If you’ve ever had dealings with another human being, you know just how powerful your words can be – the old rhyme “sticks and stones may break my bones but your words will never hurt me” couldn’t be further from the truth. Our words have the power to uplift or deflate – whether spoken or written – and the Department of Psychology out of University of Texas at Austin, performed a study to determine just how effective writing could be on the marital health and welfare of military couples following a deployment to Iraq or Afghanistan. The results were encouraging.
The study tested the effectiveness of a brief expressive writing intervention on the marital adjustment of 102 military couples recently reunited following a deployment to Iraq or Afghanistan. Active duty soldiers and their spouses were randomly assigned to write about either their relationship or a non-emotional topic on three occasions on a single day.
Let me digress for a moment. First off, to get most men to write on anything in any given day is quite a feat, let alone to get them to write on three occasions on a single day is a miracle – the fact that the study was able to accomplish this alone is quite encouraging.
The study set boundaries and writing topic conditions: soldier-expressive/spouse-expressive, soldier-expressive/spouse-control, soldier-control/spouse-expressive, and soldier-control/spouse-control. Yes, I know; a bit too much psychology here, but bear with me.
Participants completed marital adjustment measures before writing, and at one month and six months after writing. When soldiers, but not spouses, did expressive writing, couples increased in marital satisfaction over the next month, particularly if the soldier had had high combat exposure.
What does this all mean? Putting thoughts to paper – especially after dealing with a high stress or combative situation – has the ability to improve relationship satisfaction.
Interestingly enough, Tom Skerritt , the legendary stage and film actor from Seattle (Yes, “Viper” for all you “Top Gun” fans) is conducting such writing seminars for our soldiers down at JBLM – and the results are once again encouraging. Edmonds business owner Ted Neff is also doing the same here in Edmonds, whether the individual is a soldier, athlete, business professional or household engineer. Look him up.
Bottom line: Words – whether written or spoken – have the power to heal or hurt. The study is a great reminder to me – and I’m sure to others – that we should first choose our words wisely, but in the event we don’t, that there is healing power in doing what President Lincoln often did throughout the Civil War: express ourselves in writing. And if it should never leave the desk drawer, that is OK.
Michael Schindler, Navy veteran, and president of Edmonds-based Operation Military Family, is a guest writer for several national publications, author of the book “Operation Military Family” and “The Military Wire” blog. He is also a popular keynote and workshop speaker who reaches thousands of service members and their families every year through workshops and seminars that include “How to Battle-Ready Your Relationship” or “What Your Mother-in-Law Didn’t Tell You.” He received the 2010 Outstanding Patriotic Service Award from the Washington State Department of Veterans Affairs.