Is it true that opposites attract?

Play here
Voiced by Amazon Polly

One of the great clichés in relation to dating is that “opposites attract.” Is it true? Mostly not. But, as with many clichés, there is a little truth snuck away in there, so let us see what we find when we unpack it. The problem with this cliché is that it has led to a massive amount of confusion and misunderstanding. Whoever coined the phrase has a lot to answer for! 

Let us explore two separate questions: One, as a matter of provable fact, do people who are very different from each other actually find themselves attracted to each other? Second, is it advisable for people who have opposing characteristics to marry each other?

Do opposites really attract?

If the level of attraction was correlated to the level of difference, then everyone would be getting married to people they have nothing in common with. So, this statement is clearly false at face value. We need to rephrase the question to: “Is it true that people may be attracted to those who are substantially different from themselves?” The data to answer this question is readily available, and the answer is an emphatic “no.” Numerous studies have been conducted on attraction, and the consistent outcome is that people are more likely to date and more likely to marry if they are similar to each other.

Let us have another go at forming the question: “Is it true that attraction is increased if the couple are opposites in some aspects?” Here, it gets a bit more complicated, but still mostly no, but there are some exceptions. It should be obvious that opposites do not, as a rule, attract, as people quite consciously look for people to date with characteristics they prefer. However, there are certain personality combinations that do seem to attract each other – or at least go well together. It would take too long to list every combination that comes to mind, but here is a very common one.

Some people who have strong personalities seek out a partner with an equally strong, or perhaps even stronger, personality, as they do not want to feel they are dominating their spouse.  This is generally a bad idea, as having two very strong personalities in a marriage can lead to clashes and discord. It makes more sense in that situation for a person to look for someone who is more of an “opposite,” so their personalities complement each other. 

Sociologist Robert Francis Winch, led a study in the 1950s to answer the question, “Do opposites attract?” Winch found that marital satisfaction and success is increased when socially related traits like aggressiveness and assertiveness are different between the pair. For example, a husband who is very outgoing would be happier with a wife who is more introverted. A study in 2007 found similar results when it comes to “social affiliation,” namely the warmth of a person’s personality. Husbands who are aloof or standoffish are less satisfied with their marriages when their wives were also cold, and preferred their wives to have a warmer personality.

The issue is that while the science suggests they would be better off together, people are often convinced the opposite and reject people with dissimilar personalities. In many cases, this is a wise strategy, but when it comes to strength or warmth of personality it is best to welcome someone who complements one’s own character. The reluctance that many have to come to terms with this is often the reason for their prolonged struggles to get married.

 Is it best that opposites do not get married?

One of the central tasks of dating is to assess compatibility. That is not the same as similarity. A right and left shoe are compatible, even if they go on opposite feet. Two right shoes are more similar to each other, but they are incompatible as a pair. That is why we should not overstate the importance of similarity in marriage. So how can we tell what things need to be similar and what things do not matter? The answer is surprisingly simple.

There are three key dimensions to consider when choosing a spouse, as explained in the article titled How Can I Be Confident That I am Marrying the Right Person? 1) character traits 2) life and spiritual values, 3) personal features. These categories are listed in descending order, both in terms of how subject they are to change over time, and also in terms of how much they contribute to marital happiness and success. Another major difference between these categories is in relation to how much incompatibility matters.

A couple needs to be compatible when it comes to personality and values, but can sustain great divergence when it comes to personal features. For example, when it comes to values, if people are on very different religious levels, or if they have opposing attitudes towards saving money, these differences could cause major problems in the marriage. By contrast, if one person is tidier and the other messier, or if one person likes vacations and the other is not keen, those differences do not have to pose such a problem – if one or both is easy going about it. In short, it is a myth that both in the couple need to be the same in everything.

Likewise, when it comes to most areas of character, people will be happier when they are on the same wavelength. For example, if one party is very philanthropic and generous while the other is uncharitable and miserly, those differences could prove a source of conflict. Another example is if one party is emotionally stable, he or she is going to have a smoother marriage with someone who is also stable. By contrast, similarity on personal features is usually entirely optional. Tall people can marry short people, heavy people can marry slight people, rich people can marry poor people – and the list goes on. Some people may prefer someone more similar to themselves, but this is mostly irrelevant to the success of the union.

Can introverts & extroverts marry each other?

We would not be addressing this question were it not for the fact that (in our view at least) this is a matter of some doubt. While it may not be correct to say that opposites attract, that is not the same as saying that opposites cannot get along. Extreme introverts and extreme extroverts would make a strange coupling, and would be inadvisable. Still, when one of the couple is more introverted or extroverted than the other, that is usually a good thing. So long as the gap is not too large, it is typically an advantage when the personalities of the couple complement each other, rather than being simply a mirror-image of each other. Each personality type comes with different strengths, which together make for a better combination, so long as the couple act as a team.

In summation

Being “opposite” is mostly not an advantage when it comes to relationships, with the exception of certain combinations of personality, especially strength and warmth of personality. A decent level of similarity is essential when it comes to most other aspects of personality, such as kindness and work ethic. When it comes to values, similarity is important, and the greater the convergence the better. When it comes to personal features, difference is not ever a plus, but most of the time they are easy areas for compromise.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.