Dr. Suzanne B. Phillips

Licensed Psychologist, Psychoanalyst, Diplomate in Group Psychology, Certified Group Therapist, Author, Radio Host and Media Consultant Covering a Wide Range of Psychological Topics

Post: Similarities, Differences and Marital Happiness: More Complicated Over Time

The question of whether similar or dissimilar personality traits are a source of romantic attraction and marital satisfaction has been debated for years. There are those who propose that partners may be more satisfied with those who differ with them on certain personality traits because these partners complement them or offer what they don’t have: she is a thinker; he is a doer. Tim Lahaye in his book Opposites Attract maintains that people with similar temperaments never marry because like temperaments repel — they don’t attract.

Disagreeing with this, Scott Lililenfeld and his co-authors describe the idea that opposites attract as one of the 50 Great Myths of Popular Psychology. These authors contend that most studies demonstrate that people with similar personality traits are more likely to be attracted to each other.

Similarity-Attraction Hypothesis  Across Characteristics

It is interesting that this Similarity-Attraction hypothesis seems to hold up across characteristics as physical attractiveness, attachment style, political and religious attitudes, socio-economic background and level of education. It even holds up in terms of the attraction of thrill-seeking or sensation seeking people to each other.

Would you get married on a roller coaster?

One thrill seeking couple had their first date at Carowinds Amusement park in North Carolina where they rode the 325 ft. roller coaster 12 times. They agreed when making wedding plans that the Fury 325, the world’s tallest and fastest giga coaster was the perfect place to say,“ I do”–which they did!

Similarity-Attraction Hypothesis Over Time

 While the Similarity-Attraction Hypothesis holds up across characteristics, it doesn’t seem to hold up over time.

A 2007 study reported in the Psychology and Aging by Shiota and Levenson entitled “Birds of a Feather Don’t Always Fly Farthest,” sheds some light on this.

This study examined the relationship of similarity in The “Big Five Personality Factors” for couples across the years. The Big Five Personality Traits include:

  • Openness to Experience vs. Close-minded
  • Conscientious vs. Disorganized
  • Extroverted vs. Introverted
  • Agreeable vs. Disagreeable
  • Nervous vs. Calm and Relaxed

The surprising finding is that whereas similarity of personality traits resulted in more marital satisfaction in the early years, couples with similar traits reported less satisfaction in the middle and later years.


The authors suggest that when couples are in their 20s, 40s, and 60s, relationship goals, life changes and external demands actually call forth a different balance of needs and a different valuing of similar and opposite personality traits.

The Early Years

Couples in the early years have goals of connection, intimacy, and mutual dreams that are fueled by similar traits, the feeling of “getting each other,” and of enjoying a similarity of perspective and temperament. Both may love roller coasters and socializing or both may prefer quiet nights and a table for two.


Couples in mid-life with similar traits may report less satisfaction because there is a call for life demands that did not formerly exist.

  • In midlife, partners usually enter a world of children, finances, jobs, time constraints, elderly parents, etc.
  • Given the demands, partners who are different often have a natural advantage for multi-tasking that partners with similar traits don’t have. One may be more extroverted and enjoy standing on the soccer field, while the other prefers food shopping or being home handling the chores.
  • On the other hand, if both partners have similar personalities and preferences, family chores and personal career goals can become a challenge. If both prefer music to mulling over finances, anxiety about money and bill paying can become cause for stress and blame.


Long-term married couples with similar traits also report less marital satisfaction than those with opposing traits.

Sometimes when the world of careers and family demands starts to ebb, partners expect the other to be in the same place with respect to readiness for retirement or decisions to sell a home or plans for travel. For the first time they may be in different places.

Sometimes without the world of demands and people, they are bored and disappointed and expect too much of their partner.

Similar and Different Throughout the Years

These findings don’t suggest the need for a new and different partner as your move through the years. They suggest the need for a different way of looking at yourself, your partner and your relationship.

As you face life’s challenges and demands, instead of counting similarities and differences, it maybe more important to ask:  “ Are we both feeling loved for who we are? Are we both caring for the other in times of need? Are we both sharing the load? Are we both getting to do the things we love? Are we both able to change and grow—without growing apart?

Hang On With Love –There Is Always Another Roller Coaster Ride!

Interested in seeing how you and your partner match up on the “Big Five Personality Traits?” Take this test and compare. Take the Sensation Seeking Quiz

Listen to more about Sensation Seeking with Dr. Ken Carter