"We come together 'cos opposites attract,” sang Paula Abdul and MC Skat Kat in their wacky 80’s hit 'Opposites Attract' (check out the video for funky nostalgia and LOLs), but how much truth is there in the old adage that opposites do indeed attract?
We asked relationship coach Anna Swoboda for her insights, and she says that “opposites attract” is an axiom so popular that 80 percent of us believe it to be true.
“There are compelling evolutionary reasons why opposites might attract as greater genetic diversity is correlated with health,” Anna, who is founder and principal matchmaker of personalised offline dating service HeartMatch, tells Yahoo Lifestyle.
“But there is no research that differences in personality, interests, education, politics, upbringing, religion or other traits lead to greater attraction.”
Why could you be attracted to someone 'opposite'?
Anna says psychologists believe we can be drawn to admire qualities in others that we want more of in ourselves.
“We all seek both security (love, support, care, safety) and novelty (adventure, freedom, risk and challenge). Being with someone who has more of what I am not, can mean I experience myself as whole, more complete, and that’s attractive," she says.
"This security - novelty paradox is well known in the rom com movie genre. It’s often presented as the heart vs head or lust vs love and family choice.
"Think of Diane Lane in Unfaithful, Meryl Streep in Bridges of Madison County.”
Anna also adds most people are certainly attracted to novelty, however this can lead to the “fatal attraction principle” where the quality that we once found very attractive becomes the quality that ends the relationship.
Can two opposites make it work?
When it comes to whether or not opposites can actually go the distance, Anna says it’s possible, but not probable.
“With difficulty, perhaps two opposites can make it work. That is the answer from the research,” Anna warns.
“Long-term relationship success is highly correlated with compatibility. Around 80% compatibility of life values, traits and lifestyle interests is the sweet spot. It’s not 100%, as some difference can be valuable, and makes you a better team. But it's not 50% either.”
The Gottman Institute’s research on long term couples finds that 69% of relationship issues are unsolvable, and they mostly relate to personality traits and lifestyle needs; lack of compatibility.
The pros and cons of having a partner that is the opposite of yourself
Anna says it’s not all bad news for “opposite” couples, with the main pro being novelty.
“The experience of the new or different, something totally unlike yourself. That can be fun, exciting and we can learn and grow from the experience, taking on some of their traits.”
But Anna remains steadfast in her warning that it's not long-term relationship material.
“The main con is that similarity is really important for long term relationship success. If you are truly opposites, it’s going to be really hard work. What you value they don’t, and vice versa. The fatal attraction principle will come into play, and those differences you loved will in time become frustrating and then unbearable day to day.”
The law of relationship polarity
When it comes to opposites, Anna says it is also worth mentioning what some commentators call the 'law of relationship polarity'. This talks to the role of masculine and feminine energies in a relationship.
Gender does not affect if you have masculine or feminine energy. A couple can be same or opposite sex. One partner provides the feminine and one the masculine polarity.
Anne says many problems in relationships can be traced back to depolarisation.
“The independent woman who wants a man to look after her but won’t let him. The sensitive new age guy who has become emasculated and is not attractive to a woman because she instinctively feels she can not rely on him to protect her," she explains.
"A classic example of this is the story of Selin and Anthony in the current 2022 season of Married at First Sight.
"In today’s environment where women and men are seeking to be truly equal; women more masculine and independent, men more relational and in touch with their feminine, there is a greater risk of depolarisation in relationships. I find David Deida’s work on the three stages of relationship can be a very helpful framework for couples to work with.”
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