This manuscript was published as:
Weber, M., & Ruch, W. (2012). The role of character strengths in adolescent romantic
relationships: An initial study on partner selection and mates’ life satisfaction. Journal of
Adolescence, 35, 1537-1546. doi:10.1016/j.adolescence.2012.06.002
Address correspondence to Marco Weber: firstname.lastname@example.org
CHARACTER STRENGTHS IN ADOLESCENT ROMANTIC RELATIONSHIPS 1
The Role of Character Strengths in Adolescent Romantic Relationships:
An Initial Study on Partner Selection and Mates’ Life Satisfaction
Marco Weber and Willibald Ruch
University of Zurich, Switzerland
Marco Weber, Department of Psychology, University of Zurich, Switzerland;
Willibald Ruch, Department of Psychology, University of Zurich, Switzerland.
Address correspondence to Marco Weber, Section on Personality and
Assessment, Department of Psychology, University of Zurich,
Binzmuehlestrasse 14 / Box 7, 8050 Zurich, Switzerland, Tel.: +41446357522;
Fax.: +41446357529, E-mail: email@example.com
CHARACTER STRENGTHS IN ADOLESCENT ROMANTIC RELATIONSHIPS 2
The present study investigated the role of 24 character strengths in 87 adolescent
romantic relationships focusing on their role in partner selection and their role in mates’
life satisfaction. Measures included the Values in Action Inventory of Strengths for
Youth, the Students’ Life Satisfaction Scale, and an Ideal Partner Profiler for the
composition of an ideal partner. Honesty, humor, and love were the most preferred
character strengths in an ideal partner. Hope, religiousness, honesty, and fairness
showed the most substantial assortment coefficients. Hierarchical regression analyses
revealed targets' character strengths as explaining variance in targets' life satisfaction.
Furthermore, to a lesser degree, specific character strengths of partners and couples’
similarity in certain character strengths explained variance in targets' life satisfaction
beyond targets’ character strengths. This first research on this topic showed that
character strengths play a significant role in adolescent romantic relationships.
Keywords: character strengths; partner selection;
adolescent romantic relationship; life satisfaction; mate preferences; assortative mating
CHARACTER STRENGTHS IN ADOLESCENT ROMANTIC RELATIONSHIPS 3
The Role of Character Strengths in Adolescent Romantic Relationships:
An Initial Study on Partner Selection and Mates’ Life Satisfaction
The present exploratory study investigated the role of character strengths for the
description of ideal partners, for selecting real life partners, and for determining mates’
global life satisfaction. Peterson and Seligman (2004) developed the Values in Action
(VIA) classification of 24 morally valued, positive traits (i.e., character strengths) that
are represented in individuals’ thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Their theoretically
derived VIA classification consists of six virtues (on the highest, abstract level) that are
manifest in life via character strengths (Peterson & Seligman, 2004). Each of these
virtues comprises three to five observable, measurable character strengths: (1) wisdom
and knowledge (includes the character strengths of creativity, curiosity, open-
mindedness, love of learning, perspective), (2) courage (i.e., bravery, perseverance,
honesty, zest), (3) humanity (i.e., love, kindness, social intelligence), (4) justice (i.e.,
teamwork, fairness, leadership), (5) temperance (i.e., forgiveness, modesty, prudence,
self-regulation), and (6) transcendence (i.e., beauty, gratitude, hope, humor,
religiousness). Peterson and Seligman (2004) established several criteria that a positive
trait had to fulfill to be included in their classification. One criterion was that the display
of a character strength by an individual does not diminish other persons in their
environment, quite the contrary, their display elevates others who are with them (Park
& Peterson, 2009). This led us to the assumption that character strengths are worthy to
be studied in the context of romantic relationships, where two mates interact closely
with each other. It was thus expected that character strengths are relevant for partner
selection and mates’ life satisfaction.
CHARACTER STRENGTHS IN ADOLESCENT ROMANTIC RELATIONSHIPS 4
We considered Peterson’s (2006) two-dimensional model differentiating
character strengths with focus on the self (e.g., creativity, curiosity) vs. character
strengths with focus on others (e.g., teamwork, fairness), and mind-related (e.g., open-
mindedness, self-regulation) vs. heart-related character strengths (e.g., gratitude, love)
reflecting whether all character strengths might be equally important for adolescent
romance. Given the lack of theory and research in this area of inquiry, our study was
exploratory in nature. Nevertheless, we expected that most character strengths would be
significantly related to adolescent romance (e.g., for partner selection), especially those
character strengths with a focus on others and those that are heart-related, because there
seems to be a clear connection to romance. On the other hand, character strengths that
represent the combination of self-focused and mind-related characteristics (i.e., four of
the five character strengths of the virtue wisdom and knowledge) were expected to be
less strongly related to adolescent romance, including describing an ideal partner and
becoming a couple.
