Relationships: Do opposites attract?

Is that old "opposites attract" idiom really ideal? Not necessarily. But here's how you can find the power in your personal differences.

Photo: Juliya Shangareeva/iStockphoto

“I just don’t understand what he was thinking!”

“It’s like she’s from another planet!”

“What does she mean when she says that?”
 
I hear a lot of comments like these — expressions of bewilderment, dismay, abject horror even, when one partner thinks or behaves differently than the other. It’s as if we’re surprised that our spouse wasn’t created in our mirror image. But what did we expect? Did we think that apart from obvious physical differences we would be peas in a pod? Two little love birds? A matching set?
 
Think again. “The yin to your yang” is a more apt analogy. Marriage is a coming together of two unique individuals.
 
Instead of being cause for dismay, the differences between you and your partner should be celebrated. Am I saying that the old opposites attract idiom is ideal? Not necessarily. What I am saying is that differences between you and your partner — he starts things but never finishes them, her idea of conflict resolution is a bed in the guest room, his concept of organization is an elaborate system of multi-coloured Post-its — can make you stronger. That is, if you let them.
 
I like to envision marriage as a Venn diagram: two separate circles that share an overlap in the centre. Or, you might envision this: The best relationships can be depicted as two trees with root systems that intertwine, but with trunks and branches that go in their own directions.
 
Here’s how to find the power in your personal differences:
 

  • Lean into the differences. If you’re detail-oriented and he’s a dreamer, divide and conquer. Leave the ideas (a vacation in Italy, an income suite in the basement) to him while you pay attention to the finer points.
  • Develop gratitude. Marriage is teamwork. If one of you is a good catcher and the other is great at bat, be glad you have your bases covered. Learn to stop seeing differences as a personal affront and start seeing them as the asset they are.
  • Be empathetic. Whether her inability to organize or his ineptitude with finances, these liabilities aren’t easily borne — by both you and your spouse. They come with consequences that your spouse has likely spent a lifetime suffering. Until you came along.

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