- Many people disapprove of others’ romantic relationships but do not necessarily interfere in their affairs.
- Research suggests those who interfere in others’ relationships are more likely to have dark personality traits such as narcissism.
- Meddlers may interfere in a relationship in a variety of ways, such as by highlighting how one’s partner has failed to meet important needs.
Do you have a friend, relative, or family member who dislikes your romantic partner or disapproves of your romantic relationship? Do they attempt to meddle?
For instance, does your brother always tell you, “you could do better?” Does your mother constantly hint at how honest and courteous other men’s girlfriends are (to remind you again of the lie your girlfriend once told you)? Does your friend eagerly offer the kind of care and concern your husband is expected to show (before he has had a chance to do so)?
A recent paper, by Collisson and collaborators, published in the July 2021 issue of Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, suggests family members and friends with dark personality traits (the Dark Tetrad) are more likely to interfere in one’s romantic relationship.
The Dark Triad refers to three personality traits: narcissism, psychopathy, and Machiavellianism. The Dark Tetrad includes sadism as well. Here is a very brief description of these four personality traits:
- Narcissists believe themselves to be special; they desire status and power.
- Psychopaths are callous manipulators who lack guilt.
- Machiavellians are deceitful and calculating.
- Sadists are cruel; they gain pleasure and enjoyment from causing suffering.
Let us now examine the findings of the research by Collisson et al.
Investigating interfering family members and friends
Sample: 206 (109 women), average age of 36 years (19 to 70 years, range), 69% White, 41% single (35% married; 24% in a relationship). The average age of the friend (whose relationship they disapproved of) was 34 years, with a range of 18 to 68 years.
Participants were instructed to provide information about a friend (in a romantic relationship to which they object) and to complete various scales, as described below.
Relationship interference: Items from the Investment Model of Commitment Scale were adapted to assess interference in the friend’s romantic relationship. For instance, the items referred to whether the interfering individual had suggested the target’s romantic partner lacked important qualities, given emotional support before the target’s romantic partner had the opportunity to do so, encouraged prioritizing work or school over the romantic relationship, or argued the target could find a better romantic partner.
Dark triad: The Dirty Dozen Scale was used to evaluate psychopathy, narcissism, and Machiavellianism. Some examples of items for psychopathy, narcissism, and Machiavellianism are, in order, “I tend to lack remorse,” “I want others to pay attention to me,” and “I have used flattery to get my way.” Sadism was assessed using Revised Assessment of Sadistic Personality, with items like, “I get pleasure from mocking people in front of their friends.”
Sample: 180 (96 women), average age of 34 years (19 to 70 years, range), 69% White, and 42% married (37% single, 21% in a relationship).
Participants completed the same measures from the investigation above. This time, however, they were instructed to provide information regarding not a friend but a family member’s romantic relationship. These often concerned the romantic relationship of a sister (24%) or brother (18%), and less frequently, of the person’s cousin, mother, aunt, son, father, uncle, etc. Average age of the family member was 38 years (range of 18 to 92 years).
Dark tetrad and relationship interference
The results showed those inclined to interfere in the romantic relationships of friends and family members were more likely to be women than men and to have the following characteristics:
- Higher levels of dark traits
- Feel closer to the target of interference
The data suggested individuals high in dark personality traits interfered in “all domains including a couple’s satisfaction, investment, and perceived quality of alternatives.”
Furthermore, in the investigation concerning interfering friends, sadism was a strong predictor of interference. The authors suspect, “sadistic people may enjoy negatively interfering in a friend’s relationship because it harms the disliked romantic partner, and harm experienced by a loved one may be collateral damage.”
In the investigation concerning interfering family members, narcissism predicted relationship inference. Why? A possible explanation involves narcissistic family members’ sense of entitlement. Narcissistic family members think, the authors speculate, “they know what is best for others and feel entitled to negatively influence relationships of couples they dislike.”
The relationship between Machiavellianism and family interference was more complex. Specifically, Machiavellianism appeared to be a negative predictor, despite the raw correlation between relationship interference and Machiavellianism being positive.
Overall, although narcissism, sadism, psychopathy, and Machiavellianism individually predicted “relationship interference in both studies, the individual traits were not consistent across studies. Instead, it was the overall constellation of Dark Tetrad traits—or dark personality—that had the largest association with relationship interference.”
Though many individuals disapprove of others’ romantic partners (over 80% in one survey) and occasionally interfere with romantic relationships of people in their lives, some are more likely to do so.
The present investigation found individuals high in dark personality traits (e.g., narcissism, sadism) are more likely to interfere in your romantic relationship. Narcissistic family members might feel entitled to voice their opinion because, after all, “they know what is best for you.” And sadistic friends might actually enjoy watching your romantic partner suffer as a result of their interference.
Meddling family members and toxic friends can sabotage your romantic relationship, directly or indirectly, in a variety of ways. For example, meddlers might highlight all the ways your partner has been unable to fully meet your needs, question your partner’s investment in the relationship or encourage you to reduce yours, or constantly remind you of supposedly better alternatives to your current partner.
So, it is important to be aware of how people with aversive personalities may interfere in one’s romantic relationship. And to reduce their influence before it is too late.
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