One study investigated the topic of character strengths in the context of romance
(Steen, 2003). Conducting content analyses of personal advertisements of 222 adults
(age ranging from 25-72 years) Steen identified age, love, ethnicity, physical
attractiveness, humor, education, zest, and kindness as the most desired (between 44%
and 24%) characteristics. This finding indicates that specific character strengths (e.g.,
love, humor, zest, kindness) appeared more than others in adults’ expectations for
desired partners. Furthermore, Steen asked 1367 participants (age ranging from 16-65
years) to rate the importance of various personality characteristics in a partner, which
make a good romance (e.g., intelligence, dependability, 24 character strengths).
Concerning the character strengths, Steen found that loyalty (teamwork), capacity to
love and be loved (love), and honesty were rated as the most important characteristics,
CHARACTER STRENGTHS IN ADOLESCENT ROMANTIC RELATIONSHIPS 5
even more important than, for example, intelligence. The current study extends beyond
Steen’s (2003) research by studying character strengths for the first time in adolescent
couples (vs. individuals) using a sophisticated measure of character strengths.
We pursued two approaches when studying criteria for adolescents’ selection of
partners (i.e., consensual preferences and assortative preferences; e.g., Figueredo,
Sefcek, & Jones, 2006). Consensual preferences (i.e., ratings of the desirability of listed
personality characteristics in an ideal partner) have been extensively studied in adults.
Prior research found personality characteristics, like mutual attraction/love, dependable
character, kind and understanding, character, maturity, exciting personality, good
overall personality, honesty, good sense of humor among the most preferred
characteristics, whereas religiousness or similar religious background were found
among the less preferred characteristics (e.g., Buss & Barnes, 1986; Buss et al., 1990;
Buss, Shackelford, Kirkpatrick, & Larsen, 2001; Feingold, 1992; Furnham, 2009;
Regan, 2008). There are only a few studies that investigated consensual mate
preferences in adolescents. Regan and Joshi (2003) found intellect (e.g., intelligent,
sense of humor), physical appeal (e.g., physically attractive appearance), sexual drive
(e.g., sexual passionate), and interpersonal skills and responsiveness (e.g., friendly) as
most preferred characteristics. Honesty was found as the most preferred characteristic in
a partner among Swiss adolescents (Bodenmann, 2003).
Assortative preferences (i.e., correlation between males’ characteristic A and
females’ characteristic A) studied in adults showed different degrees of positive
assortment depending on the category of personality variables. Intelligence, opinions,
and attitudes yielded the highest positive assortment coefficients (.50 - .54; Vandenberg,
1972). This was found, for example, for religious attitudes (Watson, Klohnen, Casillas,
CHARACTER STRENGTHS IN ADOLESCENT ROMANTIC RELATIONSHIPS 6
Simms, Haig, & Berry, 2004). Personality traits (e.g., big five, sensation seeking) have
shown positive, but smaller coefficients (between zero and .35; e.g., Lesnik-Oberstein
& Cohen, 1984; McCrae, Martin, Hřebíčková, Urbanek, Boomsma, Willemsen, &
Costa, 2008; Vandenberg, 1972). Simon, Aikins, and Prinstein (2008) studied in a
longitudinal design prerelationship similarity of adolescents that became a couple
during the study. They found positive associations between mates’ popularity, body
appeal, self-rated depressive symptoms, and physical attractiveness indicating positive
assortment (coefficients between .25 and .56). Because character strengths were found
as predictive for popularity and psychopathological symptoms in adolescents (Park &
Peterson, 2006), it was assumed for this study that those positive, valued traits might
also show positive assortment coefficients. The degree of assortment was expected to be
similar to that found for other traits. Based on the reported literature it is hypothesized
that at least the character strengths of humor, honesty, kindness, love, religiousness, and
teamwork will play a role in adolescent partner selection.
