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The Top 20 Most Desired Personality Traits in a Future Spouse

What do you want in a husband or wife? Though not exactly Weird Science, in a classic survey researchers asked 200 newlyweds and over 100 undergraduates in heterosexual dating relationships what traits they prefer in a spouse.1 These ratings were obtained by presenting study participants with a series of 40 trait pairs such as “timid-bold,” “emotional-unemotional,” and “stupid-intelligent.” (That's right. Now's your chance to choose a timid, unemotional, stupid spouse). Participants then indicated which of the two adjectives they preferred in a spouse. In addition, researchers also asked participants about their own personality traits.

Here are rank-ordered results for the traits that participants valued the most in a husband or wife:  

Although many suggest that men and women want vastly different things in relationships, it is clear from these lists that men and women’s ideal partners share a lot in common. In fact, 17 of the 20 traits are the same on both lists. The only exceptions are that women listed lenient, flexible, and generous as desirable traits, while men listed even-tempered, creative, and practical. Additionally, women preferred more dominance in their partners, and more agreeableness---though this was only true among the newlywed participants. Finally, both men and women want partners who have similar personalities to themselves, and individuals are generally in relationships with partners who match their preferences.

Overall, there are a couple of ways that you could use this information to benefit your relationships. If you are single and looking for a long-term partner to potentially marry, you now have a better idea of what others may be looking for in a marriage partner. If you are already married, you can use this list to help determine whether you are living up to your partner’s expectations (or if you are living up to his/hers).


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1Botwin, M. D., Buss, D. M., & Shackelford, T. K. (1997). Personality and mate preferences: Five factors in mate selection and marital satisfaction. Journal of Personality, 65(1), 107-136. doi:10.1111/j.1467-6494.1997.tb00531.x

Dr. Gary Lewandowski - Science of Relationships articles | Website
Dr. Lewandowski's research explores the self’s role in romantic relationships focusing on attraction, relationship initiation, love, infidelity, relationship maintenance, and break-up. Recognized as one of the Princeton Review’s Top 300 Professors, he has also authored dozens of publications for both academic and non-academic audiences.

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Reader Comments (1)

Interesting. I'd like to see the results of this poll from married couples who have been married to one person for over 30 years. I'd like to see another from individuals who have been divorced, maybe several times. Then we could compare results and see if anything pops up.

Also, I'd like to know, were the choices presented to the applicants? Could anyone add a an additional quality?

I'm struck by the absence of "courage" and "sense of humor." In the stress and challenge of the world today, I doubt that any relationship could survive without these qualities. But perhaps that's just me. We need more data. :)

Joanna Poppink, MFT
Los Angeles psychotherapist and author of Healing Your Hungry Heart

April 21, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJoanna Poppink
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