Tone of Voice Can Predict Marital Success

How you say it, not just what you say, can impact your marriage. Research reveals a partner’s tone of voice can predict if a relationship will last.

marital success

According to a recent study, analyzing a couple’s tone of voice can accurately predict the likelihood of a relationship improving and marital success – with almost 79% accuracy.

For two years, researchers recorded hundreds of marriage therapy sessions. Using a new computer algorithm, the conversations were then broken into acoustic features – such as pitch and intensity – using speech-processing techniques. The couples’ marital statuses were then tracked for five years.

The study, which was led by Shrikanth Narayanan and Panayiotis Georgiou of the USC Viterbi School of Engineering, doctoral student Md Nasir, and collaborator Brian Baucom of University of Utah, revealed that it’s not only a partner’s behavior that can affect a relationship.

“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,” Nasir said.

The impact one partner had on the other partner’s emotions was studied over several therapy sessions.

“Looking at one instance of a couple’s behavior limits our observational power,” Georgiou explained. “However, looking at multiple points in time and looking at both the individuals and the dynamics of the dyad can help identify trajectories of the their relationship.”

The team then tested their findings against the findings of the relationship experts who led the therapy sessions. It turned out that studying the voice instead of just behavioral codes offered a better prediction of a relationship’s future success.

“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. These findings represent a major step forward in making objective measurement of behavior practical and feasible for couple therapists,” Baucom said.

The team plans to further their research to predict how effective therapy sessions will be for couples by studying language and nonverbal information through the use of behavioral signal processing.

The research, supported by the National Science Foundation, was published in Proceedings of Interspeech on Sept. 6, 2015.

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