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:
- Openness to new experiences
The Big Five Personality Test
Simple questionnaires, such as University of California-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, without the transforming power of God-given love in a marriage, 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.
Emotionally stable spouses may also have less empathy for their less emotionally stable spouse. If this is you, ask God to give you compassion for your spouse.
Individuals with higher degrees of neuroticism can improve their emotional stability by improving their emotional resilience. Keeping a gratitude journal, prayer for emotional peace and strength, memorizing meaningful Bible promises, 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.
Agreeableness can also result in a failure to stand up for what is right, and a failure to defend your spouse against criticism and attacks from others. You may also give in too easily to pressures to do things that will take time and resources away from your marriage. If you tend to be too agreeable, ask God to give you courage to stand up for what's right, for your spouse, and for your marriage.
Disagreeable people can be great advocates for justice and fairness. But they can also be difficult to get along with, because they often think the best ideas are their own ideas. 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. Ask God to give you a spirit of humility.
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.
Highly conscientious people can also be over-bearing, holding their spouse to expectations they can't live up to. If this is something you do, ask God to give you mercy for your spouse.
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, ask God to help you exercise greater responsibility. Then make use of helpful tools, like 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.