Thursday, August 17, 2006

Dismaying Story #35: Can Opposites Thrive?

Dear Andrew,

Is it really true that opposites attract? Or a better question would be, can opposites make it work? I've been with my boyfriend for 8 months and we've known each other for over 10 years. When we first started dating, we didn't notice each other's differences. Now that we've been together for a while, we've discovered that other than our love for each other, and our core values and morals, we have absolutely NOTHING in common. We are polar opposites. It's not necessarily a problem. We seem to balance each other out. What one lacks, the other makes up for.

When it comes to certain things like communication, however, it has become a hindrance. He is very open and straightforward, says whatever is on his mind. I am more reserved and have a hard time saying how I feel. There are other ways in which we are opposite. He loves the outdoors, I'd rather say inside and curl up with a good book. I'm very laid back and I call him my Drill Sergeant.

Can a relationship work with all these differences or should there be some sort of compromise? I know that we should love each other unconditionally and not have to change for the other person. I love him to death, and he's the man I've always wanted...and he feels that same way about me.

Sometimes being so opposite gets in the way of what could potentially be the greatest relationship ever.

Signed, Yin & Yang

Dear Yin (or maybe you are the Yang),

Do opposites attract? I don't know. I'm sure there are studies based on surveys of large numbers of couples. I could look up the papers and read about tendencies and probabilities, but that doesn't matter in your case. You are really interested in whether you and your boyfriend can make a go of it.

Absolutely! You certainly can. Then again, you may not. In that regard you are just like everyone else.

Every couple has similarities and differences. Some of these enrich the relationship and make things easy, while others present challenges. Keep in mind, though, that the similarities can present problems and the differences can be advantages.

Consider a young woman who has a wee bit of a quick trigger on her temper. When the inevitable conflicts arise, she flares with an initial burst of emotion. If given a few minutes to decompress, though, she is able to proceed in a calm fashion. Now suppose she hooks up with a boyfriend who is exactly the same in this regard. An issue arises, she flares, he flares right back, which hits her right when she is incapable of handling it, so the two of them spiral out of control for a while. This is a case of two people with a similarity that causes a problem. This can also be quite common between parents and their teenaged children who inherited their tendencies. A person like this might be better off with someone who can remain calm in response to the initial flare-up.

You mention balancing each other out, so you already know that differences can work to your advantage. Consider a shy person married to Mr. Brash. The shy person might be better at sweet talking the loans officer at the bank, when a rational, conciliatory approach works best, while they might want to send the more confident partner to deal with the used car salesman.

My guess is your communication issues are caused only in part by your perceived differences. Virtually every couple struggles to communicate effectively now and then. This is the way it has been since the dawn of time. We all have to learn what works between us and what does not. Certain skills must be acquired, such as how to work toward compromise and having the empathy to see things from your partner's point of view. Developing strong communication is work and it takes time, regardless of your mix of personality types.

This is where I disagree slightly with your letter. You said you should not have to change for the other person. In one sense you are correct -- you should not have to change your basic personality, the core of who you are. Everybody should, however, learn how to deal with their partner. If you want things to work between you, the ways you react to various situations should evolve toward whatever works for the two of you. I gave an example above of two people who both tend to flare with emotion when an issue arises. If that relationship is to flourish, at least one of them (perhaps even both) should modify that tendency. Loving adults should view this type of change as an opportunity to improve their relationship, rather than as an unfair imposition. Consider the person who says, "This is how I am, take it or leave it!" They are limiting the success they might have in developing solid relationships.

You and your partner have a ways to go if you are to communicate as well as you would like. I firmly believe, however, that your particular mix of personality types does not doom you to failure in this department. If you are both willing to compromise, work at it, and be patient with each other, that will go a long way toward resolving this issue.

I also suspect you might have more in common than you believe. You mentioned having similar core values and morals, which is a solid starting place for any relationship. If your relationship were to continue for some time, you might discover other ways that these core values make the two of you similar. Would you tend to agree on what sorts of limits and boundaries should be set on children, or how they should be disciplined? Would you have similar opinions on how each of you should contribute to earning a combined income? Issues related to how we entertain ourselves can take center stage early in a relationship, while other matters arise later.

Finally there is the matter of chemistry between you. Despite your differences, you apparently believe the two of you are hitting it off. Relationships are strengthened when two people share positive experiences. This is one area where being opposites can be a challenge; you want to have at least some things you can enjoy together. That doesn't mean you have to do everything together, though. Alone time is important too. He can mountain bike while you read and the two of can still succeed like crazy.

