Breakups suck. No matter what side of it you are on or what the reason is, they are hard to go through. A study by the University of Texas at Austin discovered that hints of an impending breakup could be found in the language we use up to three months before it happens. According to the study, these are the words that reveal the end of a relationship months before it happens. (1)
The Words That Reveal The End of A Relationship
If the end of a relationship is on the horizon, both parties can usually feel a shift in the energy they are giving each other. Sometimes it’s a few days before; sometimes it can be weeks or even months of problems and insecurities before everything comes to a head. However, as it turns out, certain words reveal the end of a relationship for months before it happens – and they’re not as obvious as you might think.
Researchers at the University of Texas at Austin analyzed more than 1 million Reddit posts by 6,800 different users one year before and one year after they posted about their breakup in the subreddit forum r/BreakUp. They discovered that three months before the breakup, the users’ language changed. Not only that, but their language didn’t return to normal until up to six months after their breakup. (1)
“It seems that even before people are aware that a breakup is going to happen, it starts to affect their lives,” said lead author Sarah Seraj, a doctoral candidate in psychology at UT Austin. (2)
Their change in language was noted in all subreddit forums, not just those pertaining to relationships and breakups. (1)
How Did Their Language Change At The End of A Relationship?
Users, whether they were the breaker or the break-ee, their language became more personal and informal. This was noted specifically in their use of pronouns, using “I,” “we,” and “me” more often. (1)
“We don’t really notice how many times we are using prepositions, articles, or pronouns, but these function words get altered in a way when you’re going through a personal upheaval that can tell us a lot about our emotional and psychological state,” said Seraj. (2)
The researchers say that this decrease use of formal language indicates a drop in analytical thinking. Using these personal pronouns indicates that the person is going through something mentally and emotionally difficult and is, therefore, more self-focused. While this begins about three months before the breakup, they did notice a spike in their use the week-of. (1)
“These are signs that someone is carrying a heavy cognitive load. They’re thinking or working through something and are becoming more self-focused,” Seraj said. “Sometimes the use of the word ‘I’ is correlated with depression and sadness. When people are depressed, they tend to focus on themselves and are not able to relate to others as much.” (2)
The Return to Normal After The End of A Relationship
Typically, the researchers found that the users’ language completely turned back to normal at a maximum of six months post-breakup. That being said, they did find that some users’ language did not even up to a year afterward. (2)
These users spent months in the r/BreakUps forum going over their relationship, their breakup, and why it happened. This made it more difficult for them to heal, and therefore their language remained informal in this way. (3)
This study is important because it is the first time researchers have been able to study how a large group of people navigate a breakup or divorce in real-time. (2)
“Implications for this research are far-reaching. At the most basic level, it gives you, me, and everyday people insight into how loved ones may respond over time to the end of a romantic relationship,” explained Seraj. (2)
What To Do If You’re Having Trouble Moving On
Some of us move on quickly from relationships. Others struggle for much longer. This particular study didn’t look into the specific reasons why some people took longer to move on than others. However, Seraj says it is likely either it was messy, or they were ruminating on the relationship for too long. (3)
As to why someone might get stuck in a breakup, it varies. However, research shows that people who view rejection as connected to their own self-image and self-worth have a harder time moving on than those who don’t. They found that when rejection is closely linked to self-concept (“I was too much/not enough/not good enough”), these people not only fear rejection, but that pain can linger even for years after. (4)
This can also make future relationships more challenging. These people might have a harder time opening up or being more anxious and distrusting the relationship. (4)
Seraj suggests that if you are taking more than six months to feel at least somewhat better about the end of a relationship, seeking a therapist’s professional help might be wise. This person can help you root out the reason as to why you struggle to move on from relationships, help you come to terms with them, and provide you with tools to use in the future. (2)
Breakups are hard, but they don’t have to define you or your future experience. They also don’t mean that you are unlovable or unworthy of happiness. Rather, they can be an opportunity for you to learn more about yourself. If done properly, they can be an incredible mechanism for self-growth. (4)
If you are currently going through the pain of rejection, look for the lesson and the positive sides, and allow them to help you come out of this hard time stronger, healthier, and happier than ever before.
- “Language left behind on social media exposes the emotional and cognitive costs of a romantic breakup.” PNAS. Sarah Seraj, et al. 2020.
- “Use of pronouns may show signs of an impending breakup.” Science Daily. February 1, 2021
- “Your Reddit posts could predict a breakup over 3 months before it happens.” CTv News. Megan Marples. February 1, 2021.
- “Inclusion of Other in the Self Scale and the structure of interpersonal closeness.” PSycnet. Aron, A, et al.