Do most couples have an A-C attachment pattern, and most of the rest have similar patterns, A-A or C-C? If yes, does this help professionals understand communication and decision making challenges when working with couples in conflict?
This study looked at personality profiles of older married couples using a Big Five perspective. The Big Five personality traits are Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism. The study oriented around negative and positive oriented personality structures. It found that 52% of couples had a positive-negative couple, that is, one person had a generally positive personality while the other had a generally negative personality. 40% of couples had matched personality patterns, positive-positive or negative-negative. 8% of couples had an extremely negative husband or wife.
Personality studies may not offer good science, so caution is always warranted. The results are intriguing because they are consistent with CSI’s experience of attachment patterns in couples in the context of family law litigation cases. If we assume that positive personalities are related to attachment A patterns and negative personalities are related to attachment C patterns, the percentages are consistent. (Whether that is a fair assumption or not is an open question.) CSI’s experience is essentially the same, that about half of all couples in family law cases are A-C pairs, about 30-40% are A-A or C-C pairs, and 10-20% involve at least one person with strong AC patterns. CSI’s experience is based on informal attachment assessments, so again, caution about the result is warranted.
Attachment science describes information processing patterns, which involve how people perceive the world, structure which feelings and facts are important, and how they communicate. It is incredibly useful to know if a divorcing couple is viewing the world with opposite patterns of information processing. Of course, for couples using the same basic pattern, it helps to know which secondary pattern they are using because those are typically opposite as well. For example, a C-angry and C-feigned helpless couple will process information and communicate in quite different manners.
The study found that couples with similarly positive personality structures have the best marital quality. CSI assumes that divorce professionals don’t ever see these couples. Good quality attachment science research supports this assumption. See for example Crittenden, Patricia M., Robson, Katrina, Tooby, Alison, Fleming, Charles (2017), Are mothers’ protective attachment strategies related to their children’s strategies?, Clinical Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 22:3, 358-377.
Dyadic profiles of personality among older couples: Associations with marital quality
Shuangshuang Wang, Kyungmin Kim, Jeffrey E. Stokes
First Published April 8, 2020 Research Article
Understanding dyadic personality configurations and their associations with marital quality helps identify couples who are at high risk of marital strain. However, current research on personality similarity among spouses usually confounds couples with similarly positive and similarly negative personalities.
This study aimed to (1) provide a clearer classification of dyadic personality profiles among older couples, (2) examine the associations between these profiles and both partners’ marital quality, and (3) explore gender differences in these associations. Data came from 3,178 older couples drawn from the 2010/2012 waves of the Health and Retirement Study. Latent profile analysis was used to identify dyadic personality profiles based on spouses’ standardized Big Five personality scores. Multilevel models examined associations between dyadic personality profiles and each partner’s marital quality, testing for gender differences as well.
Six dyadic personality profiles were identified, including two opposite profiles (52%; positive wife–negative husband and positive husband–negative wife), two similar profiles (40%; similarly positive and similarly negative), and two extreme profiles (8%; extremely negative husband and extremely negative wife).
Couples in the similarly positive profile reported the best marital quality, whereas couples in the similarly negative profile and the two extreme profiles reported the worst marital quality. The associations between profiles characterized by negative traits and marital quality were more pronounced among wives than husbands. This study advances the understanding of personality similarity and its consequences, suggesting heterogeneous subgroups of dyadic personalities among older couples and providing evidence of gender differences in the implications of personality similarity for relationship quality.