- Magnetic traits are those that help ongoing relationships last far into the future.
- Most magnetic traits are the same for men and women.
- Magnetic traits are only one piece of the puzzle when it comes to relationship stability.
Dating relationships are hard to maintain but, for some, relationships tend to last. These people don't hear the cliche breakup lie, "It's not you, it's me," (meaning: "It's you") because it's really not them. People want to hold onto relationships with these people. They are the stabilizing forces. What makes these people different?
Magnetic Traits Can Differ From Traits We Find Initially Attractive
We all know that having certain traits provides an advantage in attracting partners. Good looks, and a warm smile—some people stand out. Evolutionary theory suggests people are attracted to goal-facilitating traits: For short-term relationships, people want partners with traits that signal "good genes" (e.g., physical attractiveness), and for long-term relationships, people want partners with traits that signal a "good" partner or co-parent (e.g., loyalty; Buss & Schmitt, 2019). The human brain sees some traits as attractive during relationship initiation because these traits are linked to better reproductive or survival outcomes.
But the qualities people seek initially aren't necessarily the qualities that will help sustain a relationship over the long haul. Once people enter relationships, the power to sustain that relationship may be linked, in part, to the extent they have certain qualities that are uniquely magnetic in ongoing relationships. What are these traits that keep relationships together?
The Magnetic Traits That Keep Relationships Together
Research from Greece used a multistep process that aimed to identify the magnetic traits possessed by some people who are linked to longer relationships (Apostolou & Christoforou, 2021). First, in-depth, semi-structured interviews with 20 individuals and an open-ended survey administered to nearly 200 people targeted the question of which partner traits motivate people to stay in relationships. The analysis yielded 75 different traits. Next, nearly 1,200 participants currently in a relationship rated the traits of their current partner, indicated their relationship quality and reported information about how difficult it feels to maintain their relationship and how long they expect their relationship to last.
Results point to 11 magnetic qualities that support relationship stability (Apostolou & Christoforou, 2021). How well do they capture you or your partner?
- Being trustworthy and faithful: More than any other factor, having a partner whom you judge as trustworthy is a magnetic force in an ongoing relationship, one that helps keep that relationship going into the future.
- Being dedicated and caring: People expect their relationships will last when their partner is invested in taking care of them, protecting time, and, in all other ways, showing true commitment. This is something we can't know about another person until we are in a relationship with them, but it is a magnetic quality once a relationship is ongoing.
- Being fun to spend time with: Does your partner have a good sense of humor? Are they intelligent and imaginative? The magnetic nature of someone whose company you want to keep is a key factor in predicting relationship longevity.
- Being romantic and sensitive: Love relationships benefit from affection and attraction. When people's partners are able to show their romantic and sensitive side, these qualities support long-term relationships.
- Getting along well with family and friends: Relationships do not operate in isolation. Having a partner who gets along well with the people who are important to you is a magnetic quality, this fosters relationship stability.
- Being helpful at home: Being a good cook and/or being ready and able to share the housekeeping workload makes a difference. Although this might be hard to perceive when you first meet someone, discovering this magnetic quality may make it less likely that you will want to end the relationship.
- Being good in bed: Having a healthy and satisfying sex life supports relationship stability. It's a magnetic quality when people find a partner who can keep them sexually satisfied, who feels passion for them, and who can sustain their sexual interest.
- Being positive: In ongoing relationships, positivity is a magnet that supports stability. Having a positive attitude and being confident, dynamic, and cheerful... all of these qualities point to relationship longevity.
- Being ready to compromise: Moving through life is difficult with someone who whines, complains, never compromises, and wants their way every time. People in ongoing relationships see the ability to compromise as a magnetic trait, one that keeps people together.
- Sharing common interests: When people discover that they share interests and goals with their partner, their heightened enthusiasm for continuing the relationship may reflect an underlying benefit of compatibility: More aligned interests translate to fewer conflicts. As such, sharing common interests is a magnetic factor in keeping relationships together.
- Being well-off: Economics isn't everything, but it can create a magnetic pull in ongoing relationships. A practical factor, having income and financial stability can support relationship longevity.
Magnetic Traits Are Only One Part of Stable Relationships
Interestingly, the researchers noted only a few gender differences (Apostolou & Christoforou, 2021). Specifically, having a sexually satisfying partner and having a partner who makes compromises predicted more years in a relationship exclusively for men (not women), and having a partner who is dedicated and caring was associated with fewer difficulties in maintaining a relationship only for women (not men).
Missing from this list? Physical attractiveness is a primary partner preference during relationship initiation. While physical attractiveness might help someone begin a relationship, once the relationship is ongoing, physical attractiveness takes a back seat to the magnetic traits that support stability.
Having a partner with these magnetic qualities is an exciting prospect for the future of a relationship, but relationships are rarely driven by one person. In fact, these qualities, as assessed in the above research, reflect a person's perception of their partner. Because we see our partners through our own subjective lens, these participants' thoughts and emotions are coloring their judgments (and influencing relationship stability).
Further, relationship stability is not only an outcome of each individual partner but also of their dynamic and the social context that underlies their relationship. Many a happy relationship has been derailed by situational forces beyond the individual's control. While these magnetic traits are helpful in revealing qualities that may promote relationship stability, they are not (sadly) a guarantee.
Facebook image: novak.elcic/Shutterstock
Apostolou, M., & Christoforou, C. (2021). Partner's traits which motivate people to stay in an intimate relationship: An explorative analysis. Personality and Individual Differences, 183, 111155.
Buss, D. M., & Schmitt, D. P. (2019). Mate preferences and their behavioral manifestations. Annual Review of Psychology, 70, 77–110.