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Kevin Leman Discusses How Birth Order Affects Relationships

  • Janet Chismar Senior Editor, News & Culture
  • Published May 20, 2004
Kevin Leman Discusses How Birth Order Affects Relationships

Are you the baby in your family? Does it sometimes seem that you get along better with people who are the oldest in their tribes? It’s not your imagination. According to Dr. Kevin Leman, birth order strongly influences the way we relate to others—especially those of the opposite sex. Thus, it makes perfect sense to establish a dating site based on birth order. – a brand new online dating site founded by Leman – matches couples of opposite birth orders, but similar hobbies, habits and faith. The MatchWise Profile gives subscribers a revealing picture of their personalities based on their true birth order. Understanding these characteristics helps in recognizing what to look for in a relationship.

  Leman is an internationally-known psychologist, best-selling author, radio and television personality, and speaker. He has spoken to audiences worldwide, from couples retreats to corporate events for McDonald’s and Pepsi-cola.

A frequent contributor to CNN’s American Morning with Paula Zahn, the best-selling “relationship doctor” has made house calls for numerous radio and television programs including Oprah, CBS’ The Early Show, Live with Regis and Kelly, Today, The View with Barbara Walters, and Focus on the Family. Leman has also served as a consulting family psychologist to the television program, Good Morning America.

The father of five, Leman brings practical and down-to-earth principles into his parenting advice. And as his children have grown, the topics he’s tackled have matured with his family. In his 21 published books, Leman has addressed topics ranging from disciplining toddlers and adolescents to people pleasing and sexual intimacy in marriage. He recently spoke with by phone.

Crosswalk: What prompted you to start a singles match site?


Dr. Leman: Well, there are many websites out there that are meat markets of sorts. The birth order book came out in 1985; it was a bestseller. And, I think America became enamored with this idea that little cubs could come out of the same den and be so unique and so different. People connected with it. In the birth order book, I address relationships and what birth order is best.


When the Matchwise opportunity came my way, I jumped at it because I thought, “Here’s a practical way to help people.” It’s not two people who marry; it’s at least six. You marry your in-laws, too, which isn’t always encouraging news to people. But, at least you’ll be forewarned and understand that whatever your wife or your husband grew up with is going to be a part of your life.


I wanted to come up with a G-rated website that would be fun. This website’s fun, simple, action oriented, and above everything else, helpful and practical. So, that’s really the motivation behind it. I think everybody has an interest in where they are in their family – their birth order. The site points out that it’s the differences in our personalities that make us a couple. Core values have to be pretty lined up the same. But, it’s the personality characteristics that direct and draw us to one another.


Crosswalk: How do you match people up according to birth order?


Dr. Leman:  Based on how they answer the questions, we’ll find out their real birth order – their functional birth order. For example, someone might be the fourth born in a family, but they’re the only member of their gender. They’ve gone through life and thought of themselves as a middle child. But, the test is going to give them the curve ball of their life and say they’re a first-born personality. So, the best match with this person will be a youngest or a middle child.


Age spread is another variable. We’ve got five kids, and they range in age from 31 to 11. Well, the 11-year old you’d think of as the baby. Well she’s not; she’s very much like an only child.


Crosswalk: How does birth order actually affect our relationships?


Dr. Leman: The best matches are only children and babies, first-borns and babies, middles and firsts, and middles and babies. Now that isn’t to say that first born and first born can’t work. The one thing we know about first-borns is that they’re leaders, they get things done right, and there’s a right way to do things. The down side is they’re perfectionists, they’re bossy, and they can spot a flaw at 50 paces.


So if you put these people together in a marriage, they both start shooting on each other. First-borns are great shooters. They’re the great improvers, “You should do this; you should do that.” Take two first-borns driving in a car and they’re married – the husband’s driving and he makes a left-hand turn. The only thing his first-born wife can say is “Why are you turning here?”


What makes you good many times in your profession – engineers and accountants, for example –are the same skills that work against you in love, in your relationships with other people. There’s a lot of self-understanding that people will garner from taking the test and realizing they are a function of their family.


People love this stuff. They love to figure out why they are the way they are. The birth order book has really helped explain that to people. But, on the website, people get a short course in birth order.


Crosswalk: How would you answer the person who objects to using a dating site to find their mate? There’s a bit of a stigma in some Christian circles – for the people who feel they should wait on God. What is your response?


Dr. Leman:  Well, we have modern medicine that those in the past would have never dreamt was possible. Would you not use it today if you were sick? Would you just sit and pray? The way things used to be – we all grew up in little towns. We had immediate family around us and extended family around us. Society has broken down and become very mobile. Now, even though you grew up in a small town in Ohio, you find one sibling in Nashville, one in Boston, and in California.


With that in mind, you don’t have the closeness; you don’t have the security that you used to have. We are so mobile that to connect with people is getting more and more difficult. People cocoon, they work long hours, they come home and they crash.


People don’t have a lot of time so, of course, one of the things we ask on the website is “How important is your faith?” People say “Very.” Well what does that mean? How often do you go to church? Are you in Bible study? We save people time by making things very clear. If we have an Orthodox Jew come on, we’re going to try and match them up with an Orthodox Jew because that’s one of the things we know is really important.


After we match the core values, the next step will be to match the personality. Again by matching the personality, we’re looking for the opposites. See the baby of the family like me – I need the first-born to help straighten me out. But this first-born who tends to get to uptight over a simple dinner party needs the baby to lighten her up.


Crosswalk: Is there anything else that makes different from other Christian dating sites?


Dr. Leman:   We are based upon the dynamic, fluid relationship that exists between a parent and child, and children with one another. If there’s anything that should make sense in life, it should be this website, because we are a product of our environment. Daddies do set up daughters with pluses or minuses in life; mommies do to sons as well. Siblings strive for attention and learn from one another.


One of the things that we try to address is that there is this wonderful relationship between a dad and a daughter, and a mother and a son. These are key relationships to look for and I would advise anybody, if you’re meeting a man, the first question you want to ask is or watch for is “What’s this guy’s relationship like with his mother?” You see, if he doesn’t respect women and mom was the primary teacher of respect to a young man, who’s going to pay for that? The women he marries.


Conversely, what’s the relationship like between a young girl and her dad? Dads set up daughters for success and failure. All these things can be extreme. In other words, father and a daughter can be too close; a mother and a son can be too tight. We end up with a momma’s boy. Well, I haven’t met a woman yet who says “Give me a momma’s boy.” You don’t want that as a husband, but you want someone who respects women.


So, I think is a unique, fun way to give yourself a shot at meeting somebody that just might be really great for you. The website is really new – I mean we’re birthing a baby here, so it’ll be fun to watch it grow. And, I think once people get into it, they’re just going to really like it.