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.