Personality perceptions and relationship satisfaction in couples

Personality perceptions and relationship satisfaction in couples

Journal of Research in Personality 50 (2014) 33–41 Contents lists available at ScienceDirect Journal of Research in Personality journal homepage: ww...

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Journal of Research in Personality 50 (2014) 33–41

Contents lists available at ScienceDirect

Journal of Research in Personality journal homepage: www.elsevier.com/locate/jrp

Personality perceptions and relationship satisfaction in couples Katrin Furler ⇑, Veronica Gomez, Alexander Grob ⇑ Department of Psychology, University of Basel, Switzerland

a r t i c l e

i n f o

Article history: Available online 11 March 2014 Keywords: Self-perception Partner-perception Perceived similarity Self-other agreement Relationship satisfaction

a b s t r a c t The present study investigates how perceptions of personality are related to relationship satisfaction in an age-heterogeneous sample of romantic couples. Self- and partner-perceptions as well as perceived similarity and self-other agreement were examined separately for the Big Five personality traits. Results of Actor–Partner-Interdependence Models revealed substantial effects of partner-perceived personality in all Big Five traits on both partners’ relationship satisfaction. In contrast, effects of self-perceived personality on relationship satisfaction were small. Over and above self- and partner-rated personality, perceiving one’s partner as similar to oneself made a small unique contribution to relationship satisfaction in couples. These results emphasize the importance of integrating self- and partner-perceptions of personality for relationships outcomes. Ó 2014 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

1. Introduction The way we see other people and how other people see us is crucial for understanding the social world surrounding us. Especially in romantic relationships, how partners see each other is a fundamental source for an intimate, healthy and satisfying relationship (e.g., De La Ronde & Swann, 1998; Gill & Swann, 2004; Murray, Holmes, & Griffin, 1996; Swann, De La Ronde, & Hixon, 1994). It is therefore essential to assess both partners’ perceptions of each other to thoroughly understand the role of personality within romantic relationships. However, although the value of partner-perceptions of personality in couples has been recognized, its relevance for relationship outcomes has largely been neglected. For instance, most studies on personality and romantic relationships to date have relied on self-reports of personality, while only a small number of investigations have made use of both partners’ perceptions of personality (cf. Cooper & Sheldon, 2002). Moreover, even though research has addressed issues of personality perceptions in romantic relationships with regard to questions of accuracy and bias (e.g., Fletcher & Kerr, 2010; Gagné & Lydon, 2004; Kenny & Acitelli, 2001), very few studies have linked different forms of personality perceptions, such as how we see our partner, how our partner sees us, how similar we perceive each other, or whether we agree in our perceptions of one another, to couples’ well-being. The present investigation addresses these questions and studies how different types of personality perceptions in ⇑ Corresponding authors. Address: Department of Psychology, University of Basel, Missionsstrasse 62, 4055 Basel, Switzerland. E-mail addresses: [email protected] (K. Furler), [email protected] (A. Grob). http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jrp.2014.02.003 0092-6566/Ó 2014 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

romantic relationships relate to each partner’s relationship satisfaction. 1.1. Self-perceptions of personality Previous evidence suggests that personality characteristics are substantially related to relationship outcomes. Meta-analytical studies found not only considerable actor effects, that is, effects of one’s self-perceived personality traits on one’s own relationship satisfaction, but also moderate partner effects, that is, effects of one’s self-perceived personality traits on the partner’s relationship satisfaction. More specifically, individuals high in Agreeableness, Conscientiousness, Emotional Stability, and – to a lesser extent – Extraversion and Openness reported higher levels of relationship satisfaction (Heller, Watson, & Hies, 2004; see also Barelds, 2005; Decuyper, De Bolle, & De Fruyt, 2012; Donnellan, Conger, & Bryant, 2004; Dyrenforth, Kashy, Donnellan, & Lucas, 2010; White, Hendrick, & Hendrick, 2004). In addition, having a partner high in Emotional Stability, Agreeableness, Conscientiousness, and Extraversion was related to higher levels of relationship satisfaction (Malouff, Thorsteinsson, Schutte, Bhullar, & Rooke, 2010, see also Barelds, 2005; Decuyper et al., 2012; Dyrenforth et al., 2010). However, studies with small sample sizes usually fail to replicate these partner effects due to lack of statistical power (e.g., Claxton, O’Rourke, Smith, & DeLongis, 2012; Decuyper et al., 2012). 1.2. Partner-perceptions of personality The majority of studies to date have mainly relied on selfperceptions to analyze actor and partner effects of personality on