Mates’ life satisfaction
Another criterion to be included in the VIA classification was that character
strengths should contribute to a fulfilled and satisfied life (e.g., Peterson & Park, 2011;
Peterson & Seligman, 2004). Hence, we hypothesized that character strengths would
predict individuals’ and partners’ life satisfaction. Therefore, we explored the role of
character strengths in adolescent romantic relationships as positive institutions (i.e.,
couples, where both partners report a satisfied life). Life satisfaction is defined as the
cognitive, judgmental component of subjective well-being that asks for a global
evaluation of life (e.g., Diener, Emmons, Larsen, & Griffin, 1985; Huebner, 1991a). For
the purposes of this study, high self-reported satisfaction with life was considered a
CHARACTER STRENGTHS IN ADOLESCENT ROMANTIC RELATIONSHIPS 7
good indicator of a life where most life conditions (incl. the romantic relationship) are
Similarity in different characteristics (e.g., values, personality traits) has been
already used as predictor of satisfaction in adults. Arrindell and Luteijn (2000) found
negative correlations between dissimilarity (operationalized with the Euclidean
distance) in personality and satisfaction of -.20 and -.24 for males and females,
respectively, indicating that the more dissimilar couples reported lower satisfaction.
Watson et al. (2004) examined by means of hierarchical multiple regressions, whether
the difference score (i.e., absolute difference between partners’ ratings in a variable of
interest) in a domain (e.g., Neuroticism) predicted satisfaction in males or females when
controlling for the targets’ and partners’ scores in that domain. They found an
incremental effect on wives’ satisfaction for similarity in positive emotions and
dissimilarity in negative emotions with significant R2 changes of .016 and .021,
respectively. Husbands’ satisfaction was influenced (beyond self and wives’ ratings) by
similarity in Openness and Conscientiousness, and dissimilarity in negative emotions
(significant R2 changes of .019, .016, and .014, respectively).
With respect to character strengths, we hypothesized that the strongest impact on
mates’ life satisfaction would be due to the targets’ own character strengths, because
those character strengths have been found to be substantial predictors of individuals’
life satisfaction in several self-report studies (e.g., Park & Peterson, 2006; Park,
Peterson, & Seligman, 2004; Peterson, Ruch, Beermann, Park, & Seligman, 2007;
Ruch, Proyer, Harzer, Park, Peterson, & Seligman, 2010; Ruch, Weber, Park, &
Peterson, 2011; Van Eeden, Wissing, Dreyer, Park, & Peterson, 2008). There are no
specific hypotheses about how partners’ character strengths would be related to targets’
life satisfaction. However, Watson et al. (2004) reported that partners’ personality
CHARACTER STRENGTHS IN ADOLESCENT ROMANTIC RELATIONSHIPS 8
characteristics like Neuroticism and Agreeableness contributed slightly to targets’ life
satisfaction. Furthermore, prior research has found only small effects of similarity in
personality characteristics predicting satisfaction. Thus, we also assumed small effects
on targets’ satisfaction for couples’ similarity in character strengths.
The present study
This study is aimed at helping to close gaps in literature. For example, Collins,
Welsh, and Furman (2009, p. 638) noted that “little is known, however, about
adolescents’ selection of partners“. Three major gaps were identified in the current
literature. First, most available research on partner selection is based on adult samples,
but according to Brown, Feiring, and Furman (1999), romance is not only broadly
represented in many songs or television serials, but it is also highly represented in
adolescents’ minds, which means, it is important for their lives. Furthermore, romantic
relationships contribute to shaping the subsequent general developmental course (e.g.,
identity development; Furman & Shaffer, 2003). Therefore, there is a need to study the
determinants of young people’s romantic relationships, including the possible role of
character strengths. Second, the conceptual breadth of investigated variables often has
been too variable (e.g., rating lists combining broad, more abstract with narrow, more
specific concepts). Hence, the present study will investigate a family of 24 different
character strengths (Peterson & Seligman, 2004) in context of adolescent romance to
understand their role in more detail, at the same level of abstraction. Third, there is
currently no knowledge whether both partners’ character strengths or couple similarity
in character strengths provide incremental information on mates’ life satisfaction
beyond the individuals’ own character strengths.
