Emotionally adjusted partners make the best Valentines, researchers find

Published 11 February 2010

love_candyIf you are going on a first date this Valentine’s Day, here are some danger signs to watch for, according to psychologists at the University of New England: your date gets cranky with the waiter; disagrees with your choice of wine; turns up late or doesn’t turn up at all.

A meta-analysis of more than a dozen studies involving some 3000 participants has shown that a person is much more likely to be dissatisfied with their relationship when their partner is neurotic, low in conscientiousness or disagreeable.

Neuroticism, defined as the frequent display of negative emotions, is by far the biggest predictor of unhappy relationships, according to Dr John Malouff, associate professor of psychology at the University of New England.

“If your partner frequently shows anger, anxiety or depression, you may not be very happy with them,” Dr Malouff said.

A small but significant correlation was also found between relationship dissatisfaction and partners who were low in conscientiousness and agreeableness.

“A lack of conscientiousness — doing what you’ve said you’ll do or are supposed to do — can lead to the other person in the relationship being unhappy. It’s like when you’ve promised to take out the trash or pick your partner up from work and you don’t do it. Relationships require a certain degree of interdependence. If one partner doesn’t seem to be keeping up their end of the bargain, that can lead to dissatisfaction.”

Malouff and his fellow researchers also found that people were slightly more likely to be happy in their relationship if their partners were extroverted.

“My guess is that extroverted people are simply more fun to be around,” Dr Malouff said.

So what can you do if your partner is an introverted grouch who never helps around the house?

“The best course may be to ask for a specific change in behaviour while for the most part accepting the person as he or she is. People can change their own fundamental personality, but it takes a lot of effort. It’s very difficult to force someone else to change their personality.”

The research has implications for partner selection and helping people to recognise the role negative emotions can play in relationship problems, Dr. Malouff said.

Media contacts: Dr John Malouff on (02) 6773 3776 or Leon Braun (UNE public relations) on 6773 3771.