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relationship outcomes as outlined above. However, there has been a growing interest in partner-perceptions of personality as a potentially relevant determinant for intimate relationships in recent years (e.g., Acitelli, Douvan, & Veroff, 1993; Decuyper et al., 2012; Klohnen & Mendelsohn, 1998; Letzring & Noftle, 2010; Morry, Kito, & Ortiz, 2011; Orth, 2013; Watson & Humrichouse, 2006). Within a romantic relationship, each partner’s personality shapes and is shaped by the couple’s interactions with each other (Cooper & Sheldon, 2002). Assuming that our partner knows us well, he or she may perceive certain aspects of our personality that are not equally visible to ourselves. Thus self- and partner-ratings are not redundant but rather capture different aspects of an individual’s personality (Vazire & Carlson, 2011). These different perceptions can have considerable consequences for a couple’s everyday interactions and may affect their relationship satisfaction importantly (Acitelli et al., 1993). Yet, few recent studies have examined associations between partner-perceived personality traits and couple’s well-being and most of them relied on correlation analyses that fail to capture the interdependent nature of couple data (e.g., Decuyper et al., 2012; Watson, Hubbard, & Wiese, 2000). However, one recent study using dyadic data analysis showed consistent actor and partner effects for partner-perceived personality traits on both partners’ relationship satisfaction (Orth, 2013). More specifically, individuals reported higher levels of relationship satisfaction the more agreeable, extraverted, conscientious, emotionally stable, and open to experience they perceived their partners to be. In addition, individuals were also more satisfied with their relationships the more agreeable, extraverted, conscientious, emotionally stable, and open to experience they were perceived to be by their partners. Finally, partner-perceptions of personality traits were more prominently associated with both partners’ relationship satisfaction than were self-perceived traits. Thus, we conclude that partner-perceptions of personality are an important factor in romantic relationships, but compared to self-perceptions, have not been studied sufficiently in their association with relationship satisfaction in couples. 1.3. Perceived similarity in personality Furthermore, perceptions of similarity between partners also play an important role in relationship satisfaction (e.g., Acitelli et al., 1993; Decuyper et al., 2012; Lemay, Pruchno, & Feild, 2006; Luo & Snider, 2009; Murray, Holmes, Bellavia, Griffin, & Dolderman, 2002). According to this view, the mere perception of one’s partner as similar to oneself, regardless of whether he or she is actually similar, is related to greater feelings of being understood by the partner, which in turn promotes a feeling of cognitive and emotional connection (Murray et al., 2002). Thus, perceived similarity — which has also been referred to as similarity bias (cf. Luo & Snider, 2009) — relates to the extent to which one partner’s self-perception corresponds with his or her perception of the partner (cf. Decuyper et al., 2012; Iafrate, Bertoni, Donato, & Finkenauer, 2012). Unlike actual similarity of personality between partners — that is, the correspondence between both partners’ self-ratings, which has been shown to have no effect on couples’ well-being (e.g., Barelds, 2005; Dyrenforth et al., 2010; Furler, Gomez, & Grob, 2013) — perceived similarity has been linked to positive appraisals of romantic relationships. Evidence from a speed-dating context, for instance, showed that perceived, but not actual, similarity on personality characteristics predicted romantic liking after an initial face-to-face romantic encounter (Tidwell, Eastwick, & Finkel, 2013). Additionally, a recent metaanalysis on the impact of actual and perceived similarity on interpersonal attraction showed that, whereas perceived similarity was associated with interpersonal attraction in relationship

partners, actual similarity was not (Montoya, Horton, & Kirchner, 2008). However, in this study, similarity was not limited to personality, and was not only investigated within romantic relationships but also in non-romantic relationships and acquaintanceships. To the best of our knowledge, we are aware of only two studies that investigated perceived similarity in personality and both partners’ relationship satisfaction. One study using dyadic data analysis showed consistent actor and partner effects in a sample of 288 newlywed couples, such that both partners’ perceived similarity in personality was significantly related to both partners’ relationship satisfaction (Luo & Snider, 2009). While these couples were homogeneous with regard to relationship duration and had been married for a relatively short amount of time, another study analyzed data from 191 couples with a wider range in relationship duration using correlation methods and found less consistent results. Women who perceived their partner’s personality as more similar to themselves reported higher levels of relationship satisfaction. However, women’s perceived similarity was unrelated to their male partners’ relationship satisfaction. Men’s perceived similarity, on the other hand, was unrelated to either partner’s relationship satisfaction (Decuyper et al., 2012). Thus, perceiving one’s partner to be similar to oneself may be a relevant factor for couples’ well-being. However, evidence is scarce and inconsistent because very little research has been conducted on the association between perceived similarity in personality and relationship satisfaction in couples. 1.4. Self-other agreement in personality Finally, self-other agreement in personality has also been suggested to contribute to couples’ well-being (Decuyper et al., 2012; Letzring & Noftle, 2010; Luo & Snider, 2009; Neff & Karney, 2005). Coinciding perceptions of the partner’s personality provide people with a sense of predictability of the partner’s behavior and how their partner will respond to them. This perception of predictability fosters a feeling of control and security (Pollmann & Finkenauer, 2009; Swann, Pelham, & Krull, 1989), which is a key aspect in successful social relationships (Swann, SteinSeroussi, & Giesler, 1992). Thus, being able to predict one’s partner and having a sense of his or her personality should contribute to smoother and more fulfilling everyday interactions and may lead to higher relationship satisfaction (Letzring & Noftle, 2010; Neff & Karney, 2005). Indeed, research shows that wives, but not husbands, whose perception of their partner’s personality corresponds with their partner’s self-perceived personality, provide their partner with more supportive behavior, report greater feelings of control in the marriage, and are less likely to get divorced during the first years of marriage (Neff & Karney, 2005). In this sense, self-other agreement — what elsewhere has been referred to as understanding, knowledge, or accuracy (cf. Acitelli et al., 1993; Iafrate et al., 2012; Luo & Snider, 2009; Neff & Karney, 2005; Pollmann & Finkenauer, 2009) — is defined as the extent to which one partner’s perception of the other corresponds with the other’s self-perception (cf. Iafrate et al., 2012; Neff & Karney, 2005). From an empirical point of view, partners are able to rate each other’s personality pretty correspondingly, that is, an individual’s perception of the partner’s personality shows substantial agreement with the partner’s self-perceived personality (Neff & Karney, 2005). Correlations between self- and partner-ratings of personality traits typically range between .4 and .6 (e.g., Barelds & Dijkstra, 2011; Watson et al., 2000). However, evidence on the association between self-other agreement in personality and relationship satisfaction is scarce and the few studies that have examined this association yield mixed findings. Although one study using dyadic data analysis found substantial actor and partner effects of

