According to findings published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences, men with greater disinhibition and meanness — two maladaptive psychopathic traits — have female partners with lower relationship and sexual satisfaction.
The study authors, a research team led by Irena Pilch, used the triarchic model of psychopathy to explore the link between men’s psychopathy and their partners’ satisfaction. The model describes three interconnected dimensions of psychopathy. Meanness refers to callousness, a lack of empathy, and exploitativeness. Disinhibition refers to low impulse control, hostility, and negative emotionality. Finally, boldness refers to emotional resilience, social prowess, and adventurousness. The researchers expected these three constructs to be independently related to partner relationship satisfaction and sexual satisfaction.
Pilch and her colleagues distributed a survey among a final sample of 1,945 Polish women in heterosexual relationships. The women were between the ages of 18 and 67, and 42% were married. The respondents answered questions about their partner’s personality, with items that assessed the psychopathic traits of meanness, boldness, and disinhibition. The women additionally rated their partner’s social status along a 10-point scale and completed measures of their own relationship satisfaction and sexual satisfaction.
According to the results, meanness in a partner (e.g., “He doesn’t see any point in worrying if what he does hurts someone else”) was the strongest negative predictor for both relationship and sexual satisfaction. Disinhibition (e.g., “He has missed work without bothering to call in”) was the next strongest, again negatively predicting both relationship and sexual satisfaction. By contrast, both boldness (e.g., “He can convince people to do what he wants”) and social status were positive predictors of relationship and sexual satisfaction.
According to an evolutionary perspective, social status communicates fitness benefits, motivating women to select partners with higher status. Social status was positively associated with boldness, suggesting that boldness is an aspect of psychopathy that can be considered “adaptive.” “We speculate that some traits attributed to boldness (high self-esteem, auto-promotion, stress tolerance, social dominance, and bravery) are congruent with an evolutionary description of a man capable of getting access to valuable resources,” Pilch and her team say. “These attributes also seem congruent with contemporary mating preferences.”
The traits of meanness and disinhibition, however, appear to be “non-successful” aspects of psychopathy that are harmful to close relationships. Disinhibition, the researchers say, may be tied to lower satisfaction among female partners because the trait coincides with low impulse control, risk-taking behavior, and aggression — attributes that likely add stress to a relationship. Meanness is characterized by aversive qualities that likely make it difficult for a person to secure and cultivate intimate relationships, such as manipulativeness and disregard for a partner’s needs.
Interestingly, the negative associations between men’s psychopathic traits and women’s relationship satisfaction were most evident among women with lower relationship satisfaction, suggesting that men’s psychopathic traits are most detrimental when there are already problems within the relationship. Alternatively, the finding could indicate that women with greater satisfaction were less likely to notice and report their partner’s psychopathic traits.
The study authors note that men’s psychopathic traits were measured through assessments by their female partners, which may have introduced bias. Future studies might benefit from assessing psychopathic traits and relationship satisfaction from both partners’ points of view.
The study, “When your beloved is a psychopath. Psychopathic traits and social status of men and women’s relationship and sexual satisfaction”, was authored by Irena Pilch, Justyna Lipka, and Julia Gnielczyk.