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“We are not won by arguments that we can analyze, but by tone and temper; by the manner, which is the man himself” ~ Louis D. Brandeis

There’s an old phrase that couples use when something one partner says starts an argument — “it’s not what you said, it’s how you said it.”   At first pass, there may be some truth to it as far as marital success is concerned. A new study from researchers at USC & the University of Utah found that your tone of voice may impact the success or failure of your marriage, according to a press release. The study’s findings show that how couples talk to each other about their emotions can affect the way partners feel in the relationship, according to the press release.  Don’t believe me? Tell your wife how much you love her but instead of a kind voice, use a sarcastic tone. Don’t do that! Never do that. But you get the picture. It totally changes the meaning of what you are saying just by your tone. What you say is not the only thing that matters; it’s critical how you say it.

In the study, researchers reviewed hundreds of conversations from couples who were going through marriage therapy for two years and tracked their marital statuses for three additional years. The researchers then created an algorithm that measured how a partner’s tone affected the relationship. The algorithm took the therapy recordings and broke them into acoustic features using speech processing techniques such as pitch, intensity, along with tracking patterns that indicated moments of high emotion, according to the press release. Through the algorithm, the researchers found that certain tones and sounds were associated with the changing state of a couple’s relationship.   

It is well known that couples often have an easier time communicating when they show positive emotions. It’s so important that it can make or break a relationship. Positivity in a tone of voice, hugs, and smiles makes communication flow more smoothly, and affections toward each other grow. This positive tone enables partners to feel more comfortable and at ease with each other, which also helps them to feel flexible and eager to be responsive to each other’s concerns. For example, Mitch Temple of Focus on the Family suggests that people often make mistakes when they approach their spouse by showing disrespect toward them, losing their control because of anger or blaming their spouse for relationship issues. The best way to contact your partner is by first finding the right time when he or she isn’t stressed out or too busy, Temple explained. The approach should also be non-confrontational, and topics should be brought up in a .non-threatening way.

Here are couple ways to help you communicate in a more positive tone to your spouse:

Lower Your Voice: Try to reduce the register of your normal speaking voice. Seriously. Talk in a deeper voice. This will prevent from sounding shrill, which can put your spouse on edge.

Relax: When you get upset or are under stress, your body tenses up. This can lead to your voice sounding agitated or strained. Relax.

Slow Down: Try slowing down when talking. This will give the listener time to understand what you’re trying to tell them. Another risk of speaking too quickly is that you aren’t giving yourself enough time to think about what you sound like while you’re talking. Speaking slowly gives you time to choose your words, as well as remember the other keys to speaking with a positive tone of voice.

Here’s your UNCOMMEN Challenge this week: Work on speaking with a calm tone to your spouse, especially when a disagreement comes up and see how it makes a difference in that conversation and also in your relationship. 

About the Author: Sam Casey is the Managing Partner at Banyan Creative in Matthews, NC.

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