Therefore, the present study is aimed at answering three main questions: First,
which of the 24 character strengths are consensually preferred mostly in an ideal
CHARACTER STRENGTHS IN ADOLESCENT ROMANTIC RELATIONSHIPS 9
partner? Second, are there assortative preferences for character strengths in adolescent
romantic relationships? Third, what amount of variance in mates’ life satisfaction will
be explained by (a) targets’ character strengths, (b) by partner’s character strengths
beyond the targets’ character strengths, and (c) by couples’ similarity in character
strengths beyond both targets’ and partners’ character strengths? Additionally, as
honesty has been found to be very relevant for romantic relationships (Bodenmann,
2003; Steen, 2003) there will be a special focus on its role in this context in the present
The sample consisted of 174 German-speaking Swiss participating in a total of
87 heterosexual romantic relationships. Their mean age was 16.45 years (SD = 1.28;
ranging from 13-19 years). About two thirds of them (63.6%) attended secondary
school (highest level), 22.0% attended an apprenticeship, 6.9% attended secondary
school (medium level), 7.5% reported other education. The averaged relationship
duration was 11.19 months (SD = 9.14; min = 0.25, max = 36.00 months).
The Values in Action Inventory of Strengths for Youth (VIA-Youth; Park, &
Peterson, 2006) adapted to German by Ruch et al. (2011) consists of 198 items for the
self-assessment of the 24 character strengths of the VIA classification (Peterson &
Seligman, 2004). There are 7-9 items per character strength, and about one third of the
items are reverse coded. The VIA-Youth uses a 5-point Likert-style format (from
1 = not like me at all to 5 = very much like me). A sample item is ”I believe that things
will always work out no matter how difficult they seem now“ (hope). The VIA-Youth is
tested in several studies as a reliable and valid measurement (e.g., Park & Peterson,
CHARACTER STRENGTHS IN ADOLESCENT ROMANTIC RELATIONSHIPS 10
2006; Ruch, et al., 2011). The internal consistencies of the 24 scales ranged from
.66 (perspective and social intelligence) to
= .91 (religiousness) yielding a median of
= .77 in this study (only two scales yielded coefficients < .70).
The Students’ Life Satisfaction Scale (SLSS; Huebner, 1991a) adapted to
German by Weber, Ruch, and Huebner (in press) is a seven-item self-report measure of
satisfaction with life (as a global cognitive judgment of adolescents’ life). Two of the
items are reverse coded. It uses a 6-point answer format (from 1 = strongly disagree to
6 = strongly agree). A sample item is ”I have what I want in life“. The SLSS is tested in
several studies across cultures as a reliable and valid measurement (e.g., Huebner,
1991a, b; Weber et al., in press). The internal consistency yielded an alpha coefficient
of .89 in this study.
The Ideal Partner Profiler (IPP; Weber, 2008) is a list of the 24 character
strengths presented as one-word descriptions with 0-2 synonyms (e.g., “gratitude” or
“honesty/authenticity” or “open-mindedness/judgment/critical thinking”) as proxies for
the character strengths. Respondents were asked to select exactly five character
strengths to describe an ideal partner. Furthermore, the respondents were told that these
selections should be done, without taking into account the character strengths of their
Participants were recruited in German-speaking Swiss schools within the
classroom setting. In a 10 minute time slot, the adolescents were introduced to the
general procedure of the study (e.g., how to fill in the questionnaires). If participants
were currently in a romantic relationship, they received an envelope containing two
separated test-booklets composed of the German VIA-Youth, the IPP, the German
SLSS, and questions regarding demographics (e.g., age, gender). Couples were
CHARACTER STRENGTHS IN ADOLESCENT ROMANTIC RELATIONSHIPS 11
instructed to fill in the questionnaires at home in a silent setting separated from each
other to avoid biased answers. Upon request, participants received written
individualized feedback on their character strengths. All adolescents participated
voluntarily, and participants younger than 18 years provided the permission of their
parents or legal guardians. None of the participants were paid for their services.
Consensual preferences for character strengths
To describe consensual preferences of character strengths, the selected ideal
partner character strengths (i.e., IPP nominations) were ranked according to absolute
frequencies of their nomination. Table 1 shows the results split by gender.
Insert Table 1 about here
Table 1 shows that honesty, humor, love, kindness, hope, gratitude, and fairness
were among the most frequently nominated character strengths in both males and
females. Religiousness, love of learning, perseverance, and leadership were among the
less frequent nominated ones. As expected, honesty, humor, kindness were among the
most preferred character strengths. Furthermore, as expected, this study expanded the
list of consensually preferred characteristics in mates by several further positive traits
(e.g., hope, gratitude, fairness). Spearman’s rank correlation between males’ and
females’ rankings of character strengths was computed and indicated a convergence of
.89 (p < .001), suggesting a high consensus in preferred character strengths among male
and female adolescents.
