Certainly, opposites attract. If we were to marry someone just like us, life would be dull and sex nonexistent. Good chemistry, and therefore good sex, requires the kind of tension that arises when partners are, well, different.
In fact, we are attracted to opposites because they stimulate us and provide and can also balance us. A few examples of such opposites:
- Introvert vs. Extrovert
- Impulsive vs. Planner
- Solid plodder vs. Someone who works in adrenaline-induced spurts
- Adventure seeker vs. Security seeker
- Intellectual vs. Emotional person
- Morning vs. Night person
We’re drawn to someone whose traits compliment ours because we feel more whole and life feels fuller when this happens. Sometimes these opposites create discomfort. But the spark they add to the relationship and the opportunities they provide for growth when we deal constructively with such challenges are priceless.
Managing Irreconcilable Differences
Psychologist and author John Gottman, PhD, through his well-documented research found that 69 percent of problems in marriage do not get solved. But in good marriages many problems can be managed. Gottman states that couples can live with unresolvable conflicts about perpetual issues in their relationship if their differences are not deal breakers. It’s not the presence of conflict that stresses the relationship; it’s how the couple responds. Positive, respectful communication about differences can keep a marriage thriving.
Couples who stay together happily learn to manage their differences. Sometimes it’s as simple as agreeing to disagree, such as when spouses support different candidates for elected office or favor different political parties.
In other situations, like Ella’s described below, it’s recognizing that a trait that initially attracted you to your partner and later annoys you provides an opportunity for growth and for connecting more deeply.
A conflict about differences where there is a willingness to put the relationship first can result in partners reaching a satisfying middle ground. The key is to be aware of and accept differences.
Early in their relationship, Ella loved how Toby showed affection by hugging her and squeezing her hand often. Toby initially found Ella’s independent spirit refreshingly attractive.
Sometime after they married, Ella resented Toby for clinging to her so much. She felt smothered. Ella began to withdraw from his embraces or woodenly tolerate them. Toby felt ignored. He thought she didn’t love him anymore.
Eventually, Ella came to understand the source of their conflict-causing difference. Toby described his mother as clingy. While growing up, he’d felt intruded on by her frequent affectionate gestures — her hugs, touches, and kisses. So when he met Ella, her self-sufficiency felt like a breath of fresh air. Not having received much physical touching while growing up, Ella at first felt excited by Toby’s affectionate gestures. But after a while, enough was enough for her.
Ella and Toby were able to talk about their feelings and to understand how each of their backgrounds contributed to their conflict. An understanding developed on both sides that helped them to accept and respect their differences. Consequently they were able to reach a middle ground. Once he stopped taking her withdrawal personally, he again felt loved by her and more sensitive to her signs at times when she would welcome a hug or other touch. Ella learned to tell him, kindly, when she needed her space. This is how they learned to manage their conflict; not by trying to change each other, but by learning to accept and respect their individual differences.
Some Differences Can Be Deal Breakers
Not all opposites can be managed. Here are some possible deal breakers, depending on how important the issues are to you:
- Different religions
- Different spending styles, e.g., one is frugal, while the other spends wildly
- One wants children; the other doesn’t
- One has an addiction or mental illness that the other cannot tolerate
- Different lifestyles, e.g., one wants to live in urban area, while the other in a rural one
- Different core values, e.g., one wants fame and fortune; the other wants a contemplative life
Some Commonalities Are Important
Spouses whose marriages are more likely to thrive have similar values, enough compatible interests, and good character traits. Instead of judging the other as “wrong,” they learn to accept differences and address them respectfully. They are willing to put their relationship first and find solutions that work for both of them.