February 22, 2022 |Gideon Hanekom

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In this post, we’ll look at personality traits in intimate relationships and whether they can influence or predict marriage happiness and satisfaction. We focus on what is commonly referred to as the “Big Five” personality traits.

Many personality models have been developed throughout history, but the most widely accepted model in use today, namely “The Big Five,” was developed by Lewis Goldberg, a personality psychologist and a professor emeritus at the University of Oregon

What’s important for our purposes today is that the combination of these five personality traits can aptly depict a person’s personality and predict their behaviour and success in life, including marriage happiness.

Some experts believe that personality traits can be used to predict an individual’s behaviour in various life situations, including marital life situations.

In general, marital satisfaction, which is influenced by various factors, is a yardstick used to assess the quality of a couple’s relationship.

The purpose of this article is to examine the relationship between personality traits and marriage happiness and to derive practical implications and potential applications for our marriages.

How Does Personality Affect Relationships?

According to a comprehensive review and meta-analysis conducted by Sayehmiri et al. (2020) on the association between personality traits and marital satisfaction, many couples consider marriage as a sacred covenant that results in family formation.

They claim that the family structure’s stability is contingent on the couple’s relationship satisfaction and that dysfunctional marriage or failed marriages risk not only couples’ mental health but also the family unit’s longevity.

They also say that even though half of the first marriages in the United States end in divorce, that doesn’t mean that people don’t want to remarry and have a happy life.

This is probably why two-thirds of couples in the US remarry within five years of divorce.

Additionally, Sayehmiri et al. (2020) assert that marital happiness, which is derived from sexual and emotional satisfaction, is a proxy for couples’ relationship quality, indicating their subjective assessment of the relationship’s quality.

However, it is critical to recognise that marital satisfaction is a multidimensional notion that encompasses various facets of the marital partnership, such as adaptability, happiness, integrity, and commitment.

Marriage Happiness

Sayehmiri et al. (2020) continue by arguing that marital satisfaction is a mental state that does not occur spontaneously, but rather requires the couple’s continual efforts to accomplish, particularly during the early years of marriage, when marital satisfaction is unstable and the marital partnership is at risk.

They argue that a couple is often satisfied with their marital connection when it conforms to their expectations.

They emphasise that marriage is fundamentally a bond between two people who have quite diverse personalities, which is why any long-term and ideal romantic relationship demands couples to evaluate their partner’s personality traits in addition to physical characteristics.

This is critical because a variety of factors, including socioeconomic status, education, age, ethnic origin, religious beliefs, physical attractiveness, IQ, and personal values and attitudes, all have an effect on marital satisfaction and can predict higher levels of marital satisfaction in couples.

More precisely, Sayehmiri et al. (2020) assert that personality traits are among the factors that influence marriage satisfaction, which is likely why other experts found that personality predicted life satisfaction, which includes relationship satisfaction.

Additionally, as Sayehmiri et al. (2020) point out because people enter marriage with a variety of personality traits, a marital partnership is fundamentally a bond between two distinct personalities.

On the other hand, people have a tendency to impose their behavioural and performance qualities on their partner, and so their personality might operate as a stressor in their marriage.

What this eventually demonstrates is that personality differences may be both a source of marital dissatisfaction and a means of achieving relationship satisfaction.

However, the extent to which personality traits and marriage happiness are related will be discussed in the following two parts of this post.

The Big Five Personality Traits

The big five personality traits are a group of five broad personality dimensions used to describe human personality.

They are openness to experience, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism.

Let’s unpack each trait individually before we look at how they affect or even predict relationship satisfaction and marriage happiness.

1. Extraversion.

Extroverts are at one end of the spectrum, while introverts are at the other.

The majority of us fall somewhere in the middle.

Consider introverts to be those who gain energy by spending time alone.

They get tired of social interactions.

Extroverts are the polar opposite.

Their energy is depleted when they are alone, and they are recharged when they spend time with others.

Marriage Happiness

Extroverts are often described as sociable, self-assured, talkative, energetic, and assertive.

Introverts tend to be introspective, reserved, and quiet.

They frequently, but not always, lack social confidence.

Extraversion in marriage can manifest as a couple spending a lot of time together and enjoying being in each other’s company.