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self-other agreement in personality on both partners’ relationship satisfaction in a sample of newlywed couples (Luo & Snider, 2009), agreement in self- and partner-perceived personality was generally unrelated to couples’ well-being in another study of newlyweds (Pollmann & Finkenauer, 2009). Partial support for a positive association between self-other agreement in personality and relationship satisfaction was reported in another recent study using correlation analysis, such that women’s agreement with their partner’s self-rated personality was associated with their own as well as with their partner’s relationship satisfaction, but men’s agreement with their partner’s self-rated personality was only related with women’s relationship satisfaction (Decuyper et al., 2012). Thus, even though agreement in self- and partner-perceived personality has theoretically been linked to couples’ well-being, the current evidence is unclear because surprisingly few studies have examined the association between self-other agreement in personality and relationship satisfaction in couples. 1.5. The present study Due to the lack of previous research regarding personality perceptions and relationship satisfaction in romantic couples, the present study aims to clarify these associations and extends previous research in three important ways. First, with the growing interest in examining not only self- but also partner-perceptions of personality within romantic relationships and the lack of actual evidence on the topic so far, the present study adds to the literature by thoroughly analyzing effects of both self- and partner-ratings of personality traits, as well as effects of perceived similarity and self-other agreement in personality on relationship satisfaction in couples. Most research in the area of personality and romantic relationships to date has relied on self-ratings and only very few studies have attempted to integrate self- and partner-ratings of personality in the prediction of relationships outcomes. Drawing from previous research, we expect positive actor and partner effects for the association between self-rated personality traits and relationship satisfaction for all Big Five traits (Agreeableness, Extraversion, Conscientiousness, Emotional Stability, and Openness). Regarding partner-rated personality traits and considering the importance of partners’ perceptions of one another, we expect positive actor and partner effects for all Big Five traits on relationship satisfaction. Furthermore, even though past research has addressed issues of perceived similarity and self-other agreement in romantic relationships, very few studies have examined how these types of perceptions are associated with couples’ wellbeing. We are only aware of two studies that have investigated perceived similarity and self-other agreement in personality and their association with relationship satisfaction in couples (Decuyper et al., 2012; Luo & Snider, 2009). Hence, the present study sets out to thoroughly examine how perceived similarity and self-other agreement in personality are related to both partners’ relationship satisfaction. Second, we highlight the importance of examining couple data with an appropriate methodological approach for dyadic data analysis. Using analytical methods that rely on the individual level of analysis is not adequate since it does not account for the inherent interdependence of dyadic data (see also Cooper & Sheldon, 2002; Kenny, Kashy, & Cook, 2006). Some previous studies for instance have used correlational procedures that fail to capture the interdependent nature of couple data (e.g., Decuyper et al., 2012). Moreover, we aim to thoroughly assess the effects of perceived similarity and self-other agreement in personality on relationship satisfaction controlling for main effects of both partners’ selfand partner-rated personality. In our view, it is essential to consider these main effects in the analyses to get a thorough prediction of the unique effect of perceived similarity and self-other

