There was a notion that people differ in their characteristic ways of dealing with the world and it was one of the most basic human intuitions. Some believed that the genes determined a person’s basic characters and some linked personality to date and time of birth, shape and size of different body parts and the lines on the palm. These however have not found enough empirical support.
A more solid and scientifically supported theory of personality emerged in the late 70s and the 80’s. Popularly known as the Big Five or Five Factor Model, human personality consists of five basic traits, each of which exists on a continuum between opposites. The interplay of these five traits and included with them the 24 facets or sub-traits predicts an individual’s typical behavior in different situations and over time.
The Big Five traits are:
- Neuroticism or Need for stability – ranging from being ‘reactive’ vs. ‘resilient’;
- Extraversion – ranging from being introverted vs. extroverted
- Openness – ranging from being ‘conservative’ vs. ‘inquiring’ or ‘innovative’
- Agreeableness – ranging from being ‘challenging’ vs. ‘accommodative’ and;
- Conscientiousness – ranging from being ‘flexible’ Vs. ‘focused’ or ‘purposeful’
According to the Big Five or the FFM (Five Factor Model), these traits are genetically based. They tend to crystallize in early adulthood and remain more or less stable thereafter. However it is important to understand that Personality is not the only factor shaping our destiny: Circumstances—situational, knowledge, skills, attitude, culture and values—also have a lot to do with it, as do chance, of course.
Yet the influence of personality is evident in many realms of life, such as choice of career, status of health, lifestyle and interpersonal relationships. Not surprisingly, the research also points towards a significant predictive association between the Big Five personality traits and your romantic life.
Here are some of the predictors for you to ponder.
Neuroticism or ‘Need for Stability’
Neuroticism is the personality trait most strongly predictive of a person’s romantic destiny. According to scholarly consensus, high neuroticism is uniformly bad news in this context. According to a 1987 published study by University of Michigan researchers Lowell Kelly and James Connelly that followed 300 married couples over 30 years; the neuroticism of one spouse predicted dissatisfaction in marriage and divorce. Research has also shown that high neuroticism predicts low resilience post-divorce.
Neuroticism appears to interfere with relationship satisfaction in multiple ways. By definition, individuals with high scores on the neuroticism scale tend to be highly reactive to stress and setback and are prone to experiencing negative emotions. These tendencies are likely to radiate onto the partner and create problems over time.
Researches Terri Fisher and James McNulty (2008) found after asking 72 newly-married couples about their character, relationships, and sexual satisfaction and re-examining them a year later, found that neuroticism of one partner (or both) predicted lower levels of satisfaction in relationships and sex.
Neuroticism, the researchers further found, tended to undermine marital quality by interfering with the couple’s sex life. The authors contend that neuroticism dampens sexual satisfaction because neurotic individuals are prone to negative affect and expectations, which have been shown to relate to lower sexual arousal and satisfaction.
Some argue that neuroticism may interfere with one’s sex life as the animal nature of sex reminds us of our vulnerability which in turn causes stress and since we are ill-equipped to handle that, we might devalue or avoid sex.
Extraversion has been found to strongly predict several love and sex related outcomes. However, high extraversion appears to be somewhat of a double-edged sword in the context of romantic relationships. By nature Extroverts tend to be happier, more socially connected, and more charismatic than introverts. They seek relations and are highly skilled at networking. They also tend to be better adjusted sexually.
On the other hand, high extraversion can undermine relationships because of the inherent need of such people to be social can lead to adventurism and being too personal with others. In a study it was found that high extroversion and low conscientiousness in men predicted lower marital satisfaction for their wives.
Openness appears to play a rather minor role in the romantic context yet it is not entirely inconsequential. McNulty’s study with over 200 newlyweds and their sexual activity for over a period of two weeks found couples in which the woman scored high on the traits of agreeableness and (to a lesser extent) openness had sex more often. The husband’s personality had no effect on the frequency of sex, although more open (and neurotic) husbands were less sexually satisfied.
Agreeableness and Conscientiousness
Studies indicate that high levels of agreeableness and conscientiousness predict relationship satisfaction, in part because these traits signify high interpersonal trust and low impulsiveness, respectively. This coupled with low neuroticism scores in self or your spouse predicts marital satisfaction.
On the contrary, low agreeableness and low conscientiousness have been found to specifically predict sexual risk-taking. In a study of more than 16,000 participants from 52 countries, the researcher David Schmidt of Bradley University found that low levels of agreeableness and conscientiousness predicted infidelity.
Contrary to popular belief that people tend to become like each other over long period, people tend to choose partners who are quite like themselves. Generally speaking, when it comes to pair bonding, birds of the same feather flock together. However, the bulk of the evidence appears to show that similarity is nota strong predictor of relationship outcome.
However, Four traits—low neuroticism, high conscientiousness, high agreeableness, and high extraversion—predicted higher levels of relationship satisfaction with intimate partners.
It’s important to note that our basic personality traits are under strong genetic influence and are not easy to change. Personality predicts behavior in many areas, including relationships, sexual behavior, and satisfaction. Also personality similarity between spouses is not necessary for long-term relationship success.
If you recognize some of these traits in yourself, you need not fear for the long-term health of your romantic relationship as there is always an ‘incentive to change for love’