For example, extroverts may be more likely to want to go out and do things, whereas introverts may be more content staying at home.

Either way, both spouses are likely to enjoy being around each other and have a strong emotional connection.

2. Agreeableness.

People who are agreeable are typically polite, sensitive, cheerful, patient, and fun to be around.

They are likeable and enjoy the company of others.

Those with low agreeability are frequently described as blunt, rude, sarcastic, and abrasive.

Interestingly, some studies, such as those conducted by Shimotsukasa et al. (2019), found that violent criminals tended to have lower Agreeableness and higher Extraversion when compared to other criminals.

However, inmates tended to show higher Extraversion, Agreeableness, Openness, and Conscientiousness than normal adults.

Also, those with a high level of agreeableness are often liked by everyone.

Women also have a significantly higher level of agreeability than men.

Agreeableness in marriage would be exemplified by a couple who always compromise with each other, rarely fight, and are always willing to help out with whatever needs to be done.

3. Openness.

The openness we’re talking about here isn’t about the willingness to reveal your darkest secrets.

In this context, openness refers to how open you are to new experiences.

People with a high level of this trait are typically open to new ideas and perspectives.

They also have a greater appreciation for art and music, and this characteristic is often associated with intelligence.

An example of openness in marriage is when both the wife and husband are willing to experiment in the bedroom. 

If either of them has a new idea, they will bring it up and experiment with it.

Additionally, they’ll be open to discussing their fantasies and what turns them on.

4. Conscientiousness.

Conscientious people tend to value order, achievement, self-discipline, and the ability to finish what they start.

You dislike new experiences and stimulation, are neat and orderly and prefer to work on a defined schedule.

This personality trait is frequently linked to success.

If you know someone who does not appear to be exceptionally clever or abnormally talented but is nevertheless extremely successful, they almost definitely have a high level of conscientiousness, because those with very low conscientiousness are chronic procrastinators, disorganised, and frequently labelled as underachievers.

If your life is always out of control, you may be lacking in conscientiousness.

Conscientiousness in marriage often means being reliable, responsible, and respectful.

It may also imply always doing your best to keep your promises and being considerate of your spouse’s feelings and needs, in other words, being a team player who is always willing to prioritise the relationship.

5. Neuroticism.

Anxiety, fear, and worry are common characteristics of neuroticism.

Neurotic individuals are more sensitive to stress and more reactive to negative emotions, as they frequently struggle with emotion regulation and stress management.

Those with high neuroticism tend to be unstable, impulsive, and negative.

They also have a lower work performance, a higher proclivity for addiction, and difficulty adapting to change.

In marriage, for example, a person with high neuroticism is more likely to struggle with emotion regulation and thus with stressful situations, to be more reactive and emotional, and to struggle with effective communication, resulting in a negative cycle of stress buildup, explosion, conflict, and reset.

This is confirmed by Fisher and McNulty’s (2008) longitudinal research of 72 couples in Ohio, United States, which found that high levels of neuroticism predicted decreased marital satisfaction one year later.

Additionally, other studies indicate that individuals with a high level of neuroticism frequently suffer sentiments of sadness, anger, and discontent with themselves, all of which can impair their overall enjoyment in life.

Due to their increased likelihood of being moody and irritable, these individuals are not expected to have higher levels of marital satisfaction.

In a nutshell, therefore, it doesn’t seem as if high levels of neuroticism and marriage mix very well if your aim is to have high levels of marriage happiness.

Marriage Happiness

Before we look at how these personality traits predict or affect relationship satisfaction, you might want to take the Big Five personality test.

Several Big 5 tests, such as the one at UnderstandMyself.com, are available online for free or for a fee.

If you want a more in-depth course on this, look no further than Dr Jordan Peteson’s online course, which is an 8-module personality course aimed at helping you understand yourself and others using the “Big Five” personality model.

A mental health professional can also perform testing for you.

The point I’m trying to make here is that if you’re having problems in life or in your marriage, knowing where you fall on the spectrum of these five personality traits can be helpful.

You can then begin making changes to your scores as needed in order to begin producing better results in your life.

With that out of the way, let’s move on to personality traits, relationship satisfaction, and marriage happiness.