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agreement beyond each partner’s self- and partner-perceived personality. If initial levels of both partners’ self- as well as partnerrated personality are not controlled, this leads to an overestimation of the effect of perceived similarity and self-other agreement on relationship satisfaction (see Griffin, Murray, & Gonzalez, 1999). Because previous studies did not control for main effects (e.g., Decuyper et al., 2012; Letzring & Noftle, 2010; Luo & Snider, 2009), the present investigation is unique and extends previous research on personality perceptions by analyzing whether perceived similarity and self-other agreement in personality relates to relationship satisfaction over and above self- and partner-ratings of personality. Third, whereas many studies have been conducted among students (Letzring & Noftle, 2010; Tidwell et al., 2013), newlyweds (Acitelli et al., 1993; Luo & Snider, 2009; Pollmann & Finkenauer, 2009), young or dating couples (Neff & Karney, 2005), and have often used relatively small sample sizes (e.g., Letzring & Noftle, 2010; Neff & Karney, 2005; Tidwell et al., 2013), the present study investigates personality perceptions and relationship satisfaction in an age-heterogeneous sample of 237 heterosexual couples with a large range in relationship duration. By focusing on a lifespan perspective in the study of romantic relationships, we are able to gain more generalizable results on the association between personality perceptions and relationship satisfaction of couples in different relationship stages. In sum, we add to the literature by examining how different aspects of personality perceptions — that is, self- and partner-ratings of personality — as well as perceived similarity and self-other agreement in personality are associated with relationship satisfaction in couples. Furthermore, our analytical procedure clearly extends previous research by carefully examining these effects of personality perceptions in an age-heterogeneous sample of romantic couples using appropriate procedures for dyadic data analysis and thoroughly controlling for main effects of both partners’ selfand partner-rated personality. 2. Method 2.1. Participants The sample of the present study included 237 heterosexual couples (Nind = 474) for which data of both couple members were available. Women were on average 48.42 years old (SD = 19.64), men 50.70 years (SD = 20.01). On average, couples had been together for 23.52 years (SD = 17.63) and the majority was married (70%). Data were drawn from the Co-Development in Personality Study, a three-generational family study designed to examine personality development in close social relationships. In total, questionnaire data on 1050 participants from urban, suburban, or rural regions of German-speaking Switzerland were collected, of which 711 (68%) reported being in a romantic relationship at the time. 2.2. Measures Relationship satisfaction was assessed with a German version of the Relationship Assessment Scale (RAS; Hendrick, 1988; Sander & Böcker, 1993). Both partners rated how satisfied they felt with their relationship on a seven-item scale from 1 (low satisfaction) to 5 (high satisfaction). Cronbach’s alpha for the scale was .91. Self- and partner-ratings of the Big Five personality traits were assessed using a German 21-item version of the Big Five Inventory (BFI; John & Srivastava, 1999; Rammstedt & John, 2005). Participants first reported the extent to which each item described themselves on a 5-point scale ranging from 1 (completely disagree) to 5 (completely agree). Next, they were asked to rate their partner’s

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Self-Rating Model

Partner-Rating Model

Self-Rating Women

Relationship Satisfaction Women

Partner-Rating Women

Relationship Satisfaction Women

Self-Rating Men

Relationship Satisfaction Men

Partner-Rating Men

Relationship Satisfaction Men

Fig. 1. Model specification for the self- and partner-rating models. Self- and partner-rated personality, respectively, were modeled as predictors of each partner’s relationship satisfaction separately for each Big Five trait.

personality traits on the same scale. Cronbach’s alpha for self-ratings of Extraversion, Agreeableness, Conscientiousness, Emotional Stability, and Openness were .82, .59, .64, .75, and .66, respectively. Cronbach’s alpha for partner-ratings of Extraversion, Agreeableness, Conscientiousness, Emotional Stability, and Openness were .79, .68, .77, .80, and .74, respectively. 2.3. Rationale of analysis We estimated different sets of Actor–Partner Interdependence Models (APIM; Kenny et al., 2006) using structural equation modeling. APIMs treat the couple as the unit of analysis and account for the interdependency between the two partners’ scores, because it allows modeling each partner’s effects on his/her own outcome (actor effect), as well as on the partner’s outcome (partner effect). Two sets of analyses were conducted to examine the effect of the different personality perception variables on both partners’ relationship satisfaction. The first set of analyses focused on self- and partner-ratings of personality. These models were run separately for the Big Five traits. Both partners’ relationship satisfaction was first predicted by each partner’s self-rated personality on a given trait (self-rating models). Second, both partners’ relationship satisfaction was predicted by each partner’s partner-rating of personality on a given trait (partner-rating models). Hence, this first set of analyses consisted of five models estimating actor and partner effects of selfrated personality (one for each Big Five trait), and another five models estimating actor and partner effects of partner-rated personality on both partners’ relationship satisfaction (see Fig. 1 for an illustration of the self- and partner-rating models). The second set of analyses focused on perceived similarity and self-other agreement in personality. Both partners’ relationship satisfaction was first predicted by each partner’s index of perceived similarity across the Big Five traits (perceived similarity models). Next, both partners’ relationship satisfaction was predicted by each partner’s index of self-other agreement across the Big Five traits (self-other agreement models). Perceived similarity and self-other agreement in personality were computed using the coefficient of profile agreement, rpa (McCrae, 1993, 2008).1 There exist a number of other ways to operationalize agreement between two partners’ scores, for instance by taking the absolute value of the difference between the corresponding scores or by using correlational approaches, such as Pearson r or the Intraclass Correlation Coefficient (see e.g., Dyrenforth et al., 2010; Furler et al., 2013; Humbad, Donnellan, Iacono, McGue, & Burt, 2013). However, we believe rpa is more appropriate, as it is sensitive to both the distance between the corresponding scores (i.e., between two corresponding items of a trait) and the extremeness of their means (i.e., the average across all items of a trait; McCrae, 1993, 2008; see also Chan et al., 2012). Agreement on extreme values is given more credit by rpa because agreement on very high or very low scores is more notable than 1

For the calculation of the index see McCrae (2008).

