- People who are happy in their long-term relationships generally view their partner as similar to them.
- They tend to assume their partner shares certain personality traits, specifically Honesty-Humility and Openness to Experience.
- Relationship satisfaction depends more on the similarities someone thinks they have with their partner than what they actually share.
A new study published in the Journal of Research in Personality reports that people in successful, long-lasting relationships tend to be most similar in the traits of honesty, humility, and openness to experience.
“People in successful relationships tend to view their partner to be similar to them on six personality traits: Honesty-Humility, Emotionality, Extraversion, Agreeableness, Conscientiousness, and Openness to Experience,” says Jie Liu, a co-author of the new research. “But they assume the highest similarity in Honesty-Humility and Openness to Experience relative to the other four traits.”
According to the researchers, Honesty-Humility consists of characteristics such as being honest, loyal, and sincere versus being boastful, hypocritical, and pretentious. Openness to Experience describes being curious, creative, and intellectual versus being shallow, unimaginative, and conventional.
The authors believe that the strongest perceived similarities emerged in these two areas because these traits have a strong correspondence to personal values. For example:
- Honesty-Humility contrasts preferences for equality, honesty, loyalty, and social justice with preferences for authority, competence, social power, and wealth.
- Openness to Experience contrasts preferences for creativity, curiosity, freedom, and novelty with preferences for obedience, security, social order, and tradition.
“Values are an important part of people’s relationships,” says Liu. “People tend to assume that their values are shared by those with whom they have close relationships and tend to develop relationships with those whose values are similar to their own.”
Importantly, Liu’s study focused on the "assumed similarity" of these traits rather than any actual mirroring of these traits in a relationship. This means that perceiving your partner as similar to you might take precedence in your relationship to an actual correspondence of these traits.
“Assuming others to be similar to us, regardless of the actual similarity, can help to fulfill our needs of reinforcement,” explains Liu. “In established relationships, assumed similarity is likely to facilitate daily communication and understanding, reduce conflicts and disagreement, and provide confirmation.”
There are, however, some limits to assumed similarity as a predictor of a healthy relationship, such as:
- When other factors are equally or more important. For example, if someone places a lot of emphasis on the physical attractiveness of a future partner, then even if she/he thinks the potential partner is similar to her/him but not that attractive in terms of physical features, it is unlikely that this person will experience attraction toward the potential partner.
- When people over-inflate their assumed similarities. Sometimes, when people want a similar partner but cannot get such a partner, they respond by assuming similarities in features they want. While the assumed similarity is positively related to relationship quality and mostly proves to be beneficial to intimate relationships, there is a limit to how many dissimilarities one can realistically overlook.
“Even though it might facilitate relationship formation at first, the dissimilarity will gradually become salient as the relationship develops, which is likely to risk relationship stability in the long run,” says Liu.
Liu, Jie (Interview). Most people in long-term relationships view these two traits as the core of compatibility. Therapytips.org, April 11, 2022.