Couples who couldn’t be more different from each other are often told their relationship makes sense because “opposites attract.” But what if that theory isn’t really true?
What if opposites don’t really attract and it’s just something we tell ourselves to ameliorate a situation that’s unlikely to succeed? That’s the position of a new study by Wellesley College and the University of Kansas. According to their research, we all are just looking to settle down with the person who loves the same ice cream and movies we do. Scientists surveyed pairs of people interacting in public and found we naturally gravitate toward people who share our own beliefs and interests.
While debunking the opposites attract theory might bring down some of the greatest movie romance premises in history, it’s important for differing couples to know what they’re up against. It may look like your differences complement each other now, but as time goes on, they could become the basis for a faulty foundation that ultimately brings down your relationship. Or they could simply become less important while your connection becomes more important. Scientifically speaking, there is no hard-and-fast ruling on the subject, but there are plenty of studies that support either side. Here are a few that will hopefully help you navigate your opposing relationship.
1. The attraction to the “opposite” doesn’t last
It’s unclear where we got this idea that dating someone on the opposite end of the spectrum is most ideal, but according to a 2005 study conducted by the University of Iowa, it’s hooey. While 87.5 percent of participants said they want a partner who complements them, research shows the happiest relationships are made up of like-minded individuals.
“Although many individuals occasionally feel attracted to ‘opposites,’ attractions between opposites often do not develop into serious intimate relationships, and when they do, these relationships often end prematurely,” said the leader of the study, Pieternel Dijkstra.
So while dating your opposite may sound like a sexy idea, in reality, you’ll probably fare better with someone who operates just like you.
2. Some pesky differences won’t change over time
If you love everything about your significant other except for the fact that he’s a Trump supporter, you’ll either have to make peace with it or move on, because odds are you can’t change him. The study mentioned in the first paragraph found that inherent personality traits, like religious, political and ideological beliefs, are likely there to stay. So if you find you simply can’t deal with the political conflict between you and your partner over this year’s elections, you may want to think about finding someone who gets why universal health care is so important.
3. Other viewpoints can change if they’re not firmly held
You’ve probably had friends from different religious backgrounds who get together, and then one converts to the other’s when they get married. This idea proves that while two people may initially start off in different ideological places, those sentiments can change over time if they’re not tied to them. One 2006 study conducted by Illinois State University found this happened when the relationship proved more important than the original belief. Sometimes a person will actually seek out a partner with such differing values because he/she wants to possess those values but needs support to do so. In these cases, a relationship between two people with opposing beliefs can lead to a stronger relationship because either one or both parties is allowing that relationship to change them for the better.
4. You could be looking for what you’re missing
My fiancé and I have a number of similarities, but it’s the differences that make us stick together. He’s outgoing and always moving, which inspires me to take more risks, while I’m logical and organized, which in turn helps him stay focused. This theory that we sometimes seek out opposites because they have a quality we wish to adopt was explored in a 2007 study at the University of California. While couples who are similar in every way may initially have the more stable relationships, it’s the couples who are open to gaining something new from their partners that may end up having the more fulfilling ones. Maintaining equilibrium is not always the recipe for lifelong happiness.
5. In the end, the differences may not matter one bit
According to a small study that was conducted in 2011 at the University of Colorado, all of the above studies may be inconsequential in the end. Researchers surveyed 32 couples — some who’d been together for only a few years, and others who’d been married for 40 years. They found that ultimately, despite what online dating sites would have us believe, comparative personality traits were not a factor in the couples’ overall relationship satisfaction. While the study could not pinpoint a specific factor that resulted in happier relationships, it suggested this simple notion — the couples that made it work simply valued their relationship over their differences.
So in conclusion, if being together trumps always agreeing to vote for the same presidential candidate, then you likely have a decent shot at making it for the long haul.