People with darker personalities tend to report interfering in friends’ and family members’ romantic relationships more frequently, according to new research published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships. The study indicates that those who attempt to undermine relationships that they disapprove of are more likely to exhibit a set of personality characteristics known as the Dark Tetrad traits.
“As a social psychologist, I study the dark side of romantic relationships, including people’s prejudice towards couples,” said lead researcher Brian Collisson, an associate professor at Azusa Pacific University.
“And although friends and family can be a tremendous source of support for a relationship, they can also be a tremendous source of disapproval. So, in this article, I explored what types of friends and family are most likely to try to break-up a disliked couple by interfering in their relationship.”
The Dark Tetrad traits include narcissism, psychopathy, Machiavellianism, and sadism. Narcissism is characterized by an exaggerated sense of self-importance and entitlement, while psychopathy is characterized by a lack of remorse. Machiavellianism describes the tendency to manipulate and deceive others, while sadism describes the tendency to find enjoyment in others’ suffering.
For their study, Collisson and his colleagues asked 206 adults to think of a friend who is in a romantic relationship that they dislike or disapprove of. The participants then indicated how often they interfered in that friend’s relationship, such as by describing how their partner doesn’t meet their needs, encouraging the friend to prioritize other activities over spending time with their romantic partner, and suggesting they could find someone better.
In a second study, the researchers asked another 180 adults to think of a family member who was currently or formerly in a relationship they disliked or disapproved of, before asking the participants to indicate how often they interfered in that relationship.
“Friends and family can undermine a disliked couple’s commitment to their relationship by interfering in (1) the degree to which they can invest in the relationship (e.g., not inviting the partner to social events), (2) relationship satisfaction (e.g., meeting someone’s needs before their partner has a chance), and (3) perceived alternatives to the relationship (e.g., highlighting the benefits of being single or in a relationship in someone else),” Collisson explained.
Collisson and his team found that participants who were high in Dark Tetrad traits were more likely to engage in all three types of relationship interference. Specific Dark Tetrad traits also emerged as individual predictors of relationship interference.
“Narcissistic family members and sadistic friends are most likely to interfere in a disliked couple’s relationship. Narcissistic family members may presume to know what’s best for their loved one. Sadistic friends may dislike their friend’s partner so much they try to dissolve their relationship,” Collisson told PsyPost.
However, the researchers noted that it is also possible to interfere in a relationship in a positive way.
“Our article focused on negative relationship interference,” Collisson said. “That is, we focused on when friends and family try to dissolve someone else’s relationship. Future studies may explore positive interference, such as trying to save a couple’s relationship from dissolving, or potentially positive traits of relationship meddlers, such as wisdom.”
The study, “Meddling friends and family: Dark Tetrad traits predict interference in disliked couples’ romantic relationships,” was authored by Brian Collisson, Jennifer L. Howell, and Jasmine Monleon.