Agreeableness & Happiness: How to Have More of Both in Your Relationship

This month we have been seeing lots of premarital couples. These couples remind me of the excitement of planning a wedding and how much in love engaged couples are.

It is heartwarming to see loving couples preparing for the wedding part of their marriage. The premarital assessment we use includesa personality inventory, and one of the many traits measured is agreeableness. People who score higher on agreeableness tend to be happier in their marriage.

The personality trait of “Agreeableness” includes empathy, trust, altruism, honesty, and cooperation. It may seem unfair that some people naturally are more equipped to be happy. But the good news is that people can work on being more agreeable and thus improve their marriage and happiness.

How? Let’s pretend the following scenario

Partner 1: “This house is a pigsty! You never clean. Things are dirty and disorganized. You are such a slob.”

Partner 2: “ You ask too much. You think I can’t do anything right! I cleaned a lot last time and you are always complaining about everything– you are a nag! or even “ You think this is messy, you have no idea!” or “You never clean either!!”

Partner 1 is frustrated with the house and is verbalizes it in a non-agreeable manner. In turn Partner 2 feels criticized and responds in a non-agreeable manner. Partner 2 gets defensive and attacks back. Notice that neither is being emphatic and they both feel attacked. They are each stuck on their own view and unwilling to see the other’s. They are unable to see that this is a joint problem that requires a joint solution.

A more agreeable scenario would include the following:

Partner 1: It bothers me when the house is unclean (state issue in an honest manner). It is frustrating and I need us to figure out a way to have a cleaner house (cooperation). I know this has been a hard issue for us and it must be hard for you to hear that I am still not happy about our house (empathy).

Partner 2: You are right, it is hard for me to hear that (honesty). I can imagine that you feel out of sorts as cleaning is important to you (empathy and validation). I want to arrive at a solution with you (cooperation) but it hard for me (honesty). Because this is so important for you I am willing to dialogue with you to arrive at a good solution for us (altruism).

So being agreeable is to some extent a bit of a choice. To be agreeable one needs to do keep in mind a few things. Be empathetic and validate your partner’s experience. Your partner shares your goal of wanting a happy marriage so give them the benefit of doubt on issues. This means cooperation is the goal. Finally, know that your agreeableness is likely to engender agreeableness in your partner.

Sabrina Bowen, MS, LCMFT provides couple, family, and individual therapy in our downtown Bethesda office. Call or email today to set up your first appointment or a complimentary telephone consultation with Sabrina.

Phone: MD: 240-752-7650
4905 Del Ray Avenue, Suite 301
Bethesda, MD 20814