Each of our personalities are as unique as fingerprints but each person’s distinct behavior and feelings when faced with similar situations is deeply affected by our underlying personality traits. Psychologists and sociologists have conducted dozens of studies since the 1980’s to define these traits and identify how each one affects our academic ability and personality.
Nicknamed the Big Five personality traits, scientists have discovered recurring patterns among people with specific trait combinations. Researchers have also used this data to determine how these personality traits affect our adult relationships and marriage. Let’s take a deep dive into these factors and how they affect our adult relationships and marriages.
The Big Five Traits
The five basic personality traits—which you can memorize with the help of the acronym OCEAN—are considered relatively stable elements of an individual’s personality and are influenced by a combination of genes and the environment.
It’s no surprise that the underlying traits that mix to create our unique personalities also affect our relationships. This somewhat broad concept has plenty of cultural references, from the so-called high energy “type A” character to the shy “wallflower.” Certainly, most of us could summarize the personalities of our closest loved ones (if not our own) in just a few words or phrases!
What this implies is that personality really matters, and it can have a powerful influence over a person’s life and the way they relate to others—including their spouse.
This article explores what we know about the relationship between marital satisfaction and specific sets of personality traits.
What Are The Big Five?
Let’s explore the meaning of each trait and some examples of activity indicating an inclination toward each.
- Openness, or one’s willingness to engage in new, imaginative, and/or intellectual things and activities rather than being withdrawn and/or cautious.
- Conscientiousness, or one’s ability to control their impulses in order to fulfill goal-directed behaviors.
- Extraversion, or the degree to which someone pursues social interaction with others and their environment. For example, people who rank “low” on the extraversion spectrum are often described as introverts, whereas people who rank high on the extraversion spectrum are often described as extroverts. However many people are a mix of both.
- Agreeableness, the way in which one tends to relate with others. Someone who tends to rank high on agreeableness can usually be described as compassionate or empathic.
- Neuroticism, or one’s emotional stability and tendency (or not) to interpret events, other people, and situations as threatening. Someone with neurotic tendencies displays unstable and negative reactions including anxiety, hypersensitivity, and maybe occasional angry outbursts.
Like any conceptual framework, the Big Five does have its share of limitations and criticisms, but it can be an enlightening way to explore your unique characteristics—and perhaps even your marriage.
Do The Big Five Traits Influence Marital Satisfaction?
Yes, of course they do! Our personality traits play a huge roll in who we are attracted to, how we react to others, and who we decide to marry.
Interestingly, we know from studies on the Big Five that these traits may actually be able to predict certain outcomes in life, including health, and academic and career achievement. For example, people who fall high on the neuroticism scale appear more likely to experience adverse health outcomes like depression and heart disease. And individuals who score high in extraversion often perform well in careers that involve management or sales.
It might come as no surprise that researchers have also explored whether and how the Big Five affect relationships and marital outcomes. One 2020 meta-analysis published in BMC Psychology1 analyzed the results of 18 Iranian studies involving more than 4,000 total participants. Here’s what the researchers found:
- Couples high in neuroticism tend to be less satisfied in their marriages
- Couples high in conscientiousness tend to be more satisfied in their marriages
- Greater levels of marital satisfaction were also associated with higher levels of openness and agreeableness
This article corroborates earlier research showing that low marital satisfaction is more likely in relationships where one partner scores significantly lower on agreeableness and openness than their partner.
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Maybe this isn’t all that surprising. After all, a spouse who is generally emotionally stable, calm, confident, and doesn’t worry too much (low in neuroticism); is trusting and empathic (high in agreeableness); is curious, creative, and willing to try new things (high in openness); and is organized with good impulse control (high in conscientiousness) is probably a good spouse to have!
Personalities Don’t Tend to Change Over Time
But here’s the challenge; personality traits are fairly durable and not exactly easy to change. So, even if we know that a couple’s unique personalities can influence how satisfied they feel in their marriage, the question becomes: what can that couple do with this information?
The Bottom Line
If you believe personality traits are negatively affecting your marriage, consider counseling. An experienced marriage counselor can help you and your spouse figure out how to communicate better based on your unique personality styles. The Marriage Restoration Project can help you and your spouse:
- Become more aware of your unique traits and temperaments and how they influence your actions, feelings, and perceptions
- Learn new coping skills and communication strategies to interact more successfully with each other
- Restore and strengthen your sense of connection for a more satisfying marital bond
Are You & Your Spouse’s Personality Differences Affecting Your Marriage
Would you like to learn more about how your early relationships and innate temperaments influence the way you and your spouse relate to each other? We use Imago relationship therapy, a type of marriage counseling that teaches you how to communicate effectively despite your personality differences so you don’t have to suffer through arguments or an unhappy relationship. Contact The Marriage Restoration Project today to book a free 30 minute consultation call or sign up for one of our retreats at the location of your choice.
- Sayehmiri, K., Kareem, K.I., Abdi, K. et al. The relationship between personality traits and marital satisfaction: a systematic review and meta-analysis. BMC Psychol 8, 15 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1186/s40359-020-0383-z