It's not what you say, but how you say it.
I've had apologies not accepted, tiny misunderstandings elevated to screaming arguments, and friendships broken all because the tone of my voice. You wouldn't think that tone or the sound quality of your voice could affect your life in strange ways, but it can.
The tone of your voice is a lot more significant than you may think, especially as far as your relationship goes. How you say something can be even more important than what you say. In fact, your tone can indicate how long and successful your relationship will be.
A recent study, an interdisciplinary team — led by Shrikanth Narayanan and Panayiotis Georgiou of the USC Viterbi School of Engineering, doctoral student MD Nasir, and collaborator Brian Baucom of the University of Utah — found that the tone couples use to talk to each other can predict the overall success of their relationship.
The researchers recorded hundreds of conversations from over one hundred couples taken during marriage therapy sessions for over two years. They then checked in with five more years of follow-up questioning.
The researchers created an algorithm that divided the recordings into acoustic features using speech-processing (the process in which speech signals are interpreted, understood, and acted upon) techniques.
They found that things like pitch, intensity, jitter and shimmer could indicate moments of high emotion, and that there was a correlation between people's vocal habits and whether their marriages continued to be successful.
The algorithm was able to correctly predict whether couples would remain together after five years (74.1 percent of the time), and it outperformed the analysis done by human relationship experts.
"What you say is not the only thing that matters; it's very important how you say it," Nasir said. "Our study confirms that it holds for a couple's relationship as well."
While it's difficult to know if speech styles actually affect people's relationships or are a barometer of them, the authors of the study hope that their findings can be used to help relationships by being able to recognize potentially harmful actions and behaviors in the future.
"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," Baucom said. "These findings represent a major step forward in making objective measurement of behavior [that is] practical and feasible for couple therapists."
So, don't just be aware of your words; instead, be cognizant of how they sound. The success of your relationship may depend on it.