agreement on average scores (McCrae, 1993, 2008). Hence, this index is comparable to a Pearson correlation but is often a more conservative and realistic estimate of agreement. Values can range from 1 (no agreement) to +1 (complete agreement).2 For every individual in our sample we computed an rpa index for perceived similarity and another rpa index for self-other agreement across the Big Five traits. Perceived similarity in personality was calculated between standardized scores of one’s self-rating and one’s rating of the partner on all five traits. Thus the index of perceived similarity captures the extent to which one’s self-perceived personality is similar to one’s perception of the partner’s personality. Correspondingly, self-other agreement in personality was calculated between standardized scores of the partner’s self-rating and one’s rating of the partner on all five traits. The index of selfother agreement therefore captures the extent to which one’s perception of the partner’s personality corresponds with the partner’s self-perceived personality. To gain insight in the unique effect of perceived similarity and self-other agreement beyond each partner’s individual contribution, we included effects of self- and partner-ratings of all five traits in the models. Not controlling for initial levels of both partners’ self- as well as partner-rated personality leads to an overestimation of the effect of perceived similarity and self-other agreement on relationship satisfaction (see Griffin et al., 1999). Hence, this second set of analyses consisted of two models estimating actor and partner effects of perceived similarity in personality and actor and partner effects of self-other agreement in personality on both partners’ relationship satisfaction, controlling for both partners’ self- and partner-ratings of all five traits (see Fig. 2 for an illustration of the perceived similarity and self-other agreement models).

3. Results 3.1. Descriptive analyses Men’s relationship satisfaction (M = 4.29, SD = .60) was slightly higher than the women’s (M = 4.21, SD = .66; t (232) = 2.15, p = .03). However, within couples, partners’ relationship satisfaction was significantly correlated, r (231) = .67, p < .01. Means and standard deviations of self- and partner-ratings of the Big Five traits for men and women are shown in Table 1. On average, women rated themselves as more extraverted, conscientious, open to experience, and less emotionally stable compared to their partners’ self-ratings. Looking at the columns of either women’s or men’s self- and partner-rated personality reveals that self-other agreement in the Big Five traits was relatively high, as self- and partner-ratings for one person hardly differed from one another. More specifically, self- and partner-ratings only differed for 2 We also calculated results for the Intraclass Correlation Coefficient. However, results were generally consistent across the different indices and thus, we only report the results for McCrae’s rpa.

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Perceived Similarity Model

Self-Other Agreement Model

Perceived Similarity Women

Relationship Satisfaction Women

Self-Other Agreement Women

Relationship Satisfaction Women

Perceived Similarity Men

Relationship Satisfaction Men

Self-Other Agreement Men

Relationship Satisfaction Men

Self-Rating Woman

Partner-Rating

Self-Rating Men

Woman

Self-Rating Woman

Partner-Rating Woman

Partner-Rating Men

Self-Rating Men

Partner-Rating Men

Fig. 2. Model specification for the perceived similarity and self-other agreement models. Perceived similarity and self-other agreement indices, respectively, were modeled as predictors of each partner’s relationship satisfaction, controlling for main effects (i.e., Big Five mean levels) of self- and partner-rated personality on all Big Five traits. Perceived similarity is represented by the rpa coefficient between a person’s self-rating and his or her rating of the partner across all Big Five traits. Self-other agreement is represented by the rpa coefficient between a person’s rating of his or her partner and the partner’s self-rating across all Big Five traits. Covariances between all predictor variables were included but are not displayed for reasons of clarity.

Table 1 Means and standard deviations of self- and partner-ratings of the Big Five traits for women and men. Trait

Extraversion Agreeableness Conscientiousness Emotional Stability Openness

Women

Men

Self-rated

Partner-rated

Self-rated

Partner-rated

3.78 3.43 4.13 3.02 4.04

3.79 3.49 4.26 3.01 3.98

3.43 3.32 3.98 3.54 3.89

3.45 3.49 4.02 3.47 3.69

(.83)a (.73)ab (.59)a (.84)a (.57)a

(.81)a (.78)a (.60)b (.82)a (.65)ab

(.81)b (.70)b (.61)c (.74)b (.65)b

(.91)b (.83)a (.82)ac (.88)b (.79)c

Note. N = 237. Standard deviations are noted in brackets. Means with different subscripts between columns differ significantly (p < .05).

Table 2 Descriptive statistics of the rpa indices for perceived similarity and self-other agreement in personality for women and men. Index

Mean

SD

Perceived similarity women Perceived similarity men Self-other agreement women Self-other agreement men

.12 .17 .42 .41

.45 .45 .32 .34

Min .95 .95 .70 .83

Max .92 .92 .91 .95

Note. N = 237. Perceived similarity refers to correlations between a person’s selfrating and his or her rating of the partner across all Big Five traits. Self-other agreement refers to correlations between a person’s rating of his or her partner and the partner’s self-rating across all Big Five traits.