Do you have enough in common to be happy with each other? Only the two of you can answer that one. Just keep in mind that you have to work at building a relationship. Don't be too quick to blame your challenges on your differences; these may simply be issues that everyone needs to work through.

All the best,

If you haven't already done so, now is your chance to check out this week's Ask the Faithful Readers question. I will post my personal favorite response on Saturday with a link to the winner's blog.


  1. LOL! Opposites MUST attract! My hubby and I are as opposite as night and day - and we just celebrated 20 years! I'm passionate about everything, he's blase'... I'm country, he's hard rock... I'm fish and seafood, he's BEEF... I'm computer, he's television ... we are as diametrically opposed as ANY two people could possibly be... and yet... we compliment each other. He does woodwork, and I paint it... He does yard work, I do housework... You know... I actually wrote a poem about this once -- and it's on the web if you'd like to read it. Here... Our Way

    Now... Andrew... my post today is NOT about a one-on-one relationship... it's only about mY relationship with the media... but I think I may need your couch now! Come visit please...

  2. Good advice. Thanks for visiting my blog!

  3. My opinion is that Opposites can make it work if they share the same purposes and goals.

    Two hands help get a job done or a proposal typed. Two feet can bring you to a higher place or goal.

    One foot together with one hand creates a disability. Dr. Andrew you were so on the mark when it comes to communication.

    Communication doesn't always have to be a conflict. I'm sure if a shirt could feel pain it would be afraid of the Iron. However, wrinkles need a force to smooth themselves out. There is "give and takes" on both sides.

    A relationship in analogy to two irons and two shirts can also be used. Setting goals, short and long term, communication and sharing efforts and give and takes - is a good recipe.


    (Hmmm, wonder if I should take my own advice. 2 Left feet here! LOL!)

  4. Hey, thanks for stopping by my place and leaving a comment! I'll be sure to stop by here again and see what other advice you have to offer.

  5. I am certain that opposites attract as well. My hubby is so different from me. But we love each other dearly. It makes for some spicey fights though

  6. Hubby and I are total opposites - we've been hanging out 24 years!
    Nice post.
    Thanks for visiting.

  7. You could also mention that some people act a certain way because they do not know how to deal with it so one is not changing who they are but by learning how to deal with something greatly changes the outcome of a situation. I wish they would teach these problem solving techniques in school maybe we would all get along better and appreciate each others differnces.

  8. My husband and I are complete opposites, except for our morals, and our christianity...we see exactly eye to eye. When we were dating I prayed about whether our differences would be a help or a hindrence to our relationship. I felt like God was telling me he was "the one" and we got married. Since our 3 years of marriage I have found nothing but pure happiness in the fact that we are so different. We compliment each other well, and in fact with my personality...I would clash with someone like myself.....

  9. andrew, you are a prolific writer, and a good one.


  10. I think as long as your on the same page with the "big things" (morals, family, religion and food*) it doesn't matter whether you have a lot in common or not.

    *Okay food isn't a "big thing" but let's face it - nothing is worse than arguing about where your going to eat.

  11. Hey, thanks for commenting on my blog! So the earth moved for you, too? :-D

  12. thanx for visiting my blog.i find yours interesting too

  13. Great blog. Very interesting stuff.


  14. We usually start out relationships with a very basic difference --- one is male and one female. Right there you have two completely oppposite sets of hormones and all that entails. So, we marry and discover other differences --- we are not joined at the hip, just at the community property. Whatever attracted you to each other in the beginning can still light your fires and marriage can be wonderful for a lifetime, if you work as hard at staying together as people do at getting divorced.

  15. Andrew, your comments on this topic are so very good. I like kacey's comment, too, that we start out as opposites: male and female.

    The concept of developing good communication is so important. (The un-development of that is what caused my marriage to end after 14 years.)

    Peace and love.

  16. I think the marriage has just as good a chance as any marriage has....being opposites can be interesting.....and liking the same things can be long as she doesnt expect him to curl up with a good book when he wants to be doing something outdoors, it should be ok. I guess its all in how they handle it..they both should have the freedom to enjoy the things they like...and they have been dating for 10 years? I think thats what she said...they must be doing something right.

  17. Opposites do attract. I'm single, he's married. LOL!

  18. THIS really is quite a novel site!! :) i am floored with the idea and more by the stories and fascinated by your degrees... propeller head?? interesting!

  19. Being opposite can be fun, if you know your differences and can respect them! We've been together 11 years now, and we still like each other! Thanks (like so many others) for visiting my blog and I look forward to more exciting posts from you!