How did adolescents choose the character strengths for an ideal partner?
To examine whether adolescents described an ideal partner similar to themselves or if
they considered the current partner as a model, we conducted ipsativized analyses.
CHARACTER STRENGTHS IN ADOLESCENT ROMANTIC RELATIONSHIPS 12
Therefore, the individual ranks of self-reported character strengths were computed and
the top five (i.e., signature strengths) were coded with 1 whereas the remaining 19 were
coded with 0. The five selected character strengths of the IPP were also coded with 1
and the remaining ones with 0. The Phi correlation coefficients were computed between
character strengths and self-reported ideal partner nominations for each participant. The
means of the Phi coefficients were .21 and .24 for males and females, respectively,
which suggest small convergence between the own and the selected ideal signature
strengths. Furthermore, the self-reported character strengths were cross-correlated with
individuals’ partner-rated ideal partner nominations to test whether the current partner
was the model for the ideal partner ratings. The means of the correlation coefficients
were r = .18 for both males and females, suggesting small effects as well.
The role of adolescents’ life satisfaction when describing an ideal partner.
Pearson correlations between the ipsatively generated correlation coefficients (Phi
coefficients; as described above) and life satisfaction scores of males and females were
computed. Results showed that the more satisfied adolescents tended to use themselves
as a model when composing an ideal partner (r = .35, p = .002 for males; r = .21,
p = .066 for females).
Assortative preferences for character strengths
We computed correlations between males and females for the 24 character
strengths as indicators of assortative preferences (e.g., Kenny, Kashy, & Cook, 2006) in
five different steps. In a first step, zero-order correlations were calculated. Second, we
computed a first set of partial correlations (controlling for a possible effect of duration
of the relationship). Third, as we found associations between mates’ age (r = .40,
p < .001) as well as mates’ life satisfaction scores (r = .26, p = .015), we computed a
second set of partial correlations (controlling for mates’ age). Fourth, a third set of
CHARACTER STRENGTHS IN ADOLESCENT ROMANTIC RELATIONSHIPS 13
partial correlations (controlling for mates’ life satisfaction) was computed. In the fifth
final step, a fourth set of partial correlations was computed (controlling for duration of
the relationship, and for mates’ age and mates’ life satisfaction; see Table 2).
Insert Table 2 about here
Table 2 shows that nine character strengths showed statistically significant
associations at the zero-order level indicating assortative mating (all positive). Honesty,
hope, religiousness, and fairness showed the most substantial coefficients with rs > .35.
All 24 coefficients varied between -.10 (open-mindedness) and .46 (hope) with a
median of .19, which was in the expected range.
Three out of four character strengths of the virtue courage were found as
correlated (i.e., honesty, bravery, and zest). Furthermore, four out of five character
strengths of the virtue transcendence were found as correlated (i.e., hope, religiousness,
beauty, and gratitude). Only one character strength of the virtue wisdom and knowledge
(i.e., creativity), and one character strength of justice (i.e., fairness) showed positive
assortment. No assortment was found for the character strengths of humanity and
temperance indicating that character strengths of these virtues were not relevant in
adolescent partner selection.
The partial correlation analyses showed no substantial change in coefficients,
when controlling for duration of the relationship as well as for males’ and females’ age.
However, when controlling for males’ and females’ life satisfaction, the assortment
coefficients of zest and hope showed a substantial decrease (see Table 2), but hope still
stayed significant. We also found this effect, when controlling for all above-mentioned
control variables. This indicated that the zero-order assortment coefficient of zest in
CHARACTER STRENGTHS IN ADOLESCENT ROMANTIC RELATIONSHIPS 14
adolescent romantic relationships was mostly due to mates’ life satisfaction, while
assortment in hope was not completely explainable by mates’ life satisfaction.
Combining results from ideal-partner ratings and assortment analyses – the case
More than 82.0% of the adolescents indicated honesty as being among the five
signature strengths of an ideal partner. Furthermore, honesty was found as a character
strength with high positive assortment. Splitting the honesty scores at the median (i.e.,
< median = low honesty; > median = high honesty) identified more couples, where both
partners were high in honesty (38.5%) than couples where both partners were low in
honesty (28.2%). Mixed couples (i.e., one partner high and one partner low in honesty;
33.3%) were numerically the second most frequent (see Figure 1).
