A new study indicates that individuals who exhibit Dark Triad traits tend to be more content in their romantic relationships when their partner also possesses similar traits. The research has been published in the Journal of Personality.
The Dark Triad refers to a group of three antagonistic personality traits: psychopathy, Machiavellianism, and narcissism. Psychopathy is characterized by impulsivity, antagonism, sensation-seeking, and low empathy. Machiavellianism involves self-interest, manipulation, and exploitation of others. Narcissism is characterized by grandiosity, entitlement, and a lack of empathy.
These traits have been found to have negative effects on various aspects of life. In particular, they have been associated with harmful outcomes in romantic relationships. Psychopathy, for example, is damaging to romantic relationships as it is linked to exploitative and aggressive behaviors, infidelity, and a lack of commitment and intimacy.
Machiavellianism is associated with emotionally detached relationships, reluctance to commit, and controlling behavior. Individuals high in narcissism tend to have little empathy, take advantage of others, and have low relationship commitment.
The researchers wanted to understand the effects of the Dark Triad traits on relationship outcomes from both partners’ perspectives. They considered not only how an individual’s Dark Triad traits influence their own relationship outcomes but also how these traits affect their partner’s outcomes. They aimed to improve the understanding of how these traits impact relationships by considering the experiences of both partners.
“The Dark Triad personality traits are generally associated to negative relationship outcomes, such as lower satisfaction, quality and stability,” said study author Igor Kardum, a tenured psychology professor at the University of Rijeka in Croatia.
“On the other hand, there is now increasing evidence that romantic couples are similar in these traits, and often more similar than in other personality traits, like those from the Big Five model. So, we wanted to see if the couples who are similar in Dark Triad traits, are also more satisfied with their romantic relationships using state-of-the art statistical approach.”
The researchers conducted their study using a convenience sample of 205 heterosexual couples. They recruited participants by distributing research announcements to friends, colleagues, and students.
To be included in the study, the participants had to meet certain criteria, including being over 18 years old and being in a relationship for at least 1 year. The participants’ ages ranged from 18 to 56 years, and their relationship lengths ranged from 1 to 22 years. Most of the participants had a high school education, and a majority of the men and a significant portion of the women were employed. About 30% of the couples had at least one child.
The research assistants administered questionnaires to each member of the couple separately. The participants rated themselves and their partners on various traits using pen and paper. The order of the measures and the subject of assessment (self or partner) were counterbalanced across participants. The participants were informed that the research aimed to study the characteristics of romantic couples.
To assess the Dark Triad traits, the researchers used three different measures” the Self-Report Psychopathy Scale-III, the MACH-IV, and the Narcissistic Personality Inventory. The participants’ relationship satisfaction was measured using The Perceived Relationship Quality Components Questionnaire, which consisted of six items assessing different aspects of the relationship, such as love, passion, commitment, trust, satisfaction, and intimacy.
The results showed that dissimilarity in psychopathy had a detrimental effect on men’s relationship satisfaction. When men perceived their partners as having higher psychopathy levels, their own satisfaction was lower. Women’s psychopathy, whether self-reported or partner-reported, was consistently related to lower satisfaction in men. These findings suggest that living with a partner who has dissimilar levels of psychopathy can lead to communication problems and a lack of support within the relationship.
Regarding Machiavellianism, higher levels of both self-reported and partner-reported Machiavellianism were negatively related to both men’s and women’s relationship satisfaction. Perceiving one’s partner as higher in Machiavellianism was also linked to lower satisfaction for both the perceiver and their partner. These findings suggest that Machiavellian behaviors, such as taking advantage of others and lack of empathy, can decrease satisfaction in both partners.
Regarding narcissism, dissimilarity in narcissism was related to lower satisfaction for both partners. At both extremes of narcissism, satisfaction was increasingly lower. However, the results for narcissism were less consistent across assessment methods and sources. Men’s partner-reported narcissism was unexpectedly related to higher satisfaction for women, but this effect weakened at higher levels of narcissism.
Overall, the study found that dissimilarity in psychopathy and narcissism had negative effects on relationship satisfaction, while higher levels of Machiavellianism were consistently linked to lower satisfaction in both partners.
“Generally speaking, when choosing a partner, avoid candidates that seem high on psychopathy, Machiavellianism, and narcissism. However, if you are yourself ‘on the dark side,’ you might be more content with a similarly dark partner,” Kardum told PsyPost.
The researchers were surprised to find that women’s self-reported and partner-reported Dark Triad traits had a greater impact on both their own and their partners’ relationship satisfaction.
“We detected more negative effects of women’s Dark Triad traits, than of men’s Dark Triad traits, on both women’s and men’s relationship satisfaction,” Kardum said. “This was surprising because these personality characteristics are more pronounced and are usually considered more detrimental in men.”
One limitation of the study is its cross-sectional design, which means causal interpretations cannot be made. Longitudinal designs with multiple measurement points would provide a better understanding of how Dark Triad traits affect relationship satisfaction over time.
“First of all, we measured personality and relationship satisfaction in the same time point, which makes it harder to conclude that the direction of effect is from personality to satisfaction, and not the other way around,” Kardum explained. “Future studies should include longitudinal designs to tackle this issue.”
“Another problem that is quite common in couple research is that we usually get the most satisfied couples, since those with the most problematic relationship are not that eager to participate in studies. This lowers our ability to generalize the findings to other couples. A possible solution is to attempt to include participants that are in couple therapy, or that applied for divorce, etc.”
The study, “The dark triad traits and relationship satisfaction: Dyadic response surface analysis“, was authored by Igor Kardum, Jasna Hudek-Knezevic, Nermina Mehić, and Katarina Banov Trošelj.