There’s a lot of truth in the old idiom that opposites attract. Back in the day, there were huge evolutionary advantages to having a partner with skills that you didn’t have. This way we covered all the bases in our project of surviving. But if opposites really do attract, why do so many couples, spend so much time, trying to make the other think/feel/act more like themselves?
I often meet couples (and can reflect on my own experience too!!) who like to complain that their partner “just doesn’t do it the way I want it done” or “why can’t they make a decision the way that I do?” When couples argue they often say “I just don’t see it the way you see it, you should see it my way.” We seem to work hard at trying to mold our partners into versions of ourselves. So what do we do about those differences between us? How do we learn to appreciate them rather than bemoan that its so far away from how we ourselves are? Conversely there are those who lament that they will never be like their partner, “I will never know how to do this like him/her, or be as (fill in the blank) as him/her. And if I don’t do it like him/her they will never be happy with me.” And so we are left feeling defensive, not being able to communicate that, and being down on ourselves for not measuring up to something that is impossible to be – someone else!
The other interesting thing I have noticed: some of the major complaints tend to be the opposite of what attracted us in the first place!! How is that even possible? How does “s/he was mature and steady and I needed that given my chaotic history”, turn into “s/he’s boring and doesn’t do anything” ? Or “s/he was exciting and active” turn into “s/he never settles on anything, s/he keeps changing his/her mind” ? Or, “I knew s/he would be successful” turns into “s/he never has time for me because s/he is always working” ? “S/he was so artistic and creative” turns into “why can’t s/he get a real job!”.. The variations are endless.
So how do couples succeed at coupling? My long held belief is that over the arc of a lifetime together, there will be things that make you unhappy, irritate you, challenge you… as well as things that bring a lot of joy to you, moments you feel so loved you don’t get what the worry was about, moments you can’t wait to be together. And that’s the art of living isn’t it? Riding the ebb and flow of what comes your way, learning how to get through the tough parts, how not to let stress break down connection and create a defensiveness, enjoying the good when it’s good.
Is it at all possible that in the tough moments, thats when we might lean on what’s different about our partner? That maybe that would be the time to say, thank goodness s/he is not like me! Although to do that I imagine we would need to drop the feelings that so often accompany a “hard time”. We would need to feel safe in being vulnerable, with someone who does not in fact think like we do, or feel the same about things as we do … or maybe even harder, is the source of our irritation.
And I wonder, when we get to those tough moments, what would be the “opposite” of how I usually respond? What would be the opposite of shutting down, of being angry, of being critical? Hmmm… being vulnerable, being open, being compassionate (with myself and my partner), being loving. Opposites can be attractive!