Our research lies at the nexus between personality psychology and romantic relationships research. More specifically, my co-authors and I apply three research perspectives to understanding personality and romantic relationships from distinct, albeit complementary angles: A narrative identity perspective, a life-span, and a process-based perspective.
The first view holds a narrative identity perspective on personality and romantic relationships. In terms of personality, it is said that the psychological self comprises (a) the social actor (expressed as dispositional traits), (b) the motivated agent (expressed as characteristic adaptations), and (c) the autobiographical author (expressed as life narratives); this view has been summarized in an integrative framework for studying people. Previous research has revealed meaningful associations between features of the actor, agent, and authors, that is, associations between personality traits, goals/values, and narrative themes. Yet, knowledge is sparse on whether personality traits, life goals, and narrative themes empirically relate to each other in a way that allows for subsuming these associations as master motives (i.e., getting along and getting ahead), an endeavor that is addressed in our research.
In addition, while there has been growing research interest in applying the narrative identity approach within personality psychology, implementing this approach within the close relationships field is still in its infancy. It was one aim of our research to adapt the narrative identity perspective to the romantic relationship context (Bühler & Dunlop, 2019) and to provide a manual for conducting relationship narrative interviews with both couple members independently (this manual is accessible through the following open-science link: https://osf.io/tf2d5).
Second, taking a life-span perspective on personality and romantic relationships is applicable given that previous research has shown that both develop and change over a person’s lifetime. Our research seeks to further address how age matters for personality and romantic relationships and investigates age-differential effects on strivings within both areas. More specifically, we focused on life goals as a striving-related aspect of personality (Bühler, Weidmann, Nikitin, & Grob, 2019), and examined the Michelangelo phenomenon as a striving-related aspect within romantic relationships (Bühler, Weidmann, Kumashiro, & Grob, 2019).
Finally, romantic relationships are dynamic and interdependent, which is addressed in our research with a process-based perspective. It has been shown that certain personality characteristics (i.e., neuroticism, low self-esteem, insecure attachment) are detrimental to relationship satisfaction, reflecting individual vulnerabilities of both couple members. Yet, it remains an active research endeavor to reveal how these characteristics contribute to relationship (dis-)satisfaction. To that aim, three daily relationship processes (i.e., behavioral, cognitive, and emotional relationship processes) and their daily variability were tested as mediators in the reciprocal personality–relationship link, potentially contributing to explaining why some couple members are less (or more) satisfied than others. This question is analyzed based on data from the longitudinal Swiss National Science foundation project CouPers. More information about this project can be found on the CouPers website.
In sum, our research dovetails with and contributes to a more comprehensive understanding of personality, romantic relationships, and their interplay in light of a narrative identity perspective, a life-span perspective, and a process-based perspective. Each of the presented research perspectives adds a valuable puzzle piece to the understanding of the self in romantic relationships. However, to keep the analogy of a puzzle, a more holistic picture is gained if all pieces are brought together; an endeavor that I aim to implement during my PostDoc.