- Feb 11, 2019
How Your Personality Predicts Your Romantic Life
Big Five personality traits predict marital sex, success, and satisfaction
By a broad (and rare) scholarly consensus, neuroticism is the personality trait most strongly predictive of a person’s romantic destiny. High neuroticism is uniformly bad news in this context. For example, in 1987 University of Michigan researchers Lowell Kelly and James Connelly published a study that followed 300 married couples over 30 years. The neuroticism of one spouse predicted dissatisfaction in marriage and divorce. Adding insult to injury, research has also shown that high neuroticism predicts low resilience post divorce.
Neuroticism appears to interfere with relationship satisfaction in multiple ways. By definition, neurotic individuals tend to be highly reactive to stress and prone to experiencing negative emotions. These tendencies are likely to radiate onto the partner and create problems over time.
Neuroticism also appears to interfere with healthy sexuality. Terri Fisher at Ohio State University and James McNulty Florida State University (2008) asked 72 newly-married couples about their character, relationships, and sexual satisfaction. A year later, the researchers returned to examine the quality of the relationships of couples. They 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.
For those who wish for a bit of existential spice in their explanatory sauce, Jamie Goldenberg and colleagues argue that neuroticism may interfere with one’s sex life in part because “the creaturely aspects of sex make apparent our animal nature, which reminds us of our vulnerability and mortality.” Neurotics are uniquely ill-equipped to manage this reminder, and are thus driven to avoid or devalue sex.