Do daily experiences in romantic relationships shape our personality?


Human beings are story tellers. We create stories both to entertain others and to give our own lives a sense of meaning and coherence across time and context. Research into the life stories we tell about our experiences has shown that this process is important for identity formation and for making sense of our experiences, especially ones that may challenge the identity we have created for ourselves (McLean & Syed, 2015)1. However, the stories we tell about ourselves are not created in isolation. The stories we tell are often co-authored, in the sense that our interpretation of our experiences is influenced by our family, siblings, friends and other cultural and social environmental factors (McLean, 2015)2. Thus, our loved ones, especially our romantic partners play an important role in shaping the stories we tell about ourselves and how we view our daily experiences (Panattoni & Thomsen, 2018)3.

However, a major limitation of existing research into this area is that it is often based on correlational data, which means we cannot explore how people’s life stories change over time. In keeping with the goals of the Pathways to Character Project, we are interested in exploring the personality traits and experiences that make it more likely that people will have satisfying romantic relationships and experience positive character development within their intimate relationships. To study positive character development in romantic relationships, you need to study how personality traits and experiences change over time, and how these processes may interact to promote character development (Jayawickreme & Blackie, 2014)4. With this goal in mind, we are surveying people in romantic relationships over the course of one year through a prospective longitudinal repeated narration study. Six-hundred male and female participants (300 in the UK and 300 in the USA) will be asked to complete up to five online surveys. We are specifically looking at people in relatively new relationships, which are defined as ones that have lasted more than 6 months but less than 2 years at the start of the study. Participants have been recruited through social media, university campuses, local community advertisements, research participation websites, and online market research panels with access granted through Qualtrics Research Services.

Everyone who is initially signed up to the study will complete the first two surveys, and we will then randomly choose a smaller group of participants to follow over the one-year study. The online surveys include standardised personality and relationship satisfaction questionnaires. Participants are also asked to describe some of their daily experiences with their partner, including high and low points in their relationship. This will allow the research team to explore if the way that participants reflect upon and write about their experiences is associated with changes in relationship satisfaction and character development. Planned comparisons between UK and USA participants may also help to elucidate if there are cultural differences in the way that people make sense of their experiences within romantic relationships.

Data collection for wave 1 is underway, whilst wave 5 data collection is scheduled for completion in October 2019. It is hoped that the findings from the research will contribute to the scientific research on personality development and further insight into how our romantic partners influence our life stories and shape our personalities.


1McLean, K. C., & Syed, M. (2015). Personal, master, and alternative narratives: An integrative framework for understanding identity development in context. Human Development58(6), 318-349.

2McLean, K. C. (2015). The co-authored self: Family stories and the construction of personal identity. Oxford University Press, USA.

3Panattoni, K., & Thomsen, D. K. (2018). My partner’s stories: relationships between personal and vicarious life stories within romantic couples. Memory, 1-14.

4Jayawickreme, E., & Blackie, L. E. (2014). Post‐traumatic growth as positive personality change: Evidence, controversies and future directions. European Journal of Personality28(4), 312-331.