Personality, Relationships, and the Psychology of Connection

A flock of colorful Fisher’s love birds are taking a bath and drinking from water surrounded by rocks and straw. The birds have green bodies, golden heads, and scarlet masks and beaks. One of the birds is flapping its wings forward and is suspended in the air whereas the others are perched around the water. The photo accompanies a blog post about the psychology of connection and compatibility, compatible personality characteristics, and how personality influences relationships.

The link between personality and relationships is complex, to say the least. What compatible personality characteristics help us form positive, long-term human connections?

Recently on The Science of Personality, cohosts Ryne Sherman, PhD, and Blake Loepp, discussed personality, relationships, and the psychology of connection.

Most of what we feature on our podcast revolves around work and business, but there’s so much more to life than work. Our personalities heavily influence our personal and romantic relationships.

Let’s explore that further.

Personality and Finding Meaning

When a reporter asked Sigmund Freud to define the meaning of life, the psychologist gave two answers: love and work. Personality affects both in ways that aren’t always apparent. For instance, it can be hard to understand exactly why people fall in or out of love with each other.

At Hogan, we talk about three fundamental motives that drive human behavior: getting along, getting ahead, and finding meaning. Getting along corresponds to forming personal relationships, getting ahead corresponds to gaining social status, and finding meaning corresponds to life purpose. Some find purpose in love, others in work, and others in ideologies such as religion, philosophy, or politics. “How we find that meaning is an essential part of what it means to be human,” Ryne said.

According to Freud, the unconscious part of our minds dictates many of our values and choices about getting along and getting ahead. Compatible personality characteristics and individual preferences play a crucial role in determining our relationships in both love and work.

Compatible Personality Characteristics and Positive Relationships

“There are certain personality characteristics related to positive relationship outcomes,” Ryne explained. “If you have these certain personality characteristics, you’re more likely to have more frequent and more positive relationships.” These are the ones he identified:

  • Extraversion – Extraverted individuals tend to have a high number of relationships and lifestyles focused on creating social connections.
  • Agreeableness – A high level of agreeableness contributes to healthy and positive relationships. In Hogan terms, the Interpersonal Sensitivity scale on the Hogan Personality Inventory (HPI) relates to the tendency to get along, avoid disputes, defuse conflicts, and make compromises.
  • TrustworthinessTrust is seen as the foundation of any relationship; it is highly valued in friendships and romantic connections. People who are perceived as warm and trustful are more likely to be liked by others. Conversely, deviousness can hinder relationship formation and create difficulties in building connections.

Two Common Sayings About Relationships

Is there any basis in personality psychology to the two sayings that opposites attract and that birds of a feather flock together? The answer to one has to do with the concept of complementarity. The answer to the other relates to values.

Opposites Attract

The common interpretation of the proverb that opposites attract is a romantic partnership in which the partners significantly differ. For example, one person is an introvert and one an extravert. “There’s really no evidence for this theory that opposites attract, particularly when we talk about personality traits,” Ryne said.

It’s silly to assume that someone with a low score on the HPI Sociability scale is more likely to be attracted to someone with a high score on Sociability. An opposite attraction in that sense just isn’t how love works.

However, long-term personal relationships do tend to function well if the partners have complementarity. Complementarity in relationships refers to how two individuals complement each other in ways that make them stronger together. It is about finding areas where they enhance each other’s strengths, support each other’s weaknesses, and share each other’s values.

Complementarity is not necessarily about being complete opposites, but rather about relating in a way that combines individual strengths to create unity or harmony. To use another saying to explain complementarity, we might say that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Birds of a Feather Flock Together

The second saying implies that romantic relationships should succeed based on similar personality characteristics. However, just like opposites, there is no empirical evidence to support this. People do tend to seek similarities in values, though. “We tend to have more successful longer romantic relationships with people who share our values,” Ryne said.

We’re not often consciously aware of values alignment, but we use values to assess others and build relationships. These include personal and business relationships, plus relationships with brands and public figures. Ryne noted that among Republican voters in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, those who shared values with then-candidate Donald Trump were more likely to vote for him than Republicans who did not.

At Hogan, we use our Motives, Values, Preferences Inventory (MVPI) to provide insight into relationships in the workplace, particularly between organizations and employees. Ryne referenced how values affect talent attraction, selection, and retention.1 Based on an organization’s published values, candidates who share those values will apply. And based on an organization’s cultural alignment with its values, employees who share those values will remain. In the same way, birds of a feather are likely to flock together in personal relationships by seeking out and remaining with partners who share their values.

Blake provided validation for values alignment from his own career history. He worked at a financial institution for about a year and a half before joining Hogan, where he learned that his MVPI Commerce score was very low. Because he didn’t value a lifestyle that reflected the pursuit of financial interests, Blake didn’t feel satisfied or fulfilled by work in which financial gain was important.

Personality-Based Relationship Advice

When asked to share one thing everyone should know about relationships and personality, Ryne answered, “There’s a lot of ways that our personalities affect the relationships that we have with others. But if you could only pick one trait to base a positive relationship with someone, you would want to have agreeableness. On average, if you want to have positive romantic relationships, it’s really about trying to be more agreeable, trying to get along.”

Listen to this conversation in full on episode 78 of The Science of Personality. Never miss an episode by following us anywhere you get podcasts. Cheers, everybody!


  1. Schneider, B. (1987). The People Make the Place. Personnel Psychology, 40(3), 437-453.