Agreeableness and Openness in men, and for Conscientiousness in women. Men rated themselves as less agreeable and more open to experience than their female partners rated them. Women on the other hand rated themselves as less conscientious than their male partners perceived them. In addition, simple correlations between men and women’s self-ratings and their own partner-ratings of the Big Five traits ranged between .00 and .26, indicating relatively low perceived similarity. In contrast, correlations between men and women’s self-ratings and the ratings of their partners varied between .32 and .62, indicating relatively high self-other agreement.3 Descriptive statistics of the rpa indices for perceived similarity and self-other agreement for women and men are presented in Table 2. Overall, values varied between .95 and .95, showing both very low as well as very high levels and thus displaying a wide range of perceived similarity and self-other agreement across the

3

Correlations for all study variables can be found in the supplementary table.

sample. However, on average individuals perceived their partner’s personality as more similar than dissimilar and largely agreed in their perception of one another (see positive values of the rpa indices). On average, the perceived similarity indices were significantly lower than the self-other agreement indices (women: t (229) = 9.00, p < .01; men: t (231) = 6.67, p < .01). Indices of perceived similarity and self-other agreement did not differ between women and men (perceived similarity: t (226) = 1.57, p = .12; self-other agreement: t (226) = .91, p = .37). 3.2. Self- and partner-perceived personality and relationship satisfaction In the first set of analyses we estimated actor and partner effects of self- and partner-rated personality on relationship satisfaction separately for each of the Big Five traits. All basic models (see Fig. 1) represent saturated models with zero degrees of freedom. To test for gender-equivalence, the corresponding actor and partner estimates were constrained to be invariant across men and women and the constrained model was then compared to the saturated model. In each model, setting the actor and partner effects to be invariant did not significantly decrease model fit in either model (model comparisons ranged between Dv2 (Ddf = 2) = .05, p = .98 and Dv2 (Ddf = 2) = 5.47, p = .07). Thus, we used the constrained models for the following analyses. Table 3 presents results of both partners’ self- and partner-rated personality on both partners’ relationship satisfaction with invariant actor and partner effects across men and women. In the self-rating models, positive actor effects were found for Agreeableness, Conscientiousness, and Emotional Stability. Thus in line with previous research, a person’s self-perceived personality in these traits was significantly related to his or her relationship satisfaction. However, effect sizes were small ranging from .00 to .18 (Cohen, 1988). No actor effects were found for Extraversion and Openness and also the partner effects did not reach significance, which means that the partner’s self-rated personality was not related to the other partner’s relationship satisfaction. Explained variance for the five self-rating models was low and ranged between .01 and .03 (Table 3). In the partner-rating models, substantial actor and partner effects emerged for the associations between partner-perceived personality and relationship satisfaction. In general, for each Big Five trait, partner-rated personality was related to both partners’ relationship satisfaction. Individuals perceiving their partner as highly extraverted, agreeable, conscientious, emotionally stable,

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Table 3 Standardized estimates of self- and partner-ratings of the Big Five traits predicting relationship satisfaction of both partners. Trait

Self-rating models Actor effect

Extraversion Agreeableness Conscientiousness Emotional Stability Openness

Partner-rating models Partner effect

.06 .09 .18 .11 .02

.07 .09 .00 .08 .08

2

R

Actor effect

Partner effect

R2

.01 .02 .03 .02 .01

.31 .36 .33 .32 .27

.20 .20 .28 .16 .17

.13 .17 .19 .12 .12

Note. N = 237. Models were estimated separately for each trait. Corresponding paths for women and men were set equal. Explained variance (R2) refers to models with two predictors (self rating models: men and women’s self-rating on a given trait; partner-rating models: men and women’s partner-rating on a given trait). Estimates in bold are significant at the p < .05 level.

and open to experience reported higher levels of relationship satisfaction. Effect sizes for these actor effects were moderate and ranged from .27 to .36 (Cohen, 1988). Moreover, individuals were more satisfied with their relationship when their partner perceived them as more extraverted, agreeable, conscientious, emotionally stable, and open to experience. Partner effects were somewhat smaller compared to the actor effects, but they represent small to moderate effects ranging between .16 and .28. The partner-rating models explained between 12% and 19% of variance in relationship satisfaction of men and women (Table 3). 3.3. Perceived similarity and self-other agreement and relationship satisfaction In the second set of analyses we estimated actor and partner effects of perceived similarity and self-other agreement in personality on both partners’ relationship satisfaction, controlling for the effects of both partners’ self- and partner-rated personality on all five traits. As in the first set of analyses, all basic models (see Fig. 2) were saturated models with zero degrees of freedom. To test for gender-invariant actor and partner effects of perceived similarity and self-other agreement in personality on relationship satisfaction, the corresponding paths were constrained to be invariant across men and women. Again, this constraint did not significantly decrease model fit in either model (model comparisons ranged between Dv2 (Ddf = 2) = .92, p = .63 and Dv2 (Ddf = 2) = 5.14, p = .08). Thus, we used the constrained models for the following analyses. Table 4 presents results of perceived similarity and self-other agreement in personality on relationship satisfaction with invariant actor and partner effects across men and women, both with and without controlling for Big Five mean levels of both partners’ self- and partner-rated personality. Results show that actor and partner effects of perceived similarity and self-other agreement were stronger and significant if Big Five mean levels of self- and partner-rated personality were not included in the models and three of the four estimates became nonsignificant after controlling for both partners’ self- and partner-ratings of personality. The positive actor effect of perceived similarity on relationship satisfaction remained significant even after con-

