Partner Pronoun Use, Communal Coping, and Abstinence during Couple-Focused Intervention for Problematic Alcohol Use

Kelly E. Rentscher, Emily C. Soriano, Michael J. Rohrbaugh, Varda Shoham, Matthias R. Mehl

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations


Communal coping—a process in which romantic partners view a problem as ours rather than yours or mine, and take collaborative action to address it —has emerged as an important predictor of health and treatment outcomes. In a study of partners' pronoun use prior to and during couple-focused alcohol interventions, we examined first-person plural (we-talk) and singular (I-talk) pronouns as linguistic markers of communal coping and behavioral predictors of treatment outcome. Thirty-three couples in which one partner abused alcohol were selected from a randomized control trial (N = 63) of couple-focused Cognitive-Behavioral or Family Systems Therapy if they had unambiguously successful or unsuccessful treatment outcomes (i.e., patient maintained abstinence for 30 days prior to treatment termination or had more than one heavy drinking day in the same period). Pronoun measures for each partner were obtained via computerized text analysis from transcripts of partners' speech, derived from a videotaped pretreatment interaction task and three subsequent therapy sessions. Spouse we-talk during the intervention (accounting for pretreatment we-talk), as an index of communal orientation, uniquely predicted successful treatment outcomes. In contrast, both patient and spouse I-talk during the intervention (accounting for pretreatment I-talk), as a marker of individualistic orientation, uniquely predicted unsuccessful outcomes, especially when distinguishing active and passive (I vs. me/my) pronoun forms. Results strengthen evidence for the prognostic significance of spouse behavior for patient health outcomes and for communal coping (indexed via pronoun use) as a potential mechanism of change in couple-focused interventions for health problems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)348-363
Number of pages16
JournalFamily Process
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2017


  • Alcohol use
  • Close relationships
  • Couples therapy
  • LIWC
  • Text analysis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Clinical Psychology
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)


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