Let’s say you’ve been given the super power of peering into a random couples homes in order to observe their “secret couple behavior” from afar. You’d probably see them get into spats over how to load the dishwasher properly, observe them canoodling on the couch binge-watching "The Office," and maybe even catch them throwing down in a good old board game competition.
You’d also probably see them communicating in a way that’s all too familiar, but rarely acknowledged: with high pitched, cutesy wootsy, “I wuv yew” baby voices.
Genuinely curious about the ubiquity of “baby talk” in otherwise adult relationships, NBC News BETTER consulted a relationship psychologist and therapist for the down low on this phenomenon.
They weighed in on the important questions: Is this type of communication a sign of deep or shallow love? Why do so many of us do it? And most importantly, is it conducive to a healthy and thriving partnership?
Why Baby Talk is So Common
Baby talk, for those unfamiliar, encompasses any sort of communication that resembles the way you speak to a baby, child or even pet. Maybe it includes endearing nicknames, exaggerated playful emotions, a shift in tone or demeanor or a jump to a higher octave. Sometimes it consists of affectionate verbal exchanges, sometimes it’s legit coo-ing, and sometimes it sounds like complete gibberish.
According to Dr. Antonia Hall, a psychologist who specializes in relationships, all of the above is exceptionally common in adult romantic partnerships.
“Baby talk signals closeness, is a method of 'mirroring' to evoke positive emotions, and fosters secure attachment with one another,” says Dr. Hall. “It indicates a desire to nurture your partner and the bond between you two.”
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She went on to explain that this way of communicating replicates that very first bonding experience we have in this world — usually with our primary caregivers. When a parent speaks this way to their child, it’s a way to establish love, bonding, affection and a sense of security. The same is true when it comes to adult romantic partnerships. Speaking like this is innate and universal to all humans, notes Hall.
Dr. Kathryn Smerling, a NYC-based family therapist, agrees. “Some people might refer to it as couple speak, but the more common clinical term is known as regression, or ‘infant directed speech,’” she explained. “In psychoanalytic theory, individuals revert their behavior to an earlier stage of development, and they may mimic childish mannerisms as well as speech. It is actually very common and most couples resort to it when they want to either display vulnerability or as a way to get closer in a very intimate manner.”
It's almost as if the couple has created their own private language together, Dr. Smerling adds, which makes it feel even more special. Further, it’s a way to bring out that inner child — and we all have one — who craves unconditional love and tenderness.
Hall also points out that we even have a tendency to use sounds that are commonly made by babies, such as “ba,” “boo” and “ma” with our partners.