19 Personality, Empathy, and Satisfaction in Relationships

Based on Research by Peloquin, K., & Lafontaine, M.F. Psychology Science Minute written by J. Denard Yearwood, Radhika Krishnamurthy, Psy.D. Class

Psychology Science Minute brought to you by the School of Psychology at Florida Institute of Technology, I’m Dr. Sarah Arnett.

From Jennifer Lopez and Marc Anthony to Arnold Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver – you have probably read the headlines of these relationship breakups. Today’s tabloids typically focus on problems of betrayal and heartbreak. Psychology research too has often focused on negative behaviors and emotions to understand and explain conflict and distress in intimate relationships. However, wouldn’t you want to know what makes for a satisfying relationship?

Researchers have begun taking a deeper look into studying positive aspects that promote the development of stable relationships over time. Recent findings suggest that the secret to a more stable and happy relationship may be Empathy. Empathy is the ability to understand and share what the other person is feeling. It is considered by some psychologists to be a stable personality characteristic or dispositional tendency. In fact, researchers Davis and Outhout reported that empathy can play a major role in how we respond to conflict with our partner.

Recently, Péloquin and Lafontaine assessed cognitive and emotional empathic tendencies within the context of intimate heterosexual and same-sex relationships. Results showed the greater the empathy the greater the relationship satisfaction. People in heterosexual relationships and women in same-sex relationships who generally express emotional empathy toward their partner, or who are able to take their partner’s perspective, report being more satisfied with their relationship. So next time you are in an argument try putting your feet in your partner’s shoes to understand their perspective.  Knowing them, what would they be thinking?  How would they be feeling?

That’s your Florida Tech Psychology Science Minute, I’m Dr. Sarah Arnett.


Davis, M.H., & Oathout, H.A. (1987). Maintenance of satisfaction in romantic relationships: Empathy and relational competence. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 53(2), 397-410.

Péloquin, K., & Lafontaine, M.F. (2010). Measuring empathy in couples: Validity and reliability of the Interpersonal Reactivity Index for couples. Journal of Personality Assessment, 92(2), 146-157.

General reference:

Johnson, J. A. (1990). Empathy as a personality disposition. In R. C. MacKay, J. R. Hughes, & E. J. Carver (Eds.), Empathy in the helping relationship. New York: Springer

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