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The 11 Traits Most Desired in a Long-Term Relationship Partner

New research on what we seek in others for sustainable satisfaction.

Key points

  • 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.
Max Topchii/Shutterstock
Source: Max Topchii/Shutterstock

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

  1. Committed to me (0.96)
  2. Well-off (0.81)
  3. Gives me sexual satisfaction (0.90)
  4. Makes compromises (0.92)
  5. Faithful and trustworthy (0.91)
  6. Good cook/housekeeper (0.59)
  7. Positive (0.84)
  8. Fun to be with (0.85)
  9. Does well with friends and family (0.71)
  10. Romantic and sensitive (0.90)
  11. 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

References

Footnote

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.

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