What is the relationship between them, and what does it mean for you?

How Do These Personality Traits Predict Relationship Satisfaction?

As already mentioned, Sayehmiri et al. (2020) discovered a few interesting findings in their meta-analysis of the link between personality factors and marital satisfaction.

It is critical to note that this study focused exclusively on Iranian older persons, which could be interpreted as a restriction.

However, their findings appear to corroborate what I’ve observed in my previous work with couples and in other research I’ve examined. However, you are free to interpret this as you like.

To begin, as previously said, Sayehmiri et al. (2020) emphasise that neuroticism may have a detrimental effect on marital satisfaction by inducing anxiety, tension, sympathy seeking, aggression, impulsivity, melancholy, and low self-esteem.

They argue that personality characteristics such as emotional instability and neuroticism may perpetuate couples’ vulnerability and have an effect on how they adjust to life challenges.

Additionally, they cite a 13-year longitudinal study of couples in which it was discovered that high neuroticism resulted in unfavourable marital interaction.

In other words, it was discovered that individuals with a high level of neuroticism exhibit negative conduct towards their relationships, lowering both parties’ marital happiness.

Therefore, if you or your partner scores highly for the personality trait neuroticism, it may be prudent to be aware of the correlation between this trait and marital dissatisfaction found in a variety of cross-sectional and longitudinal studies and to consider implementing the necessary strategies to prevent any negative dynamics from occurring.

Marriage Happiness

Additionally, Sayehmiri et al. (2020) discovered a substantial association between marital satisfaction and conscientiousness, which corroborates previous studies.

This is unsurprising, given that conscientious people are typically self-disciplined, principled, and capable of effectively resolving relationship conflicts.

As a result, they are predicted to have high levels of marital happiness.

According to Sayehmiri et al. (2020), conscientiousness was also found to be the strongest predictor of male partner intimacy and commitment.

Conscientious people also often exhibit greater degrees of intimacy in their interactions and hence are more capable of forming successful relationships.

Furthermore, Shiota & Levenson (2007) discovered that marital happiness had the strongest relationships with extraversion and conscientiousness in a sample of 40–70-year-old couples who had been married for more than 15 years.

According to Sayehmiri et al. (2020), contentment in intimate relationships was positively connected with agreeableness and conscientiousness in another long-term study done in Switzerland.

They also note that other researchers have discovered a link between marital discontent and poor conscientiousness and high neuroticism, which fits with what we already know about high neuroticism and marital unhappiness.

Additionally, we know that individuals with a high level of conscientiousness are less aggressive and capable of controlling their impulses in marital relationships, all of which contribute to an overall pleasant experience in a relationship and hence better levels of marital satisfaction.

Also, Sayehmiri et al. (2020) note that some researchers assert that persons with low conscientiousness frequently turn to alcohol and physical aggression in response to marital pressures, eventually reducing their marital satisfaction.

So, the question now becomes, what does all of this mean for you and me?

On a personal level, as Sayehmiri et al. (2020) point out, these findings indicate that couples with a high level of neuroticism reported low marital satisfaction, whereas couples with a high level of conscientiousness reported higher marital satisfaction, i.e. higher marriage happiness.

In other words, the first priority for any couple should be to understand the impact of personality traits on relationship happiness, followed by addressing neuroticism and increasing conscientiousness.

Furthermore, because personality traits are relatively stable over time, they can be used to predict an individual’s behaviours in a variety of life situations, including marital relationships, and thus predict the most likely outcomes in these situations.

Thus, awareness and examination of couples’ personality traits and their relationship to marital satisfaction can help us gain a better understanding of the specific personality traits associated with low marital satisfaction that increase the risk of separation and divorce, as well as the personality traits associated with a better, healthier, and more stable marital relationship so that we can leverage those traits more effectively.

About the author

Gideon Hanekom

Gideon Hanekom is the creator of TheRelationshipGuy.com, a popular relationship blog that ranks among the top 50 relationship blogs in 2024. The website helps couples to create happier, healthier, and more intimate relationships. Gideon is a trained professional counsellor and holds post-graduate degrees in Theology and Psychology. His articles have also been featured on respected platforms such as Marriage.com and The Good Men Project.

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