True or False: Do Opposites Attract in Relationships?
Everyone has heard of the phrase "opposites attract" when talking about relationships, but is there really any truth to the phrase? Or is the opposite true: that birds of a feather flock together? According to relationship experts, it can be both.
There are tons of studies that all try to explain compatibility between people and quantify the potential success of a relationship. Myers-Briggs personality types, enneagrams, astrological horoscopes, and numerous other compatibility tests endeavor to predict how well different types of people will get along. And while some people swear by these compatibility markers and fall squarely on one side of the “opposites attract” argument, the fact of the matter is that relationships between opposites and people that are similar can both work - as long as couples are able to communicate and compromise to make the relationship last.
What is the origin of the phrase?
So, if “opposites attract” doesn’t always hold true, what is the origin of the phrase in the first place? The phrase “opposites attract” is actually used to describe how magnets behave according to the laws of physics. Every magnet has a north and a south pole that are on opposite sides of the magnet. When put in contact with another magnet, the north and south poles of the different magnets will attract each other, which lead to the phrase opposites attract. The opposite is true when the same poles of two magnets are put in contact, if two south poles are put together (or if two north poles are put together) the magnets will repel one another leading to the lesser-known phrase “likes repel.”
It is unknown exactly when this physics terminology was applied to relationships, but the concept that opposites do attract when it comes to partnerships has been widely embraced by pop culture for decades. Everything from Disney fairy tales (think Beauty and the Beast) to sitcoms (Ross and Rachel from Friends) to celebrity couples (like country star Blake Shelton and pop princess Gwen Stefani) has embraced this idea that opposites make the best partnerships, but this is not always the case. Though people with different points of view can act as compliments to one another in a partnership, sometimes it’s beneficial to have more similarities than differences when you are trying to build a life with another person.
In reality, it is hard to categorize human beings so bluntly. Even if you feel like you are completely different from another person, there are probably some things that you are completely aligned on. And the opposite is also true, even the most similar people have unique perspectives and probably won’t agree on every little thing. Humans are nuanced creatures and as tempting as it can be to group people and relationships, we aren’t as simple as magnets - and it’s important to look at how people navigate their relationships despite their similarities and differences.
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What is the difference between relationship wants and needs and compatibility?
Rather than looking at how you and your partner are alike or different, consider how you use these similarities and differences to make your relationship work. Regardless of whether you are more like opposites or more like birds of a certain feather, it is important to make sure that you are on the same page about the future of your relationship and your wants and needs in the relationship. An introvert and an extrovert (a common dichotomy in couples) can make things work if they have a shared vision for the future. If you and your partner are very similar, it’s important that you share similar views about the important things (like boundaries, plans for the future, etc.) in addition to having similar dispositions.
When you are in a relationship, it’s important that you discuss boundaries in addition to your standards for the relationship. Consider your expectations for yourself, your partner and your partnership and think about how your dispositions, strengths, and weaknesses (whether they are alike or similar) can help you accomplish these expectations. Every couple will have to compromise at some point or another (even if you are VERY similar) to ensure that both partners feel supported and inspired by the relationship. The bigger testament to the compatibility of a partnership or the strength of the relationship is how couples navigate the ups and downs in a relationship, not how opposite or similar the partners are to one another.
What do you do when opposites begin to clash?
Over the course of a relationship, little disagreements can become more pronounced if you and your partner are not able to address conflict and overcome adversity in a productive and healthy way. Whether you are opposites or you’re more alike than different, you will have different views on some things which can and WILL lead you to clash eventually. When this happens, it’s important to face the conflict head-on and address the disagreement collaboratively. Whether the conflict is about a specific incident or is more about how you approach things philosophically, it’s important to remember that compromise is possible regardless of how dissimilarly (or similarly) you see things.
When you and your partner do begin to clash, it’s important to remember your commitment to each other and your respective wants and needs in the relationship. Coming to a mutual understanding about your wants and needs in the relationship (like we discussed before) and putting your best foot forward in order to accomplish those things will help you dig deep when you are clashing with your partner. Even when you are having a disagreement and even when that disagreement feels like a make-it-or-break-it moment in your relationship, remembering that you have similar goals and a shared vision for the future can help you navigate clashes as they arise (and they will!).
If you feel as if you and your partner could not be more opposite, remember the things that you have in common and your shared commitment to one another and to the relationship, despite all of your differences.
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