Last updated on 11th August 2018
May's edition of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology contains three articles on trust that got me thinking a bit. It's been said that the qualities that attract you to a potential partner (or friend) may well end up being the very issues that become most problematic in the relationship. So, for example, one's partner's ability to be spontaneous, emotional, let their hair down & have a great time may later become a real issue over their drinking, extra-marital affairs, and irresponsibility with money. Or from the other end of the personality spectrum, their reliability and conscientiousness may become a real strain because they later seem over-cautious and kill-joys. Anyway here's three additional contributions to this debate:
Righetti & Finkenauer. "If you are able to control yourself, I will trust you: The role of perceived self-control in interpersonal trust." The present research tested the hypothesis that perception of others' self-control is an indicator of their trustworthiness. The authors investigated whether, in interactions between strangers as well as in established relationships, people detect another person's self-control, and whether this perception of self-control, in turn, affects trust. Results of 4 experiments supported these hypotheses. The first 2 experiments revealed that participants detected another person's trait of self-control. Experiments 3 and 4 revealed that participants also detected the temporary depletion of another person's self-control. Confirming the authors' predictions, perceived trait and state self-control, in turn, influenced people's judgment of the other person's trustworthiness. In line with previous research, these findings support the positive value of self-control for relationships and highlight the role of perceived self-control for the development of a fundamental relationship factor: trust.
Pronk et al. "How can you resist? Executive control helps romantically involved individuals to stay faithful." In the present research, we examined why some people have more difficulty than others in staying faithful to their romantic partners. Three studies supported our main prediction that executive control is associated with romantically involved individuals' ability to stay faithful. Study 1 showed that participants with a higher level of executive control reported less difficulty in staying faithful to their partners than did those with lower levels of executive control. In Study 2, romantically involved male participants were placed in a waiting room together with an attractive female confederate. Results showed that participants with a higher level of executive control showed less flirting behavior with the confederate than did those with lower levels of executive control. Study 3 demonstrated that a higher level of executive control was related to a lower expressed desire to meet an attractive other, but only for romantically involved participants. Together, these studies showed that executive control helps romantically involved individuals to deal with the lure of attractive alternatives.
Peetz & Kammrath. "Only because I love you: Why people make and why they break promises in romantic relationships." People make and break promises frequently in interpersonal relationships. In this article, we investigate the processes leading up to making promises and the processes involved in keeping them. Across 4 studies, we demonstrate that people who had the most positive relationship feelings and who were most motivated to be responsive to the partner's needs made bigger promises than did other people but were not any better at keeping them. Instead, promisers' self-regulation skills, such as trait conscientiousness, predicted the extent to which promises were kept or broken. In a causal test of our hypotheses, participants who were focused on their feelings for their partner promised more, whereas participants who generated a plan of self-regulation followed through more on their promises. Thus, people were making promises for very different reasons (positive relationship feelings, responsiveness motivation) than what made them keep these promises (self-regulation skills). Ironically, then, those who are most motivated to be responsive may be most likely to break their romantic promises, as they are making ambitious commitments they will later be unable to keep.
Actually being conscientious and having high self-control doesn't mean one has to be boring. I'm a fan of the personality trait of conscientiousness. See the blog posts "Personality, extroversion & compassion" and "Personality predictors of longevity: activity, emotional stability, and conscientiousness" for more on these areas. However there are some challenges here which I describe more fully in the post "Self-control, conscientiousness, grit, emotion regulation, willpower - possible adverse effects".