trolling for Big Five mean levels. This result suggests that individuals perceiving their partner’s personality as similar to their own personality reported higher levels of relationship satisfaction. Although this actor effect was small, it is impressive considering that the effect appeared over and above both partners’ self- and partner-rated personality and thus represents the unique contribution of perceived similarity on relationship satisfaction. The models where Big Five mean levels were not controlled explained 7% (perceived similarity model) and 2% (self-other agreement model) of variance in relationship satisfaction. Explained variance increased by 38% (perceived similarity model) and 43% (self-other agreement model) in the models where Big Five mean levels were controlled compared to the models where Big Five mean levels were not controlled (Table 4). 3.4. Relationship length Finally, we tested whether couples’ relationship length moderated the effects of personality perceptions on relationship satisfaction. We therefore added an interaction term (relationship length x perception variable) to the self- and partner-rating models as well as to the perceived similarity and self-other agreement models and reran all analyses. In the self- and partner-rating models, small interaction effects were found for Agreeableness and Conscientiousness. Standardized estimates for the interaction effect between relationship length and a person’s self- as well as partner-rated Agreeableness on both partners’ relationship satisfaction reached significance (self-rating model: bactor = .12; bpartner = .10; partner-rating model: bactor = .10; bpartner = .12, all p’s < .05). This indicates that the association between a person’s self- and partner-rated Agreeableness and their own as well as their partner’s relationship satisfaction was stronger for couples in longer relationships. The same result was found for the interaction effect between relationship length and men’s self-rated Conscientiousness on both partner’s relationship satisfaction (bactor = .21; bpartner = .15; all p’s < .05). This again suggests that the association between men’s self-rated Conscientiousness and their own as well as their partner’s relationship satisfaction was stronger for men in longer relationships. However, in the perceived similarity and

Table 4 Standardized estimates of perceived similarity and self-other agreement in personality predicting relationship satisfaction of both partners. Model

Big Five mean levels not controlled Big Five mean levels controlled

Perceived similarity

Self-other agreement

Actor effect

Partner effect

DR2

Actor effect

Partner effect

DR 2

.20 .10

.13 .05

.07 .38

.10 .05

.11 .06

.02 .43

Note. N = 237. DR2 = change in explained variance. Big Five mean levels refer to both partners’ self- and partner-ratings on all five traits. The model where Big Five mean levels were not controlled included two predictors (men and women’s index of perceived similarity and self-other agreement respectively). The model where Big Five mean levels were controlled included 22 predictors (men and women’s index of perceived similarity and self-other agreement respectively, as well as both partners’ self- and partner-ratings on all five traits). Corresponding paths of perceived similarity and self-other agreement on relationship satisfaction for women and men were set equal. Estimates in bold are significant at the p < .05 level.

K. Furler et al. / Journal of Research in Personality 50 (2014) 33–41

self-other agreement models, standardized estimates for the interaction effects were all non-significant and ranged from .00 to .06 (all p’s > .30). Thus, effects of perceived similarity and self-other agreement on relationship satisfaction were not a function of relationship length.

4. Discussion The goal of the present study was to examine associations between different types of personality perceptions and relationship satisfaction in a large age-heterogeneous sample of romantic couples. Most previous research in this area has focused on perceptions within romantic relationships disregarding potentially relevant associations with relationship outcomes. Therefore, we first analyzed self- and partner-perceived personality traits as predictors of both partners’ relationship satisfaction. Second, over and above these effects of self- and partner-rated personality, we analyzed perceived similarity and self-other agreement as predictors of both partners’ relationship satisfaction. First of all, in a descriptive analysis of self- and partner-perceived personality, gender differences appeared for self-rated personality traits, such that women rated themselves as more extraverted, conscientious, open to experience, and less emotionally stable than men rated themselves. Despite these differences, however, and in line with previous research, both partners largely agreed in their perception of one another; that is, self- and partnerrated personality barely differed from one another. Concurrently, partners did not perceive each other’s personality as very similar. Thus, individuals were able to hold a quite adequate perception of their partner’s personality without overestimating similarities between them. In line with previous research, one’s self-perceived personality was associated with one’s own relationship satisfaction. However, explained variance was small. Furthermore, one’s self-perceived personality was not associated with the partner’s relationship satisfaction. Similar to previous research, partner effects sometimes fail to replicate due to relatively small effects, which in turn require large sample sizes in order to be detected (e.g., Claxton et al., 2012; Decuyper et al., 2012). Thus, the way individuals perceive their own personality is only marginally important for relationship satisfaction. In contrast, partner-perceived personality showed substantial associations across all Big Five traits with both partners’ relationship satisfaction. Compared to self-perceived personality, actor and partner effects of partner-perceptions were more prominent and consistent. This is line with another recent study that reported similar results for effects of partner-reports on relationship satisfaction in a sample of 186 couples living in Switzerland (Orth, 2013). Thus, perceiving one’s partner and being perceived by one’s partner as highly extraverted, agreeable, conscientious, emotionally stable, and open to experience is beneficial for couples’ wellbeing. This finding seems intuitively clear but it is remarkable given the myriad of other potentially important factors for relationship satisfaction. Our findings suggest that within a romantic relationship, the way we see our partner and how our partner sees us is highly important for our relationship satisfaction. We thus highlight the importance of assessing partner-perceptions of personality as predictors of relationship outcomes. Beyond the effects of self- and partner-perceived personality, a person’s perceived similarity made a unique contribution to his or her own relationship satisfaction. The effect size was relatively small, but since the effect appeared after controlling for self- and partner-perceived personality, it is nevertheless remarkable and represents a fairly accurate estimate of the effect of perceived similarity on relationship satisfaction. When we additionally

