When Being Agreeable Matters: The Importance of Agreeableness (and Self-Esteem) for Risk Regulation in Close Relationships
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In the quest for satisfying close relationships, one is left vulnerable to hurt and rejection. For people with lower self-esteem (LSEs), such rejection seems unavoidable. To steel themselves against this inescapable hurt, LSEs pre-emptively self-protect by psychologically distancing themselves from their partners and relationships at the slightest hint that their relationship may be threatened. People with higher self-esteem (HSEs), who do not view rejection as inevitable, instead remain psychologically close and connected to their partners and relationships, even when they feel that their relationship security has been threatened. These different responses to relationship threats have consequences for the health and stability of close relationships, and it is therefore important to understand the situations and dispositions that predict them. In the present research, I examined two traits—self-esteem and agreeableness—that I predicted would be associated with responses to relationship threats. I expected that, following a relationship threat, LSEs who were higher in agreeableness would actually respond to relationship threats in the same way that HSEs do—by connecting with their partners and relationships. I predicted that only less agreeable LSEs would engage in self-protection following a relationship threat. Although the results were more complicated than I had predicted, over four experiments, I found that the effects of self-esteem on risk regulation processes can vary with one’s level of agreeableness. Specifically, being higher in agreeableness can at times allow LSEs to remain connected in the face of threats to their relationships. In fact, agreeableness may be even more important for risk regulation than is self-esteem. Although unexpected, the results of the present studies also suggest that less agreeable HSEs may share some characteristics of narcissism. Notably, I was unable to replicate the typical self-esteem by condition effect found in risk regulation research. Future research should examine the boundary conditions on agreeableness and self-esteem as resources for connection following relationship threats.
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Seton Timoney (2019). When Being Agreeable Matters: The Importance of Agreeableness (and Self-Esteem) for Risk Regulation in Close Relationships. UWSpace. http://hdl.handle.net/10012/15330