Personal idiom use and affect regulation in romantic relationships



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This study used self-report data to explore the key ingredients of positive sentiment override and other relational behaviors that contribute to the maintenance of positive sentiment in romantic relationships. Although marital and relationship satisfaction have been the topic of many studies, the ongoing high rates of divorce suggest there is still much to learn about how relationship satisfaction is achieved and maintained. A previously identified factor in the maintenance of satisfying relationships is a couple’s ability to recapture a positive outlook after experiencing negative feelings associated with relational conflict. As an extension of such a focus in couple research, the present study examined how personal idioms and idiosyncratic language were related to positive relational behaviors and the ability to maintain a positive affective climate. Six positive relational behaviors (Ego Building Comments, Salutary Recognition, Revisiting Memories, Exciting Activities, Small Talk, and Feedback) were found to be significantly related to marital friendship and positive sentiment override. The frequency, purpose, and perceived influence of idiosyncratic communication were also explored. Expressing affection to partner and being playful/having fun were the most commonly cited reasons for utilizing idiosyncratic communication for both males and females; however, gender differences emerged for the remaining categories of use. Females indicated using idiosyncratic communication significantly more often than males when asking for a favor, seeking affection from partner, and as partner nicknames. Use of idiosyncratic communication was overwhelmingly perceived as having a positive impact on the relationship, independent of frequency of use. Use of idiosyncratic communication was significantly related to feelings of closeness, knowledge of one’s partner, feelings of fondness and admiration, bids for connection, and repair attempts.

To highlight the clinical implications of the study, the results were interpreted using a Symbolic-Experiential approach to relational therapy. Suggestions for future studies exploring the development and maintenance of an enduring positive relational climate are also included.



Sentiment override, Idiosyncratic communication, Idioms