Improve These Personality Traits for a Happier Marriage

Improve These Personality Traits for a Happier Marriage1 min read

The combination of certain personality traits in a married couple predicts their marital satisfaction, according to researchers.

Behavioral scientists define personality by a handful of traits called “The Big Five.” These traits are:

  1. Openness to new experiences
  2. Conscientiousness
  3. Extroversion
  4. Agreeableness
  5. Neuroticism 

The Big Five Personality Test

Simple questionnaires, such as UC Berkeley's The Big Five Inventory, measure to what degree a person possesses each of these traits.

There are numerous theories on personality traits, how they are formed, and what they are called. Among researchers, the Big Five is the most established and well-validated model. Its five domains of personality are found across cultures and are relatively easy to test for in individuals. All humans possess each of these traits to some degree, and the degree to which a person possesses each trait tends to change little over time.

Consider a person who quickly adopts the latest fad, shows up on time, loves social gatherings, tends to disagree with others, and whose friends describe as moody. This person possesses a high degree of openness to new experiences, a high degree of conscientiousness, a low degree of agreeableness and a high degree of neuroticism.

Personality Traits and Marriage

When we watch people over time, we can see patterns that reveal their personality traits. The differences in traits and their degrees directly impact how people relate to each other, especially in a marriage.

My wife and I have differing degrees of openness to new experiences, for example. I'm more open than she is. So, when we plan a dinner date, I want to try a new restaurant, and she will choose one of the two familiar restaurants she prefers. She has a higher degree of conscientiousness than I do. So, when it comes to cleaning, she's much more thorough than I am.

Where spouses differ the in degrees of each personality trait they possess, conflicts occur. My wife and I will disagree on where to have dinner, and on how clean the floor needs to be. Such conflicts are unavoidable. But three personality traits can make the difference in whether a couple achieves long-term happiness together.

Marriage and Personality Research

Perhaps the most extensive study on personality and marital satisfaction to date was conducted by a team of researchers from Hobart and William Smith Colleges, in Geneva, New York, and Michigan State University, in East Lansing. Researchers examined the relationship between marital satisfaction and personality traits in over 10,000 couples in three countries. They found a positive correlation between emotional stability, agreeableness, and conscientiousness with relationship satisfaction. The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology published their findings.

Neuroticism and Emotional Stability

Emotional stability represents a low degree of neuroticism. Spouses who are emotionally stable feel less anxiety about their relationship, tend to manage stress well and are less irritable, depressed or anger-prone than their more neurotic counterparts.

Individuals with higher degrees of neuroticism can improve their emotional stability by improving their emotional resilience. Keeping a gratitude journal, savoring pleasant events, using humor, and relaxation techniques can help increase emotional resilience.

Agreeableness and Cooperation

Spouses with a high degree of agreeableness tend to be more cooperative. They demonstrate an ability to accept the other's influence. They look for common ground, rather than insisting on their individual ideas, preferences, and plans. Agreeableness contributes to a strong friendship between spouses.

Individuals with lower degrees of agreeableness can counter their disagreeable tendencies by choosing to accept influence from their spouse. If you tend to disagree with your spouse, identify what are your negotiable and non-negotiable positions. Not every disagreement is worth damaging your relationship over. Choose to compromise more often and hold your ground less often.

Conscientiousness and Commitment

Spouses with a high degree of conscientiousness will tend to be highly committed to the marriage relationship. When problems arise in the marriage, they will stand by their man or woman. Conscientiousness also contributes to trust in a relationship. Trust and commitment are the pillars of satisfying and lasting relationships of any type.

Individuals with lower degrees of conscientiousness tend to put less importance on things like showing up on time, doing what they say they will do, and sticking with a budget. If your lack of conscientiousness causes conflict in your marriage, the best remedy is to understand your spouse's expectations, then find ways to make those dreams come true.

For example, if showing up on time or follow through on responsibilities is a problem, use a smartphone calendar or reminder application to keep you on time and on task. If overspending is your problem, find ways to put limits on your spending that work for you. Options include agreeing on a budget with your spouse, choosing to talk with your spouse about expenses over a specific dollar amount, and always shopping with a list.

You can discover your dominant personality traits free by participating in UC Berkeley's "The Big Five Project." Follow this link to the free personality test.

Jon Beaty

I'm a counselor, writer and believer in the power of God to help you thrive in your marriage and family. I live with my family, a small herd of Boer goats, and thousands of honeybees near Portland, Oregon.