Insert Figure 1 about here
Figure 1 shows further on that 19 out of 22 (86.4%) of the couples where both
partners were low in honesty asked for an honest ideal partner, whereas around 70.0%
of the mixed couples and couples where both were high in honesty asked for an honest
ideal partner. This result indicates that honesty is in general a desired character strength,
but numerically mostly desired of mates in couples where both partners were low in
honesty. Examining whether honesty mattered related to mates’ life satisfaction, a 3
(type of couple) x 2 (males’ and female’ life satisfaction) ANOVA was computed with
life satisfaction as a repeated measures variable (see Figure 2 for the results).
Insert Figure 2 about here
Figure 2 shows that couples where both partners were high in honesty showed a
significantly higher (indicated by LSD post hoc tests) averaged life satisfaction
CHARACTER STRENGTHS IN ADOLESCENT ROMANTIC RELATIONSHIPS 15
(M = 5.01) compared to the mixed couples (M = 4.63), and couples where both partners
were low in honesty (M = 4.58; F[2, 84] = 3.98, p = .022). This result suggested that life
satisfaction was a function of the represented degree of couples’ honesty. The highest
life satisfaction was reported in couples where both partners showed high honesty. One
honest partner could not compensate for the decrease of life satisfaction in romantic
Prediction of mates’ life satisfaction
In the following, we examined the contribution of both targets’ and partners’
character strengths, and couples’ similarity in character strengths on targets’ life
satisfaction (i.e., separated for males and females). Because Watson et al. (2004, p.
1035) argued that “difference scores confound linear and conﬁgural effects and fail to
provide a clear, unambiguous assessment of similarity/dissimilarity”, we computed
hierarchical multiple regression analyses utilizing three steps to test the incremental
amount of variance in the criterion variable explained by subsequent predictor variables,
controlling for prior predictor variables. This strategy of analysis also considered the
earlier reported associations between males and females in certain character strengths
(i.e., assortative preferences).
Hence, 24 hierarchical multiple regression analyses were conducted twice, with
one set of 24 predicting the males’ satisfaction and one set of 24 predicting the females’
satisfaction. In each of the regressions, targets’ self-report was entered in step 1,
partners’ self-report was entered in step 2, and finally the difference score (i.e., the
absolute value of the difference between the mates’ scores on each of the 24 character
strengths) as an indicator of similarity/dissimilarity was entered in step 3. Table 3
presents the R2 changes and Rs for both males’ and females’ satisfaction.
CHARACTER STRENGTHS IN ADOLESCENT ROMANTIC RELATIONSHIPS 16
Insert Tables 3 about here
Table 3 shows that in general, character strengths were found to be good
predictors of life satisfaction in adolescents (see also Ruch et al., 2011). Targets’ life
satisfaction was primarily a function of the self-reported character strengths followed by
specific partners’ self-reported character strengths and similarity scores.
For both, males and females, ten character strengths showed final Rs of .30 or
higher predicting targets’ life satisfaction. Hope, zest, gratitude, love, prudence,
perseverance, honesty, self-regulation were identified as potent predictors in both
genders. Humor and forgiveness were additionally found in males, whereas teamwork
and religiousness were additionally found in females as predictors of life satisfaction.
Most of the variance in targets’ life satisfaction was explained by the targets’ self-
reports in step 1. It explained up to 40.4% of the variance in males’ satisfaction and up
to 43.0% of the variance in females’ life satisfaction. Additionally, females’ forgiveness
as well as males’ perseverance, social intelligence, and prudence were found to be
predictors of the partners’ life satisfaction in the second step indicating that specific
partner characteristics also played a role for partners’ life satisfaction. Finally, in step 3
significant effects were found for the absolute difference (couples’ similarity), and those
with inconsistent directions. Higher males’ life satisfaction was related to similarity in
perseverance and zest as well as to dissimilarity in forgiveness and humor. Higher
female’s life satisfaction was associated with similarity in honesty and teamwork.