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examined perceived similarity and self-other agreement as predictors of relationship satisfaction without controlling for self- and partner-rated personality, effects were stronger and significant. Thus, similar to other studies that did not control for main effects (i.e., Big Five mean levels) of personality (e.g., Decuyper et al., 2012; Letzring & Noftle, 2010; Luo & Snider, 2009), ignoring initial levels of both partners’ self- and partner-rated personality in the models led to an overestimation of the effect of perceived similarity and self-other agreement on relationship satisfaction. Nevertheless, findings suggest that perceiving our partner’s personality as similar to our own personality is to some degree beneficial for our well-being. Perceptions of similarity, regardless of whether partners are actually similar, may indeed foster feelings of emotional connectedness and felt understanding between partners which may contribute to smoother interactions between partners which in turn may lead to greater feelings of satisfaction with the relationship (see Letzring & Noftle, 2010; Murray et al., 2002; Neff & Karney, 2005; Swann et al., 1989). Among the strengths of our study was the large sample of romantic couples across the lifespan compared to previous studies that have often used college samples (Letzring & Noftle, 2010; Tidwell et al., 2013), samples of newlyweds (Acitelli et al., 1993; Luo & Snider, 2009; Pollmann & Finkenauer, 2009) or dating couples (Neff & Karney, 2005). Because our sample comprised a large range in relationship duration, we tested whether relationship length moderated the effects of personality perceptions on relationship satisfaction. Small interaction effects emerged for both partners’ self- and partner-rated Agreeableness as well as for men’s self-rated Conscientiousness. This suggests that perceiving oneself as agreeable and being perceived as agreeable by one’s partner becomes more important for couples in long-term relationships. Similarly, effects of self-perceived Conscientiousness were strongest for men in longer relationships. Although effect sizes were small, the results speak for the significance of Agreeableness within lasting romantic relationships. An explanation might be that over the course of a relationship — while challenges, conflicting interests, and difficult interactions between partners inevitably increase (see Rusbult, Van Lange, Wildschut, Yovetich, & Verette, 2000) — agreeable qualities, such as good communication skills as well as supportive, trustful and loving behavior toward one’s partner, become more important for maintaining a satisfying long-term relationship. Regarding perceived similarity and selfother agreement, however, given that our results were not affected by relationship duration, effects on relationship satisfaction can be generalized to couples of all relationship stages. A second strength of the present study is the advanced methodology. To take account of the dyadic nature of our data, we estimated different sets of Actor–Partner Interdependence Models. Several previous studies have used simple correlational methods that fail to capture interdependencies between couple members (e.g., Decuyper et al., 2012). We therefore highlight the importance of a careful analysis using an appropriate methodological approach for examining dyadic data. The present study also has limitations. First, we used self-ratings of personality as a benchmark to assess perceived similarity in couples. Perhaps a more objective measure, such as observerratings, might be a better value of reference to operationalize how similar two partners are perceived. Moreover, we used a constructed index as a measure of perceived similarity. It is possible that asking participants directly how similar they perceive themselves to their partners may lead to different results. Second, our study is cross-sectional in nature. Therefore, the causality of the associations between personality perceptions and relationship satisfaction is unknown. It is equally likely, for instance, that being satisfied with the relationship leads partners to perceive each other’s personality more positively and more similar to one

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another. There is some indication for this question in a recent study on personality development in young adult newlyweds, where changes in relationship satisfaction were associated with changes in partner-rated personality over a two-year-interval. However, changes in relationship satisfaction were unrelated to changes in self-perceived personality (Watson and Humrichouse, 2006). Further research with longitudinal data is needed to comprehend the causality of the associations between personality perceptions and relationship satisfaction in romantic couples more clearly. In conclusion, results suggest that within romantic relationships, the way we see our partner and how our partner sees us is more important for relationship satisfaction than how we see ourselves. Moreover, perceiving our partner’s personality to be similar to our own personality makes a unique contribution to relationship satisfaction. Further research needs to be directed towards integrating self- and partner-perceptions to thoroughly understand the role of personality within romantic relationships.

Acknowledgments This publication is based on data from the Co-Development in Personality Study, funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF CRSI11_130432/1 and CRSII1_147614/1). We thank Laura Wiles for proofreading and Ruth Yasemin Erol for valuable comments on this manuscript.

Appendix A. Supplementary material Supplementary data associated with this article can be found, in the online version, at http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jrp.2014.02.003.

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