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Do Opposites Really Attract?

Do birds of a feather flock together or do opposites attract? In the spirit of Valentine’s Day, the UK’s Oxford Psychologists Press (OPP) and its U.S. subsidiary the Institute for Personality and Ability Testing (IPAT), looked for an answer in their data. Following is their report:

What did we do?

In our study, we investigated how personality, similarity of the two people in a couple and relationship satisfaction all relate to one another. Over 900 UK and Irish, and over 9,000 US people in relationships filled in our 16PF personality questionnaire and rated how satisfied they were with their relationships.

What did we find?

The results were really interesting: we found a small but significant relationship between relationship satisfaction and personality similarities between partners. After having a closer look at the data though, other, stronger tendencies became clear. In order of importance, these are the things from our study that are most likely to make you happy in a relationship:

1. You are an emotionally stable person (you feel that you can cope well with life’s difficult moments)

2. Your partner is emotionally stable, extraverted and self-controlled

3. Your personality is similar to your partner’s.

In more detail (with correlation and probability values in parentheses for the statistically-minded):

1) Your Personality and Your Satisfaction

Our study found that people who are generally calm, confident and less anxious are likely to be more content with their relationship (r=.252, p=.000). Accordingly, we found that people who are anxious are more likely to experience dissatisfaction with their relationship. In particular, people who tend to be easily upset, react strongly to stress and are unable to cope with challenges in life are likely to experience relationship dissatisfaction (r=.-344, p=.000). Although emotional stability seems to be the trait with the biggest role to play in our relationship satisfaction, our study found evidence for other traits that are likely to increase our satisfaction. We found that people who are extraverts have greater relationship satisfaction (r=.113, p=.000).

This suggests that if you are a person who is warm in nature and more socially outgoing you are slightly more likely to be happy with your relationship than those who are not. Similar results were also found for people with more self control; indicating that if you are someone who is more organised, persevering and self-disciplined you are a little more likely to experience greater relationship satisfaction than those who are disorganised, pay less attention to rules and regulations and who are quite spontaneous in their lives (r=.123. p=.000).

2) Your Partner’s Personality and Your Satisfaction

So we have talked about your personality and your satisfaction, but what about your partner’s personality? We found that if your partner is quite anxious (r=-.202, p=.000) or emotionally unstable(r=-.253, p=.000), you are likely to be less satisfied with your relationship. On the other hand, we also found that if your partner is more extraverted (r=.122, p=.000) and self controlled (r=.132, p=.000) you are likely to be more content with the relationship. Have you ever wondered if your partner is the main source of satisfaction or dissatisfaction in the relationship? What is interesting is that we actually found that a person’s own personality appeared to have a greater link to their own satisfaction than their partner’s personality.

3) Couple Similarity and Satisfaction

Interestingly, our study found the age-old saying "opposites attract" to be somewhat untrue.

We found that individuals who are more similar in personality to their partner experience greater relationship satisfaction (r=.191, p=.000). This was found across all types of couples, regardless of how long the couple had been together. We also found out that if one of the couple is satisfied with the relationship, it’s likely that the other will be too (r=.660, p=.000). These results suggest that being similar to your partner can lead to greater relationship satisfaction for you both.

In Summary

If you’re not happy in a relationship, you might benefit from thinking about whether or not you are feeling happy in general, rather than blaming your partner; then, if appropriate, you might take steps to address your own emotions. But if you’re not currently in a relationship, try to find someone like you, and ideally someone communicative, reliable and stable (if that sounds boring, you can try people with other personality traits, but don’t expect it to be a bed of roses).