The present exploratory study was designed to explore the role of character
strengths in both adolescent partner selection and mates’ life satisfaction. Although
previous studies have investigated consensual preferences for partner characteristics like
character or a good overall personality (e.g., Feingold, 1992; Regan, 2008), the present
CHARACTER STRENGTHS IN ADOLESCENT ROMANTIC RELATIONSHIPS 17
study shows the benefits of studying character within a multidimensional approach like
the VIA classification (Peterson & Seligman, 2004). Asking adolescents to describe an
ideal partner, the present research found that honesty was the most desired character
strength, followed by humor, love, kindness, and hope. The results of the current
research thus suggest that the list of important character strengths in an ideal partner
should be extended in the context of adolescent romantic relationships.
The present study also revealed interesting patterns in preferences and
assortative mating, particularly with respect to three character strengths. First, as
expected, the present study - again - found honesty as the most valued character
strength in a romantic partner for both males and females (e.g., Bodenmann, 2003;
Furnham, 2009; Steen, 2003), and honesty showed positive assortment. However, the
findings demonstrated that a high degree of honesty is required on the part of both
persons to call it a positive institution (i.e., a relationship, where both are satisfied). If
both partners are low in honesty (i.e., a lack of honest and authentic behavior, feelings,
and thoughts), it seems clear that this could result in a greater desire for honesty, which
understandably can result in lower life satisfaction.
Humor was a highly preferred character strength in this study (see also, e.g.,
Bressler, Martin, & Balshine, 2006; Regan & Joshi, 2003), for both males and females.
This finding is consistent with Buss (1988) who found displaying a good sense of
humor as the most frequently nominated way to “be effective in successfully attracting
a member of the opposite sex” (p. 621). Not surprisingly, humor does not show
assortment in the present study, because males and females might have something
different in mind when selecting humor as a desired strength in an ideal partner.
Bressler et al. (2006) showed that males prefer females who are receptive to their (i.e.,
the males’) expressions of humor whereas females prefer males who express humor.
CHARACTER STRENGTHS IN ADOLESCENT ROMANTIC RELATIONSHIPS 18
The VIA-Youth dimension of humor represents the perspective of liking to laugh and
joke, and bringing smiles to other people, thus, the VIA-Youth highlights the active
expression of humor rather than the passive appreciation of humor. Furthermore, humor
as a character strength recently has been found as significantly associated with the use
of socially warm humor (i.e., using humor to promote good will; Müller & Ruch, 2011).
The distinction between the meaning of humor in relation to target versus partner
preference ratings might be a reason for the finding of no assortment among the
adolescents in this study.
As in the present study, religiousness typically is found as ranked very low,
when asking for mates’ characteristics that are consensually preferred (e.g., Buss et al,
1990). However, as found for religious attitudes (e.g., Watson et al., 2004) religiousness
as character strength also shows high positive assortment in the present study. It seems
plausible that a religious individual (i.e., believing in a higher purpose and meaning in
life) and a nonreligious individual (i.e., believing in earthly, concrete, and manifest
aspects) do not fit together very well. A comparable degree in religiousness might be a
substantial base for a long-lasting, fulfilling relationship.
The role of character strengths related to life satisfaction in couples is quite
interesting. The targets’ own character strengths are the best predictors of one’s own life
satisfaction, but specific partners’ character strengths seem to be predictive beyond
targets’ character strengths as well. Like demonstrated in previous research (e.g.,
Watson et al., 2004) similarity in personality variables is mostly only a minor predictor
in sense of magnitude of coefficients. The present study also found that similarity and
dissimilarity in character strengths explain variance in global life satisfaction above and
beyond targets’ and partners’ character strengths.
CHARACTER STRENGTHS IN ADOLESCENT ROMANTIC RELATIONSHIPS 19
These initial findings need to be interpreted in the context of some limitations.
First, the results need to be replicated in the investigated cultural environment for
validation. Following this, it might be interesting to study this cross-culturally to see
whether the same character strengths were desired in a partner (ideal or real) in different
areas of the world. Second, the cross-sectional design of this study means that causality
cannot be established. Thus, longitudinal designs are needed to derive causal inferences
regarding the role of character strengths in adolescent romantic relationships. Such
longer-term designs would facilitate understanding their antecedents (e.g., whether
couples become more equal in selected characteristics over time), and consequences
(e.g., stability of the relationships, mates’ satisfaction, relationship quality). However,
the short duration and instability of relationships in adolescence (e.g., Collins, Welsh, &
Furman, 2009) might be a problematic point for sophisticated longitudinal research.
