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Do Opposites Really Attract?

  • Grant Langston
  • 2006 22 May
Do Opposites Really Attract?

We've all heard it over and over again. "If you want to find a great relationship, look for an opposite." Is that really the best approach?  How can someone who has a different set of values, attitudes and hobbies be so attractive?
People who are dramatically different from us are often the most attractive. This comes from a common sense approach to social relationships. Our lives are usually enriched by connections to others who have abilities that we don't have. Unfortunately, applying this lesson to our romantic pursuits is often a recipe for disaster.
"If the qualities that attract you to someone are different from your own, be cautious," says Dr. Neil Clark Warren, clinical psychologist and author of "How to Know If Someone is Worth Pursuing in Two Dates or Less."  He points out that, while opposites often attract, they also usually drive each other crazy over the long haul. 
Dr. Warren's three decades of counseling married couples has led him to make "finding someone similar to you" one of the pillars of his relationship advice."  I don't discount how hard it is to find someone who is a lot like you.  It has always been difficult, and it's become even more so as diversity increases.  But when two people come from similar backgrounds, they operate from a position of strength.  Their relationship is made significantly easier by all the customs and practices they have in common."
Forging a relationship with an opposite is so hard because every difference you have requires negotiation and adaptation.  Accommodation and compromise will necessitate plenty of change.  This change creates a kind of stress, and according to Dr. Warren, "If there are too many differences, you may not be able to survive all the strain involved in adapting to each other."
What sorts of differences cause the most trouble?  When considering whether a particular person is a good relationship candidate for you, look to four specific areas:
Energy Level - If she likes to go dancing three times a week and he loves to relax on the couch most nights...look out.
Personal Habits - This includes punctuality, cleanliness, weight management, and smoking.
Use of Money - When one person wants to save for the future and the other is eager to spend and enjoy life NOW, the conflict can be deadly to a relationship.
Verbal Skills and Interests - If one person is dying for more conversation and the other wants more piece and quiet, there is a lot of stress.
Having considered all these points there is one personality trait that can mitigate the danger of a relationship between opposites.  Dr. Warren calls it 'flexibility.  "This flexibility allows people to consider the differences, evaluate them, propose alternative solutions, and then resolve them.  Of course, it is vital that two people be willing to compromise.  When one partner bends and flexes every time, the relationship becomes unbalanced and 'out of whack.'"
So, next time you're feeling that tug of attraction to someone you know is drastically different than you, take a second look.  Professor J. Phillippe Rushton of The University of Western Ontario, in his study on differences and marital happiness, put it this way: "One of the most important principles to follow in choosing a mate revolves around a highly established reality; stable and satisfying marriages usually involve two people who are very much alike."

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