Personality Differences and Relationship Satisfaction from the Perspective of the Big Five Trait Theory

“My wife and I were happy for 20 years,” joked Rodney Dangerfield, a stand-up comedian, and actor, in one of his routines. “Then, we met.” That knee-slapper played on a marital axiom probably as old the institution itself; individual differences often lead to corporate unhappiness. These differences are attributable to a variety of factors, including circumstances – situational, cultural, and historical – biology and even plain old luck. However, personality is also responsible to a significant degree. The Big Five theory of personality, which is also known as the Five-Factor Model or the OCEAN model, is grounded on the premise that the human personality consists of a mix five significant traits, each with multiple gradations spread across a spectrum (McCrae, Robert R., and Costa Jr., Paul T., 1987). Research indicates that there is a significant predictive relationship between these personality traits and the quality of romantic life. Let us look at each of these traits and their influence on relationship satisfaction. Openness to Experience Openness to experience is the proclivity to seek new knowledge and enjoy new experiences as opposed to intolerance and rigidity. Insightfulness, being imaginative, and having a wide range of interests are some of the related attributes. A study by Malouff, Thorsteinsson, and Schutte (2010) indicates that openness to experience plays a minimal role in relationship satisfaction. However, that does not mean it is entirely inconsequential; in relationships where women scored high on agreeableness and openness, couples had sex more often, according to research by Meltzer and McNulty (2010). The personality of the husband did not affect the frequency of sex. However, husbands with a combination of openness to experience and neuroticism were less sexually satisfied, suggesting an increased risk of adventurism. Conscientiousness and Agreeableness Conscientiousness is the propensity to be responsible, goal-oriented, hardworking, organized, and obedient as opposed to being sloppy and lazy. At the same time, agreeableness is the penchant for being friendly, kind, cooperative, and polite. Those who are high on the conscientiousness scale tend to be reliable, diligent, and disciplined. In contrast, high levels of agreeableness are associated with prosocial attributes such as altruism, affection, and trust. It is not surprising that conscientiousness and agreeableness predict relationship satisfaction, given the nature of attributes, such as low impulsivity and high interpersonal trust, linked with both traits. A combination of high agreeableness, high conscientiousness, and low neuroticism is associated with marital satisfaction, according to research by Dyrenforth, Kashy, Donnellan, and Lucas (2010). Low levels of both traits, on the other hand, predict sexual risk-taking and infidelity, a 2008 study by Schmidt and Shackelford shows. Research also shows a link between low agreeableness and an increased likelihood of having unprotected sex, sleeping with strangers, and having a large number of sexual partners, according to a 2001 study by Hoyle. Extraversion Extraverts, or extroverts, get their energy from interacting with others, while introverts derive their energy from within themselves. Extraverted traits include talkativeness and assertiveness. Individuals who score highly on the extraversion scale are generally charismatic, happy, socially connected, well-adjusted, sexually, and skilled at handling relationships. However, high levels of extraversion are also associated with sexual adventurism, a 2008 study by Schmidt shows. In men, a combination of high extraversion and low conscientiousness predicts lower marital satisfaction for their wives, according to a 2012 study by Rosowsky, King, Coolidge, Rhoades, and Segal. Neuroticism Neuroticism is usually defined as a proclivity to anxiety, depression, self-doubt, and other negative feelings, as opposed to confidence and emotional stability conscientiousness. Individuals who are high on the neuroticism scale tend to have mood disorders, hypochondria, and related problems. The link between neuroticism and poor romantic outcomes seems to be particularly pronounced. For instance, a study published in 1987 by Lowell Kelly and James Connelly, researchers at the University of Michigan, that followed 300 couples over 30 years showed that the neuroticism of one spouse predicted dissatisfaction both in marriage and divorce. Besides, neuroticism seems to harm sex life, according to a 2008 study by Terri Fisher of Ohio State University and James McNulty of Florida State University. Closing Thoughts The fairly persistent nature of personality means it has a powerful influence on sex, relationship satisfaction, and related matters. High levels of conscientiousness and agreeableness have a positive impact, while similar levels of neuroticism are undoubtedly bad news. Extraversion is a mixed bag, its influence depending on the particular mix of traits. Openness to experience seems to have a minimal but discernible effect that, like with extraversion, varies by gender and a specific blend of attributes. Research by Furler, Grob, and Gomez (2013) shows that personality compatibility is not necessary for a satisfying long-term relationship. Happiness depends on the emotional stability, agreeableness, and conscientiousness of the partners. Neurotic individuals and extraverted individuals can also cultivate these qualities with self-awareness and practice. A great long-term romantic relationship, as author Dave Meurer notes, is not the result of a ‘perfect couple’ coming together, but of an imperfect couple learning to enjoy their differences.   by: The Literary Alchemist (Samuel Maina )- Bachelor of Arts in English Linguistics and Sociology. Bibliography
    • McCrae, Robert R., and Costa Jr., Paul T (1987). Validation of the Five-Factor Model of Personality Across Instruments and Observers. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology
    • Malouff, J.M., Thorsteinsson, E.B. & Schutte, N.S. J Psychopathol Behav Assess (2005) 27: 101.
    • Meltzer, Andrea L., and McNulty, James K., (2015, October). Who is having more and better sex? The Big Five as predictors of sex in marriage. Journal of Research in Personality
    • Dyrenforth, P. S., Kashy, D. A., Donnellan, M. B., & Lucas, R. E. (2010). Predicting relationship and life satisfaction from personality in nationally representative samples from three countries: The relative importance of actor, partner, and similarity effects. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 99(4), 690-702.
    • Schmitt, David P., and Shackelford, Todd K. (2008). Big Five Traits Related to Short-Term Mating: From Personality to Promiscuity across 46 Nations. Sage Journals.
    • Hoyle, Rick H. (2001, December). Personality Processes and Problem Behavior. Journal of Personality.
    • Erlene Rosowsky Ph.D., Katherine D. King PsyD, Frederick L. Coolidge Ph.D., Camille S. Rhoades BA & Daniel L. Segal Ph.D. (2012). Marital Satisfaction and Personality Traits in Long-Term Marriages: An Exploratory Study, Clinical Gerontologist, 35:2, 77-87, DOI: 10.1080/07317115.2011.639855
    • Kelly, E. L., & Conley, J. J. (1987). Personality and compatibility: A prospective analysis of marital stability and marital satisfaction. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 52(1), 27-40.
    • Fisher TD1, McNulty JK. (2008, February). Neuroticism and marital satisfaction: the mediating role played by the sexual relationship. Journal of Family Psychology. 22(1):112-22. doi: 10.1037/0893-3200.22.1.112.
    • Furler, K., Gomez, V., and Grob, A. (2013, August). Personality similarity and life satisfaction in couples. Journal of Research in Personality. 369-375. Doi: 10.1016/j.jrp.2013.03.002
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