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It's Not Just Who You're With, It's Who You Are: Personality and Relationship Experiences Across Multiple Relationships


  • This research was supported by grants from the National Institute of Mental Health (MH-61829, MH-45070, MH-49414, and MH-56344), the Graduate School of the University of Wisconsin, and the U.K. Medical Research Council. The Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Research Unit is supported by the New Zealand Health Research Council. The paper benefited greatly from comments by HonaLee Harrington. We are grateful to the Dunedin Unit investigators and staff, and to the study members and their partners.

Reprint requests should be sent to Richard W. Robins, Department of Psychology, University of California, Davis, CA 95616-8686, or Terrie E. Moffitt, Social, Genetic and Developmental Psychiatry Research Centre, Institute of Psychiatry, 111 Denmark Hill, London SE5 8AF, England.


ABSTRACT The present study examined the influence of stable personality traits on romantic relationships using longitudinal data on a large, representative sample of young adults. Relationship experiences (quality, conflict, and abuse) showed relatively small mean-level changes over time and significant levels of rank-order stability, even across different relationship partners. Antecedent personality traits (assessed at age 18) predicted relationship experiences at age 26 and change in relationship experiences from age 21 to 26. Conversely, relationship experiences also predicted change in personality. Importantly, these findings generally held across relationship partners, suggesting that some people tend to be generally happy (or unhappy) across relationships, and this is due, in part, to stable individual differences in personality. Discussion focuses on the broader implications of the findings, in particular the need for relationship researchers to consider the importance of personality for why relationships thrive or fail and the need for personality researchers to consider the impact of relationship experiences on intraindividual personality development.