The Traits That Make You a Great Romantic Partner
... and why your chances of success rise if both you and partner share them.
Posted Jun 22, 2016
If you were to list the top three personality traits you would want in a romantic partner, what would they be? To some extent, this list varies depending on the respondent: Some people desire an adventurous partner, some seek an intellectual peer, while others require a mate with matching political views. However there are many commonalities among people's responses to this question: Individuals often say that traits such as respect, honesty, and trustworthiness are essential for a mate (Fugère et al., 2016), and in fact, these traits are also associated with better relationship outcomes.
Aretha Franklin had it right. Researchers Frei and Shaver (2002) measured respect as a trait for romantic partners, along with a variety of other measures such as liking, loving, and relationship satisfaction. Their findings were somewhat surprising: Respect was more strongly related to relationship satisfaction than even feelings of liking and loving a partner. When people describe what respect means to them, they cite characteristics such as moral conduct, considerateness, and honesty (Frei & Shaver). Mutual respect appears to be crucial for a successful partnership.
Dishonesty can precipitate the end of a relationship (Fugère et al., 2016), but a higher level of honesty is associated with better relationship outcomes and greater overall well-being (Brunell et al., 2010). Brunell and colleagues explored the topic of “dispositional authenticity,” or “openness and truthfulness" in relationships (p. 901). They found that more “authentic” men and women engaged in healthier relationship behaviors such as more self-disclosure, more trust, and more constructive responses to conflict. They also found that these positive behaviors were related to more positive relationship outcomes such as increased commitment and relationship satisfaction. Wickham (2013) similarly found that when a partner was perceived as authentic, individuals trusted that partner more and perceived their relationship as more stable and committed.
The Big 5/Similarity in Personality
Many of the so-called “Big 5” personality characteristics are associated with relationship satisfaction. A recent meta-analysis of studies including almost 4,000 participants showed that agreeableness (friendliness), conscientiousness (diligence), and extraversion (outgoingness) were all positively associated with relationship satisfaction (Malouff et al., 2010). As reviewed in our book, a variety of research shows that couples with similar personalities on the Big 5 measures of personality are more likely to maintain fulfilling romantic relationships (Barelds & Barelds-Dijkstra, 2007; Luo & Klohnen, 2005). However, while similarity may be beneficial for positive traits such as agreeableness and conscientiousness, it is not for negative traits such as neuroticism (Finkel et al., 2012).
Traits Associated with Worse Relationship Outcomes
Research shows that neuroticism, narcissism, and a lack of conscientiousness are often associated with negative relationship outcomes. Neuroticism is a prolonged negative emotional state manifesting as a depressed mood, anxiety, anger, or difficulty coping with stress, and is associated with an increased likelihood of divorce (Roberts et al., 2007). Neuroticism in both partners can exacerbate negative relationship behaviors and outcomes (see Finkel et al., 2012). Narcissism is characterized by an elevated feeling of self-worth and entitlement (Brewer et al., 2015). Higher levels of narcissism, as well as lower levels of conscientiousness, are linked to an increased risk of infidelity in marital relationships (Brewer et al., 2015; Buss & Shackelford, 1997).
Relationship success is determined by both your personality and your partner's (Robins et al., 2000). The quality of your relationship may be enhanced if you both possess positive personality characteristics such as mutual respect, honesty, and trustworthiness.
- For more information about successful romantic relationships, check out our book, The Social Psychology of Attraction and Romantic Relationships.
- Portions of this post were taken from The Social Psychology of Attraction and Romantic Relationships. Copyright 2015 Madeleine A. Fugère.
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- Barelds, D. H., & Barelds-Dijkstra, P. (2007). Love at first sight or friends first? Ties among partner personality trait similarity, relationship onset, relationship quality, and love. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 24(4), 479–496. doi:10.1177/0265407507079235
- Brewer, G., Hunt, D., James, G., & Abell, L. (2015). Dark triad traits, infidelity and romantic revenge. Personality and Individual Differences, 83, 122-127. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2015.04.007
- Brunell, A. B., Kernis, M. H., Goldman, B. M., Heppner, W., Davis, P., Cascio, E. V., & Webster, G. D. (2010). Dispositional authenticity and romantic relationship functioning. Personality and Individual Differences, 48(8), 900-905. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2010.02.018
- Buss, D. M., & Shackelford, T. K. (1997). Susceptibility to infidelity in the first year of marriage. Journal of Research in Personality, 31(2), 193-221. doi:10.1006/jrpe.1997.2175
- Finkel, E. J., Eastwick, P. W., Karney, B. R., Reis, H. T., & Sprecher, S. (2012). Online dating: A critical analysis from the perspective of psychological science. Psychological Science In The Public Interest, 13(1), 3–66. doi:10.1177/1529100612436522
- Frei, J. R., & Shaver, P. R. (2002). Respect in close relationships: Prototype definition, self-report assessment, and initial correlates. Personal Relationships, 9(2), 121.
- Fugère, M. A., Chabot, C.,* Doucette, K.,* & Cousins, A. J. (2016, June). Similarities and Differences in Mate Preferences among Women and their Parents. Poster presented at the annual meeting of the NorthEastern Evolutionary Psychology Society, Nova Scotia, Canada.
- Luo, S., & Klohnen, E. C. (2005). Assortative mating and marital quality in newlyweds: A couple-centered approach. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 88(2), 304–326. doi:10.1037/0022-35220.127.116.114
- Malouff, J. M., Thorsteinsson, E. B., Schutte, N. S., Bhullar, N., & Rooke, S. E. (2010). The Five-Factor Model of personality and relationship satisfaction of intimate partners: A meta-analysis. Journal of Research in Personality, 44(1), 124-127. doi:10.1016/j.jrp.2009.09.004
- Roberts, B. W., Kuncel, N. R., Shiner, R., Caspi, A., & Goldberg, L. R. (2007). The power of personality: The comparative validity of personality traits, socioeconomic status, and cognitive ability for predicting important life outcomes. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 2(4), 313-345. doi:10.1111/j.1745-6916.2007.00047.x
- Robins, R. W., Caspi, A., & Moffitt, T. E. (2000). Two personalities, one relationship: Both partners' personality traits shape the quality of their relationship. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 79(2), 251-259. doi:10.1037/0022-3518.104.22.168
- Wickham, R. E. (2013). Perceived authenticity in romantic partners. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 49(5), 878-887. doi:10.1016/j.jesp.2013.04.001