If you were to list the top three personalitytraits 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.
Madeleine A Fugère Ph.D. is a professor of Social Psychology at Eastern Connecticut State University, where she teaches courses in Social Psychology, Statistics, Research Methods, and Attraction and Romantic Relationships. She is the author of The Social Psychology of Attraction and Romantic Relationships (Palgrave Macmillan) as well as numerous journal articles related to attraction and romantic relationships.
Editor: Talha Khalid
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.