How Do I Love Thee?

social effects that expressive writing has. The writers assert that writing about one's emotional experiences is normally associated with many positive outcomes. The study thus tries to examine and analyze the social effects of writing through looking at reality of romantic relationships. The writers accept that there have been studies conducted which have demonstrated that expressive writing has positive benefits which are in domains as diverse as achievement, well-being and health. However, they feel that these studies had used simply used a procedure that was quite straightforward. This procedure was to have the participants jot down what their deepest feelings and thoughts about a certain topic are for about 20 minutes each day for about 3-4 consecutive days Slatcher & Pennebaker, 2006()

Researchers on expressive writing are currently examining the social effects of this while using the assumption that during confrontation, conflict, complex thoughts or emotions, a social interaction can be facilitated. A good example that is given by the authors is when people use expressive writing about a recent breakup in a relationship. This somewhat leads to the likelihood of them reuniting with their partners Lepore & Greenberg, 2002.

This same situation applies when a married couple which is recovering from infidelity write to each other letters expressing their emotions thus they are able to express that they now have reduced anger, depression and marital distress Gordon, Baucom, & Snyder, 2004()

The writers feel that the social effects of writing should not just be limited to when a relationship is suffering from distress. People who are committed in healthy relationships can also feel the positive benefits of expressive writing such as improved stability for the people in the relationship. This is the basis of the study detailed in this journal article. The study seeks to investigate what the social effects of expressive writing are. There were three hypotheses. The first is that those who write about their relationship are more likely to date their partners 3 months after the completion of the experiment. The second hypothesis is that the participants who wrote about their relationship would change in terms of how they communicate with their partners. The third hypothesis is that the use of words which express emotion would be a huge factor in mediating the relationship between the stability of the relationship and expressive writing Slatcher & Pennebaker, 2006()


The methodology of this study is divided into three sections -- participants, procedure and linguistic analysis.


The participants of the study are 86 students studying psychology at the undergraduate level. 55 of them are women and 31 are men. The mean age of the participants is 18.7 with a standard deviation of 1.0. Their partners are 21 women and 55 men with a mean age of 19.3 years and a standard deviation of 1.6. The participants were recruited on the basis of their heterosexual relationship and that they engage in IM conversation. The couples had been dating for an average of 1.31 years with a standard deviation of 1.06 Slatcher & Pennebaker, 2006()


The procedure of the study was that one member of each couple participated in the actual writing of the study. The experimenter met with the participants on an individual level in groups of between 2 to 5 years and gave them an overview of the study. The participants were informed of the purposed then they were instructed to forward to an email address that is secure all their daily conversations done on IM during the 10 days of the study. The participants were assured that their messages would be kept absolutely confidential Slatcher & Pennebaker, 2006()

The participants also filled out questionnaires that gathered their demographic information, status of the relationship and satisfaction level in the relationship. This was done on the first day of the study. The relationship satisfaction level was measured using the RAS (relationship assessment scale) Hendrick, 1988.

The ratings were made on a 7-point likert scale Slatcher & Pennebaker, 2006()

The assignment of the participants to the experiment or control was done at random with the final figures being 44 and 42 respectively. They were asked to set aside the 4th, 5th and 6th days of the study to complete the online writing exercise. Participants in the experimental condition were asked to write about their deepest feelings and thoughts regarding their current relationship while those in the control were asked to detail their daily activities Slatcher & Pennebaker, 2006()

Three months later, the participants were asked to complete a brief online questionnaire which assessed the status of their relationship and the level of satisfaction Slatcher & Pennebaker, 2006()

Linguistic analysis

The Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count Program (LIWC) Pennebaker, Francis, & Booth, 2004()

was used to analyze the IM conversations. The conversations were also spell checked prior to being submitted to LIWC. The emails were converted to text files and categorized by the speaker (partner or participant) and they subcategorized according to whether the date was from after or before the writing manipulation. This resulted in about 4 separate IM files per couple.


The study showed that expressive writing had a significant relation to the stability of the relationship on the long-term. About 77% (n=34) of the participants in the experimental condition and 52% (n=22) in the control were still dating their partners three months after the experiment. There was no relationship between the satisfaction levels during the 10-day experiment or at the 3-month follow up. The level of satisfaction at follow-up was only measured for couples that were still in their relationships Slatcher & Pennebaker, 2006()

In terms of use of positive emotion words, those in the experimental condition showed that the positive effects of expressive writing were at least partially mediated by increase in use of positive emotion words in their daily IM conversations. The use of negative emotion words on the other hand showed that there was no significant relationship between the stability of the relationship and the use of negative emotion words Slatcher & Pennebaker, 2006()


The simple act of expressive writing was seen to have a huge effect on the way in which the couples communicate. It also influenced the stability of the relationship. Couples who used expressive writing were more probable to increase the use of positive emotion words than those in the control. Increase in the use of positive emotion words partially mediated the association between stability of the relationship and expressive writing Slatcher & Pennebaker, 2006()

The study showed that couples can enhance their romantic relationships by simply jotting down their feelings and thoughts regarding their relationship. The writers also asserted that expressive writing can also be used for families, workgroups and circles of friends Slatcher & Pennebaker, 2006()

The study was limited in several ways. The first limitation is that the effects of expressive writing on changes in the use of words may have been affected by changes in the demand characteristics. The writers feel that since the purpose of the study was kept vague to the participants and the fact that expressive writing influenced the stability of the relationship made this to be unlikely. The second limitation is that it is not known whether it is the expressive writing itself or simply people attending to their relationship and exploring issues mentally that brought about the positive outcomes to the relationship. Therefore, future studies can be conducted to address this Slatcher & Pennebaker, 2006()


The study that is reported in this journal article is of interest because it looks at the social effects of expressive writing. This can be used by psychologists and sociologists around the world in helping people with relationship issues in romantic relationships, family, friendships, etc. By simply getting the people committed in the relationships to use expressive writing to each other,…