Do Opposites Attract

The idea that opposites attract has frequently been debunked.  Probably, the reason for this is that people think that when (and if!) opposites attract that the partners are totally opposite to each other.  That is not so because if total opposites attracted relationships nowadays would not last for long, even the six or seven years duration for roughly one third of all marriages.

There has to be some degree of similarities for people to be initially attracted to each other – this may be physical, sexual, emotional, intellectual, educational, occupational, social, religious, spiritual or behavioural (for example, similar tastes, interests, hobbies, life-style).  So, for example, it is typical that individuals who are attracted to each other come from a similar socio-economic background and a similar level of occupation.  They also tend to operate in the same social circles and have similar recreational interests.  Furthermore, in being attracted to or marrying somebody like my father or mother I am engaging in a relationship that is familiar, and the repeating of that earlier relationship gives me the second opportunity to cut the umbilical cord in situations where enmeshment with that particular parent has continued.  It is less likely that I will marry somebody like one of my parents if I have formed an adult-adult relationship with each parent.

Along with the similarities to a relationship, there are the inevitable and essential opposite qualities.  Apart from the deeper purpose of opposites attracting, it would be very boring to live with somebody who is not different from you in several areas.  Difference is the life-blood of a relationship; it is what brings a creative dynamic to it.  However, where relationships are defensive in nature, due to the emotional baggage brought into the relationship by each partner, difference equals disagreement.

More often than not, the significant and conflict-inducing opposite behaviours that tend to occur in a relationship are at the level of defensive strategies.  These opposing defensive behaviours would have been subconsciously developed in childhood to guard against further hurt and rejection.  The wisdom in these strategies is that they serve the twofold purpose of protecting from hurt and alerting to the changes required to affect resolution of old and present hurts.  What is outstanding in opposites attracting is the protective responses of your partner and vice versa signal the change in direction that each partner’s defensive behaviours need to take.  For example, when one partner tends to be compliant and the other dominant, then the partner who is compliant needs to find some of the forcefulness of the partner who tends to dominate and the latter partner needs to learn to be more permissive.  Each partner provided the skills for the other, once they do not go to the extreme of that defensive behaviour.  In other words, it is best that each partner find the golden mean between the opposing defensive responses.  The mid-point between compliance and dominance is a permissiveness that allows each to have his/her own beliefs and opinions.

The emotional baggage and defensive behaviours that individuals bring to an intimate relationship can range from mild to extreme.  When defensive responses are extreme, then great danger to a partner’s wellbeing can exist and more often than not professional intervention will be required to resolve the inner insecurities of each partner.  In a case where there has been considerable aggression and violence over a long period of time, it is as important for the partner who has been passive in the face of such threats, to become empowered, as it is for the partner who has been aggressive.  When a person has deep regard for self, he/she will not tolerate any demeaning of their presence.

The most common opposite behaviours that arise in relationships are:

  • passive - aggressive
  • dominant – compliant
  • possessive – elusive
  • over-demanding – appeasing
  • perfectionist – careless
  • emotionless – histrionic
  • invasive – aloof
  • blaming – ‘poor me’
  • logical – over-emotional
  • secretive – gossipy
  • inferior – superior

It is the middle ground between the opposing behaviours that both partners need to adopt.  The middle-ground learning is essentially bipolar because it draws from both ends of the best aspects of the opposing behaviours of the couple.  In moving towards the golden mean between the opposing behaviours, each partner frees self of the ties that bound him/her to their parents and defensively bound them to each other. The opportunities for freedom from old ties and for individual development and couple harmony are now very great.

Tune in to Tony’s RTE Radio One programme on Relationship, Relationship, Relationship, 7 p.m. next Wednesday.