The 11 Traits Most Desired in a Long-Term Relationship Partner
New research on what we seek in others for sustainable satisfaction.
Posted July 31, 2021 | Reviewed by Tyler Woods
- Eleven key traits define what people look for from partners in long-term intimate relationships.
- Partner traits are key to long-term relationship durability and satisfaction.
- Relationship satisfaction is more important for some partner traits than others.
There are many reasons people stay in intimate relationships—and many reasons we don’t. Some of those factors are situational, such as whether there are other options available and the cultural surround; some of those are related to personality, such as attachment style or self-concept clarity; while others are about the relationship itself and dynamics of the couple.
A rose by any other name
For those of us interested in long-term partnership, our partners’ traits play a key role. Researchers Apostolou and Christoforou point out that dating and mating are grounded in evolution. Because human beings take a long time to fully develop and require intensive effort to raise—unlike most other animals—there is a survival advantage for long-term pair bonding so that parental investment can be maximized. Close relationships not only provide greater direct resources for offspring, but also provide opportunities for partners to receive support from their combined extended families, and one another.
Researching what we look for in long-term intimate partners
What traits are most desirable in a long-term intimate partner? In their recent work in Personality and Individual Differences, Apostolou and Chrisoforou (2021) report what they found when they surveyed people about the characteristics they valued for a long-term commitment. They conducted two studies. The first study was used to determine a large set of desirable partner traits, which were then refined in the second study into overarching key factors.
In the first, using a combination of an open-ended online questionnaire completed by 187 people and in-depth interviews with a smaller group, they examined what partner traits motivated participants to stay in an intimate relationship. For the open-ended group, participants were asked to write down as many traits as they could think of, and for the in-depth group discussed current and past relationships, and what motivated them to stay, with a 45-minute semi-structured interview.
Responses were coded by trained graduate students who worked independently to define categories, and then pooled results to ensure agreement and consistency. All in all, they found 75 traits1.
The second study included 1,189 participants, including 675 women and 511 men, who were either married or unmarried and in a relationship. Participants rated their current partner on each of the 75 items from the first study, completed a measure of relationship satisfaction called the Relationship Assessment Scale, and were asked how much potential they estimated their current relationship had to last a long time and how hard it was for them to maintain the relationship.
These data were analyzed using statistical approaches to identify big bucket categories for desirable partner traits and associations with relationship satisfaction, partner traits, and demographic variables like age and sex.
The 75 detailed traits boiled down into 11 defining factors (the number in parenthesis is the variance accounted for by that factor, a reflection of relative importance to participants):
11 Desirable Partner Traits
- Committed to me (0.96)
- Well-off (0.81)
- Gives me sexual satisfaction (0.90)
- Makes compromises (0.92)
- Faithful and trustworthy (0.91)
- Good cook/housekeeper (0.59)
- Positive (0.84)
- Fun to be with (0.85)
- Does well with friends and family (0.71)
- Romantic and sensitive (0.90)
- Common interests (0.87)
Key findings about intimate relationships
Of these factors, there were some important correlations. First, two factors were more important the longer the relationship was: faithful and trustworthy, and does well with friends and family. The factors associated with expectations for a more durable relationship, by driving relationship satisfaction, included faithful and trustworthy, sexual satisfaction, committed and fun to be with.
So, for example, those who trusted their partners felt more satisfied, in turn leading them to predict they’d stay together longer. Does well with friends and family was correlated with better long-term prospects independent of current relationship satisfaction.
Smoother relationships, those with fewer perceived problems, were correlated with faithful and trustworthy, committed, common interests, and makes compromises factors, while well-off and good cook/housekeeper were associated with the expectation of a harder time keeping the relationship.
Fun to be with and sexual satisfaction were associated with shorter duration relationships—this does not necessarily mean that they cause relationships to end, but likely suggest they are stronger factors earlier on in being together for many couples, tending to fade as people are together longer.
Interestingly, while the study authors expected a factor related to physical attractiveness, none was found in this group. While physical appearance is important in mate choice, it may be that in this group of already partnered individuals, the looks box already had been checked.
Finally, the study found that the longer people were in a relationship, the greater they estimated the prospect of staying together longer and the fewer difficulties anticipated in keeping the relationship.
This research confirms a lot of what people expect about what we want in partners who can stay the course, while adding nuance to our understanding of which factors are more important over time, and which ones fall by the wayside. Understanding what general partner traits drive relationship satisfaction and durability can allow us to reflect on our own traits, preferences, and priorities as we navigate the challenging and rewarding experiences offered by intimacy.
Facebook image: Max Topchii/Shutterstock
1. 75 basic traits
She/he takes care of me
She/he puts me above all else
She/he is protective
She/he shows his/her interest in me
She/he dedicates time to me
She/he fulfils my wishes
She/he really cares about me
She/he is affectionate
She/he makes me feel important
She/he makes me feel special
She/he supports me
She/he is a giver
She/he has high income
She/he is well-off
She/he offers me financial security
She/he has high social status
She/he has good education
She/he satisfies me sexually
We have good in sex
She/he has undiminished sexual interest
She/he shows passion
She/he makes me feel attractive
She/he shows that he/she wants me
She/he has good look
She/he makes concessions
She/he makes compromises
She/he does not oppress me
She/he is patient
She/he does not complain often
She/he tolerates my whims
She/he is conciliatory
She/he is not pathologically jealous
She/he is easygoing
She/he is forgiving
She/he has understanding
She/he is a good listener
She/he is trustworthy
She/he is faithful
She/he is honest
She/he has a stable character
She/he knows what he/she wants
She/he is mature
She/he is responsible
She/he loves me
She/he makes me feel safe
She/he respects me
She/he is good housekeeper
She/he is good cook
She/he is hardworking
She/he has positive thinking
She/he is self-confident
She/he has positive mood
She/he is extroverted
She/he is active
She/he is dynamic
She/he is persistent
She/he has a good sense of humor
She/he is funny
She/he is intelligence
She/he has imagination
She/he has pleasant personality
She/he does well with my family
She/he does well with my friends
She/he is generous
She/he is sensitive
She/he is romantic
She/he is polite
She/he has empathy
She/he is tender
She/he is kind
We have common interests
Our tastes match
We have common goals
We have common values
She/he understands me
Menelaos Apostolou, Christoforos Christoforou, Partner's traits which motivate people to stay in an intimate relationship: An explorative analysis, Personality and Individual Differences, Volume 183, 2021, 111155, ISSN 0191-8869, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.paid.2021.111155.
Note: An ExperiMentations Blog Post ("Our Blog Post") is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice. We will not be liable for any loss or damage caused by your reliance on information obtained through Our Blog Post. Please seek the advice of professionals, as appropriate, regarding the evaluation of any specific information, opinion, advice, or other content. We are not responsible and will not be held liable for third party comments on Our Blog Post. Any user comment on Our Blog Post that in our sole discretion restricts or inhibits any other user from using or enjoying Our Blog Post is prohibited and may be reported to Sussex Publishers/Psychology Today. Grant H. Brenner. All rights reserved.