According to NBC news, baby talk “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”. This cutesy way of speaking is seen as perfectly acceptable when it’s actually directed toward a young child or pet. Yet, when used in a romantic relationship, it can elicit a very different reaction.
If you search “couples baby talk” on TikTok, you will find countless videos of “couples who take baby talk too far”. While these exaggerated examples are funny, if you were to witness a couple interacting like this in real life, you would likely feel repulsed. You might even cringe at the thought of you or your partner adopting this babyish behavior in private. Well, I have shocking news for you, I’m afraid. Studies show that two-thirds of all couples indulge in baby talk and are better off for it.
When we use baby talk, we are unconsciously replicating the first bonding experience we had in this world. Back then, “oohing and aahing” didn’t make us cringe but helped us experience “love, bonding, affection, and a sense of security” with our primary caregivers. As Darshita Goyal explains:
“While guardians use baby talk with infants to facilitate language acquisition skills, it also develops an intimate emotional bond between the caregiver and the child. Using this love language with a romantic partner signifies a similar feeling of safety and comfort in the relationship.”
It is well known that adult love sits on a base created in childhood, for better or worse. It makes sense then that “for many [couples], the closer the bond gets, the closer it mimics parental or caregiver unconditional love”. Though these are very different types of relationships, the same feeling of love and safety should be at the core of both.
The Benefits of Baby Talk
Not only is baby talk between romantic partners natural, but it is also healthy. In one study, researchers found that couples who baby talk are more securely attached than those who don’t. Baby talk also indicated “greater relationship quality (e.g., relationship satisfaction, love, sexual involvement)”.
According to behavioral scientist Clarissa Silva, the most common reason couples baby talk is because it allows them to “be playful, affectionate, and vulnerable simultaneously”. We all need a break from adulting sometimes, and baby talk is one way we can do this while strengthening our relationship.
When we have to be serious all week at work or in other social settings, it’s crucial to have an outlet for our inner child. With the right partner, we should be able to put down our defenses and express ourselves as we did when we were young.
“We may have to wait until we are real adults before we can relearn how to play and love with some of the authenticity and uncensored frankness of our three-year-old selves.”The School of Life
Baby talk also allows us to “mother or father the younger self of the partner and to allow them to do likewise to us”. Of course, this dynamic could lead to codependency if taken too far, but it can be incredibly beneficial for both partners in certain moments.
In addition to facilitating vulnerability, this way of communicating enables couples to “get closer in a very intimate manner”. As Dr. Kathryn Smerling, an NYC-based family therapist, explains: “it’s almost as if the couple has created their own private language together, ” making the relationship feel even more special.
Within A Relationship
If you’re still reluctant to use baby talk in your relationship after learning the benefits, ask yourself why. Yes, every couple is different, but people who deliberately refrain from baby talk in love likely have a deeper reason.
According to The School of Life, people who dismiss “sentimental child-based play” as “babyish” might be uncomfortable with vulnerability due to their upbringing. For others, baby talk signifies “inequality and underestimation”.
“It reminds me of the patronising tone in which my parents spoke to me as a preteen when they didn’t take my decisions seriously. So when my partner addresses me as a baby it triggers that trauma.”Shaila Ankolekar, 24, graphic designer
This love language indeed has the potential to become infantilizing or controlling. However, when you and your partner are on the same page, baby talk will only increase the love and security you feel in your relationship.
An Outside Perspective
The funny thing is that even if we enjoy baby talk in our relationship, we still get annoyed when other couples do it. Sure, it’s ok for our friend to speak to their dog with over-the-top affection but their partner!? We consider this repulsive, but why? When I spoke with academic neuroanthropologist Dean Falk, she shared her reasoning behind this common reaction:
“Baby talk addressed to children and animals conveys love and affection, which one not only accepts but finds endearing. The case with its use between couples is more complicated. If they use it in public, I would probably view it as a deliberate display of affection or showing off, which isn’t high on my list of admirable behaviors. If I overheard a couple using baby talk in private, however, I would likely be amused and perhaps even find it cute.”
Blakely, a 27-year-old sales assistant, agrees with Falk’s analysis: “in his experience, his friends who speak to their partners in a baby voice socially seem to be trying too hard to portray a happy, healthy relationship”.
Indeed, some couples who use baby talk publicly could be trying to show off. However, others could genuinely need some childlike nurturance or play. Whatever the case, baby talk should be about fulfilling your and your partner’s needs, not how other people perceive your relationship.