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4 Relationship Moments That Can Change Your Personality

A new relationship, and the end of one, drive conscientiousness.

Key points

  • Personality might feel stable, but personality change is a normal part of the life course.
  • Life events, including relationship events, can alter personality.
  • Marriage and divorce both increase conscientiousness.
  • Having a child tends to lower extraversion.
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Relationship events are often called "milestones" because they stand out as significant moments in our lives. We readily recognize these events as changing our day-to-day life or altering our life's trajectory. Less often do we consider how these milestones might change who we are. Think about a friend who is newly engaged or a colleague getting divorced: What effects are these critical relationship events having on their personalities?

People's Personalities Are Subject to Contextual Influence

Are you the same you as you were yesterday? Probably close? On one hand, personality can seem stable over time. Agreeable friends stay agreeable; extroverted friends stay extroverted. Once neurotic, always neurotic! In support of a biological basis for personality, people's core traits might appear steady to individuals or to others.

However, research shows, again and again, that the worlds we live in can have a surprising effect on even seemingly solid aspects of the self, like personality. Indeed, people's personality may be susceptible to considerable change in the right circumstances.

Personality Change Occurs Dynamically

To understand this change, scholars describe the concept of personality-relationship transactions (Neyer et al., 2014). Basically, people's personalities shape their choice of environments, and then these environments shape people. You can imagine this. Related to your own personality, you might gravitate towards certain types of people or places; the relationships you build in these settings then, in turn, affect you. It is this back-and-forth path of influence that, over time, helps to explain personality change.

Love Is Well-Positioned to Change the Self

Life events can take many forms. People can graduate college, get a much-wanted promotion, join a soccer league, or move to a new city. Significant events can happen across any life domain. Events related to love, however, are well-situated to change the self.

A recent systematic review and meta-analysis point to a set of relationship events as ripe for changing personality (Bühler et al., 2023). This work examined over 40 studies, included over 120,000 participants, and looked at changes in the Big 5 personality traits: extraversion (i.e., talkativeness, enthusiasm), openness to new experiences, conscientiousness, neuroticism (i.e., low emotional stability), and agreeableness.

Which relationship events change personality?

  1. Entering a new romantic relationship increases conscientiousness. Along with experiencing a growth in the self-concept (Aron et al., 1997), the meta-analysis revealed that people often become more conscientious when they start a new relationship (Bühler et al., 2023). Are they paying attention to others' needs more now because they have a partner to worry about? This practice might ultimately modify existing personality tendencies.
  2. Getting married makes people less open to new experiences. Love trying new things and getting out of your comfort zone? This might change after marriage. The meta-analysis revealed that marriage leads to less openness (Bühler et al., 2023). Perhaps this occurs because people tend to marry others who are like them, establish routines, and adopt habits; such foundations may support traditionalism over openness.
  3. Having a child lowers extraversion. Maybe it's because people cocoon or turn inward towards their new family responsibilities, but having a child appears to alter personality by reducing extraversion (Bühler et al., 2023). People high in extraversion often like to be around others when they are stressed; if this personality shift plays out behaviorally, parents might shift towards wanting to be alone and having their own space when they're stressed.
  4. Divorce increases conscientiousness. Perhaps surprisingly, the end of a relationship might have a favorable effect on people's personalities by driving increases in conscientiousness (Bühler et al., 2023). Conscientiousness is marked by reliability, dependability, and concern for others. A divorce may encourage new patterns to support the desirable trait of conscientiousness.

Missing from this meta-analysis are patterns discussing changes in neuroticism and agreeableness; indeed, the data did not support a link between relationship milestones and changes in these particular traits (Bühler et al., 2023). This might run counter to general notions about the effects of relationships on personality. After all, many a rom-com operates on the premise that divorce prompts disagreeableness. Staying anchored to the data is important: The meta-analysis suggests changes in core personality traits were limited to those presented above.

Love Doesn't Necessarily Mean a "New You"

It's exciting to think about actual changes in personality on account of relationship events. The data discussed here, however, are longitudinal, not experimental, so they are not conclusive. Further, group data offer limited insight into individual people; any given person might experience a relationship milestone differently. Think about how marriage might be perceived differently, depending on any number of relational, cultural, and contextual factors.

Critically, this research underscores that our personalities are not fixed. We are not immune to social influence. Rather, certain events, including romantic milestones, appear poised to change us, and perhaps that's a good thing.

Facebook image: Jonathan Borba/Pexels


Bühler, J. L., Orth, U., Bleidorn, W., Weber, E., Kretzschmar, A., Scheling, L., & Hopwood, C. J. (2023). Life events and personality change: A systematic review and meta-analysis. European Journal of Personality, 08902070231190219.

Neyer, F. J., Mund, M., Zimmermann, J., & Wrzus, C. (2014). Personality‐relationship transactions revisited. Journal of personality, 82(6), 539-550.

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