch, intensity, volume, “jitter,” “shimmer,” and other indicators of emotions.

Once the conversations were broken down, the researchers followed the status of these marriages for five years.

And the results were shocking.

Not only was the tone of voice a strong indicator of marital success, but tone of voice predicted marital success even better than the behavioral analyses of experts. Psychologists who listened to the recordings and labeled a couple’s communication and behavior as “accepting,” “blaming,” or any other characteristic based on the conversation alone were less accurate at predicting the outcome of a marriage than the vocal characteristics.

“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,” said Dr. Nasir, one of the researchers from the study.

An important feature of this study was not just the analyses of vocal trends, but how each partner’s vocal characteristics changed in response to their partner’s vocal characteristics. For example, if one partner had the tendency to raise their voice at their spouse, who in turn became quiet and subdued, that correlation would be identified, tracked, and recorded, and a pattern could then be identified by the researchers and used in their predictions.

Just how well does this algorithm actually work to predict the future of a relationship? Believe it or not, this algorithm correctly predicted if a relationship would improve or worsen based on tone of voice with a 79 percent accuracy rate.

So if you’ve been being a bit snarky lately in your conversation with your spouse, or if your spouse has a tendency to get worked up when the two of you are talking, maybe it’s time to reevaluate your tones of voice and make some changes for the success of your marriage.

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