In Brief

Couples are more likely to report a satisfied relationship and are less likely to break up when both partners believe that their partner's personality characteristics match the traits they envision in a ideal mate, according to a study in APA's Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (Vol. 89, No. 2).

To reach this finding, lead researcher Marcel Zentner, PhD, a psychology professor at the University of Geneva in Switzerland, conducted two studies to develop a rating scale, one with 41 male and female undergraduate students and another with 53 female undergraduates. Then, in a nine-month longitudinal study, Zentner recruited 49 heterosexual couples from two major Swiss universities who had been dating for at least nine months.

The participants rated the importance of 90 different characteristics of an ideal partner, such as "Is physically very attractive," "Strives for excellence in everything s/he does" and "Has a very active imagination," and then rated themselves on the same descriptions. Two weeks later, participants rated their actual partners using the same 90 partner descriptions and completed a questionnaire assessing their satisfaction with their relationship.

Nine months later, the participants again completed the tests and questionnaires.

Zentner found that from person to person individuals' ideal partner characteristics varied tremendously.

"These differences may have evolved to ensure that there is a relational niche for a maximum number of people," he says.

He also found that the couples with the greatest relationship satisfaction and the greatest intentions of staying together were the ones with the greatest congruence between their ideal partner's characteristics and their perceptions of their partner.

"People develop a rich profile of their ideal mate fairly early on in development," Zentner says. "And so we seek to find partners who fit that ideal."

In the future, Zentner aims to study how the fit between parents' ideal personality characteristics for their children and their child's personality affects the parent-child relationship and the child's self-esteem.