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If They’re Happy, I’m Happy: Why Being Agreeable Increases Relationship Satisfaction

Young couple in bedroom, she is sick and he support and measure temperature

Ever wonder the justification behind the saying, “If they’re happy, then I’m happy?” How about the saying, “Happy wife, happy life?” Are these statements really true, and if they are, to what extent and why?

One speculation is that perhaps partners who believe in the validity of these statements are responsive to their partner’s needs and interests—an indication of their understanding, validation, and care. In order to be considered a responsive person, one must meet two requirements: 1. A willingness to satisfy others’ needs and 2. Have an accurate understanding of those needs. According to personality and close relationship researchers Sherman Kwok, Joanne Wood, and John Holmes at the University of Waterloo, agreeable people fulfill both of these requirements. 

Agreeableness, one of the five main personality traits, describes agreeable people as being likeable, pleasant, and harmonious in relationships. In children, agreeableness manifests in how they deal with conflicts; agreeable children are usually liked by peers and tend to be more constructive in conflicts than children who are not. As adults in the workplace, agreeable people work well with others even in competitive environments and are more likely to jump on the opportunity to help others. In romantic relationships, previous research claimed that agreeable people are satisfied in their relationships. In this presented research, Kwok and colleagues offer insight as to perhaps why being agreeable has an effect on relationship satisfaction. 

Kwok’s research conducted two separate studies in which it investigated, “Is there a connection between agreeableness, the frequency of expressing affection, and relationship satisfaction?” and, “Are affectionate behaviors that are intended to convey responsiveness effective in fostering intimacy?” The former study revealed that agreeableness was positively correlated with self-reported frequencies of expressions in affection and more specifically, uses of partner-centered affections such as providing unconditional support and non-judgmental understanding. Furthermore, Kwok added that frequencies of affection strengthen the relationship between agreeableness and satisfaction. Results of the latter study demonstrated that partner-centered acts of affection-acts focused on placing the partner’s needs first-bolstered the highest levels of intimacy than other comparable types of affection. 

Although Kwok’s research examined the effects of agreeableness and responsiveness in romantic relationships, he shared that it is a possibility that the same benefits can be achieved when it is practiced in other types of relationships as well. No matter what type of relationship agreeableness finds itself in, affections like this are set to strengthen relationships by increasing satisfaction and intimacy. 

Written By:

Katie Linh Pham, MA Candidate at Loyola Marymount University


"The Role of Agreeableness in Responsive Expressions of Affection” was part of the symposium Personal and Relational Benefits of Responsiveness in Romantic Relationships held Friday, February 28, 2020.


Sherman S.M. Kwok, University of Waterloo


Joanne V. Wood, University of Waterloo

John G. Holmes, University of Waterloo