Therefore, couples in late adolescence might be followed up for several years, which
would facilitate the study of successful vs. unsuccessful relationships. Such results
would give information on the specific aspects (e.g., specific configurations of mates’
character strengths) of an adolescent romantic relationship that make it perceived as
positive. Third, the current results are based exclusively on self-reports. Future research
could also ask for peer-reported or parent-reported character strengths to determine
whether self-reported data are comparable with views of significant others. Fourth,
future studies might incorporate additional variables to explore a more comprehensive
nomological network of variables that may serve as relevant criteria for partner
selection, but also aspects that might be related to mates’ life satisfaction. Variables
such as mates’ physical attractiveness, social status or mates’ popularity at school, but
also couples’ intimacy, and mates’ sexual experiences might be promising candidates
for such an extended model. This opens the possibility for studies of interactions
CHARACTER STRENGTHS IN ADOLESCENT ROMANTIC RELATIONSHIPS 20
between character strengths and such variables. For one example, it might be that
individuals with prudence vs. curiosity as individual top strength differ in the degree of
sexual experiences, which could in turn have consequences for the relationship quality.
To conclude, the present findings extend the literature on first knowledge on the
role of character strengths in adolescent romantic relationships for both partner selection
and mates’ life satisfaction. Specific character strengths are useful to describe an ideal
partner with honesty, humor, and love as the most favored ones. Certain character
strengths (e.g., religiousness, honesty, fairness) showed positive assortment, suggesting
that “birds of a feather flock together”. There was no negative assortment for character
strengths. The targets’ own character strengths, and to a lesser degree partners’
character strengths and the couples’ fit in character strengths seem to play a role for
mates’ life satisfaction. The study points to the potential usefulness of knowledge about
adolescents’ character strengths that might be helpful for adolescents, their parents, as
well as for youth counseling and in mental health promotion contexts.
CHARACTER STRENGTHS IN ADOLESCENT ROMANTIC RELATIONSHIPS 21
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Figure 1. Distribution of self-reported (VIA-Youth) honesty ratings in romantic
relationships combined with ideal partner ratings (IPP) in three different types of
Figure 2. Couples’ averaged life satisfaction (SLSS) scores (± SE) in three different
types of couples.
CHARACTER STRENGTHS IN ADOLESCENT ROMANTIC RELATIONSHIPS 27
Males and Females IPP Nominations of Character Strengths
Males (n = 80)
Females (n = 85)
Love of learning
Love of learning
CHARACTER STRENGTHS IN ADOLESCENT ROMANTIC RELATIONSHIPS 28
Note. f = Frequency of nominations.
CHARACTER STRENGTHS IN ADOLESCENT ROMANTIC RELATIONSHIPS 29
Zero-Order Pearson Correlations, and Four Partial Correlation Analyses Between
Males’ and Females’ Self-Reports Analyzing Assortative Preferences in Character
Strengths in Adolescent Romantic Relationships
Love of learning
CHARACTER STRENGTHS IN ADOLESCENT ROMANTIC RELATIONSHIPS 30
Note. N = 87 couples. Partial 1 = correlations controlled for duration of relationship.
Partial 2 = correlations controlled for males’ and females’ age. Partial 3 =
correlations controlled for males’ and females’ life satisfaction. Partial 4 =
correlations controlled for duration of relationship, males’ and females’ age, and
males’ and females’ life satisfaction.
*p < .05. **p < .01. ***p < .001.
CHARACTER STRENGTHS IN ADOLESCENT ROMANTIC RELATIONSHIPS 31
Predicting Males’ and Females’ Satisfaction: Hierarchical Multiple Regression Analyses of 24 Character
Strengths (i.e., Self-Reported and Partners’ Self-Reported), and Couples’ Similarity (i.e., Absolute Differences)
in 24 Character Strengths
Males’ life satisfaction
Females’ life satisfaction
Love of learning
CHARACTER STRENGTHS IN ADOLESCENT ROMANTIC RELATIONSHIPS 32
CHARACTER STRENGTHS IN ADOLESCENT ROMANTIC RELATIONSHIPS 33
Note. N = 87.
*p < .05. **p < .01. ***p < .001.
CHARACTER STRENGTHS IN ADOLESCENT ROMANTIC RELATIONSHIPS 34
CHARACTER STRENGTHS IN ADOLESCENT ROMANTIC RELATIONSHIPS 35