New study sheds new light on the interplay of personality, marital satisfaction, and mental health

New study sheds new light on the interplay of personality, marital satisfaction, and mental health

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An new study offers surprising insights into the relationships between personality traits, marital satisfaction, and mental health. Contrary to common expectations, the study found that while personality does predict marital satisfaction, marital satisfaction itself does not directly predict mental health issues. The findings have been published in the Journal of Personality.

The Motivation Behind the Research

Past studies have strongly linked personality traits to mental health disorders, suggesting that aspects of one’s personality could predispose them to psychological challenges. The new study aimed to explore this further, particularly focusing on how the quality of a marital relationship, often influenced by personality, might play a role in the development of mental health issues.

“Relationships that we choose, as compared to relationships like family that we are often born into, are very interesting to me,” explained study author Samantha Dashineau, a doctoral candidate in clinical psychology at Purdue University.

“This is particularly true of romantic partners, whom we often spend much of our adult lives with. This paper is a natural extension of this interest: examining how characteristics people can bring into relationships (like personality) then impact how happy we are in our romantic relationships, which in turn, can impact how likely it is that we experience mental health symptoms.”

How the Study Was Conducted

The study involved 199 newlywed individuals (99 men and 100 women) from a Midwestern college town. These couples, married for 12 months or less, participated in a series of data collection at three different points: at the start, after six months, and then after a year.

They were assessed using two main tools: the Schedule for Nonadaptive and Adaptive Personality-2 (SNAP-2) and the Dyadic Adjustment Scale (DAS). The SNAP-2 questionnaire evaluated the participants’ personalities across three broad dimensions: positive temperament, negative temperament, and disinhibition. DAS, on the other hand, measured the quality of their marital relationship through various aspects like mutual activities and overall happiness.

Additionally, the study utilized the Inventory for Depression and Anxiety Symptoms (IDAS) and the Externalizing Scale (ES-100) to measure symptoms of internalizing and externalizing psychopathology, respectively. These tools helped gauge the presence of mental health issues like depression, anxiety, and substance abuse behaviors.

The Influence of Personality on Marital Satisfaction

A key finding of the study was the significant impact of personality traits on the quality of marital relationships. The researchers found that positive temperament, which includes traits like optimism and sociability, was positively associated with higher marital satisfaction. This suggests that individuals with a more positive outlook and engaging social behavior tend to have happier marriages.

Conversely, negative temperament, characterized by traits such as moodiness and emotional instability, predicted lower marital satisfaction. This indicates that individuals who tend to have a more pessimistic view of life and experience emotional ups and downs might struggle more in their marital relationships.

Interestingly, the study also found that disinhibition, a trait associated with impulsivity and lack of restraint, was linked to greater marital satisfaction. This was somewhat unexpected, as disinhibition is generally considered to have a negative impact on relationships. It suggests that in the context of these newlywed couples, certain aspects of disinhibition might contribute positively to relationship dynamics, possibly by fostering spontaneity and openness.

The Unexpected Lack of Mediation

However, one of the most surprising findings of the study was the lack of a direct link between marital satisfaction and mental health issues. Contrary to what one might expect, the quality of the marital relationship did not significantly predict mental health issues like depression, anxiety, or substance use.

In addition, there was no evidence of a mediating link between marital satisfaction and mental health issues. Mediation, in psychological research, refers to the process where a variable (in this case, marital satisfaction) is expected to serve as a link or a ‘mediator’ between an independent variable (personality traits) and a dependent variable (mental health issues).

“In this study, we looked at the path from personality to relationship satisfaction to symptoms of mental health disorders,” Dashineau told PsyPost. “That is, we were interested in knowing: does personality impact how someone experiences their marital relationship, which in turn then affect symptoms of a mental health disorder, like anxiety of depression? There is scientific evidence to support the idea that relationships impact mental health symptoms, but in this study, we didn’t find support for that hypothesis.”

Personality Traits and Mental Health

“Instead, in exploratory analyses, we found evidence for the importance of certain personality features in predicting certain symptoms of mental health disorders,” Dashineau said. “For example, we found that change in one’s tendency to behave in a positive, prosocial manner predicted the majority of change in their symptoms of mental health disorders over time.”

“In addition, we found that the tendency to be impulsive was associated with less mental health symptoms when participants were compared to one another. This finding was surprising because impulsivity is linked to many mental health symptoms. One explanation for this may be that it might matter less that someone is impulsive generally, but rather, it may be the ways in which that impulsivity fluctuates which determine symptoms of mental health disorders. Of course, this is just one plausible explanation for this finding this finding, which warrants future research.”

“Overall, the average person should take away that personality plays an important role in how we experience the world, including how we may experience symptoms of mental health disorders,” Dashineau told PsyPost.

Sample Characteristics and Future Research Directions

However, the sample comprised newlywed couples who generally reported high levels of marital satisfaction. This uniformity in high satisfaction levels could mean there wasn’t enough variability in marital satisfaction to significantly impact mental health outcomes. Essentially, when most participants are satisfied in their marriages, it becomes difficult to assess how changes in satisfaction levels could influence mental health.

Similarly, the nonclinical nature of the sample, with participants generally exhibiting low levels of psychopathology, could mean that the study wasn’t capturing a wide enough spectrum of mental health issues. This limited range might have contributed to the inability to detect mediation effects.

Future research might explore these dynamics in more diverse samples, including those with higher levels of relationship dissatisfaction or more severe mental health issues. There’s also a potential avenue to examine how the dynamics within a couple, established long before marriage, influence these relationships.

“The fact that we did not find support for the hypothesis that relationship satisfaction impacts mental health was surprising, but I also think it raises interesting questions about for whom satisfaction may be most impactful in terms of mental health and wellbeing,” Dashineau explained. “This sample was a predominantly homogenous group of newlyweds, so I think there are many other groups of people that could be studied in this regard.”

The study, “The association between personality, relationship satisfaction, and psychopathology in a three-wave, longitudinal study“, was authored by Samantha Dashineau, Skye Napolitano, and Susan C. South.

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