Sometimes, written words speak louder than actions

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Yes, a healthy, enduring relationship still depends on physically expressing affection and carving out plenty of couple time. But new research suggests that writing your heart out about your romantic situation also may help it survive and thrive.

In a recent study, researchers at the University of Texas at Austin gave one partner from each of 86 dating couples a three-day writing assignment. Each day, half wrote down information about everyday activities and events; the other half committed their deepest thoughts and feelings about the dating relationship to paper—and not all had to be positive.

Three months later, 77 percent of the people who wrote about their relationship had romances that were still going strong, compared to 52 percent of those who wrote about more mundane matters. Interestingly, the study also found that participants who put pen to paper about their relationship used more words expressing positive feelings in instant-message exchanges with their sweetheart in the days after the writing exercise, and their partner responded in kind.

To try this at home, study coauthor James Pennebaker, Ph.D., professor and chair of psychology at the University of Texas at Austin, recommends that every six months or so, for three consecutive days, you and your partner each sit for 15 minutes and write down thoughts and feelings about your relationship. He suggests focusing on issues that are currently on your mind—whether they’re minor, such as who does the laundry, or major, such as conflicts over money or sex.

"Often in a long-term relationship, important issues just drift," Pennebaker says. "Standing back and writing about them can give you perspective and helps you focus on the central topics of importance." This process, he says, can lead to greater honesty, stability and intimacy in the relationship.

Publication Review By: the Editorial Staff at

Published: 22 Aug 2010

Last Modified: 15 Sep 2015