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Relationships - Do Opposites Really Attract?

Updated on September 27, 2012

Are You Attracted to Someone is the Opposite or Similar to You?

What makes someone attractive to us?
What makes someone attractive to us? | Source

Do Opposites Attract?

When it comes to romantic attraction, personalities play a crucial role in the relationship. There are two rules of thought. One is the complementarity theory, which believes that people are attracted to those who are differ from themselves. The other is the homolity theory that believes people are attracted to those who are similar to themselves.


There have been many studies about opposites attracting and its impact on long lasting relationships. One such study at the University of Iowa discovered that people tend to marry others who have similar attitudes, values and religious beliefs. The most important to a happy marriage, they found was having similar personalities.

The 2005 study, conducted by Eva C. Klohnen, Ph.D, looked ay 291 newlyweds who were par of the Iowa Marital Assesment Project. All the couples had been married for less than a year when the study began.

They dated for an average of about 31/2 years. All the couples were rated on a range of personality traits, their attitudes, and relationship quality. The study showed that the newlyweds with very similar attitudes and values, were not necessarily similar on being extroverted or their attachment style.

The study dispelled the myth that opposites are attracted to each other. Through the research, they found that marital satisfaction was actually related to similar personalities. People tend to be attracted to people who have similar values, attitudes, beliefs since they are easiest to see, early in the relationship.

Personality characteristics take longer to come out in a relationship, and take longer for us to perceive. As the relationship matures, personality similarities play a greater role in couple happiness.

The Iowa study showed that there in no proof that opposites attract. In looking at marital quality and happiness, personality similarity was associated with marital satisfaction, not similarity in attitude. The study found that people are attracted to those who they perceive as similar to themselves and similar to the way they think of their ideal selves.

Often we perceive ourselves as being sensitive, trustworthy, and loving. People are attracted to secure individuals. They desire people who are similar to themselves because safety, familiarity is what we know and feel comfortable with, and help ensure our survival.

Lasting Relationships

Relationships are complex
Relationships are complex | Source

Opposites or Similarity in Relationships

Personality similarities are very important to a committed and satisfying relationship because a happy relationship involves regular interaction with each other. There will be more friction in the relationship when there are personality difference. Personality is the way we are. Attitude is how we act towards each other. Attitudes are conscious decisions to behave in a certain way, and to stay together, or not based on other considerations. Over time, attitudes may play a different role in the relationship.

Other studies have found that it is not so much the differences that depict a couple’s relationship, but how you choose to make the differences impact your interaction with each other.

Couples will not necessarily be driven apart by having different likes and dislikes. Just as couples will not last in their relationship because they like the same movies and food.
It is not necessarily whether the couples are opposite.

It is more a matter of what the differences are and how they work or don’t work within the relationship. Often people look for someone with opposite character traits to compensate for the qualities they desire in themselves, that they don’t have.

People who are shy, may gravitate towards someone who is outgoing, so they feel more “complete”. This creates an attraction, an energy because a part of you now has something you didn’t have on your own. This is sometimes the reason people are attracted to the wrong person also.

Attachment Styles and Relationships

There is a lot of mystery to love and relationships. We automatically look for people who, on the outside, seem to have qualities that we feel we are lacking. There is an allure, a natural attraction to people who have characteristics we don’t have.

Harville Hendrix wrote a book called, Getting the Love You Want, over 30 years ago. His theory states that by nature, we are attracted to people who fill a certain unconscious image we have always held about ourselves, since childhood.

We are attracted to people who have positive and negative traits of our caretakers from childhood. This theory is related to Freud’s attachment theory. There are exceptions, of course to this rule, but generally people will pick other people who balance themselves out.

Marital satisfaction was associated with attachment styles, attittudes were not.
How we relate to each other is a product of our attachment style. There are 3 types of attachment styles:

  • secure - more than 50% of the population. These people can be intimate, and are warm and caring
  • anxious - about 20% of the population. They act out in the relationship and threaten to leave. These people worry if heir partner really loves them. They are emotionally giving.
  • avoidant - about 25% of the population. They try to minimize being close. They will pull back and be unsupportive in times of need.

These attachment styles were first described by John Bowlby, and later by Dr. Mary Ainsworth studies she conducted with children and their mothers.

Satisfaction in a Relationship

Many studies have concluded that we look for people who are similar to us. Usually, we are attracted to people who are within the same age of ourselves, have similar economic, and social status, and race. We are generally attracted to people who are from a similar geographic area to us.

Often we may be attracted to someone who has similar opinions and attitudes to ourselves. Marian M. Morry, of the University of Manitoba, Canada, in 2007, studied relationships and the similarity to satisfaction. The more a person felt satisfied in the relationship, the more they felt their partner was similar to them. She found that people often project their own behaviors and attitudes onto a relationship. This influences relationships and may cloud a person’s judgment.
In this study, 3 different experiments were done.

The 1st study with college students found that they believed their opposite sex friends were similar to themselves, which validates the attraction similarity theory. The other 2 studies showed that the better the friendship satisfaction, the more they felt the other person was similar to them.

The study confirmed that people tend to match themselves to others who have similar attracttiveness, attitudes, and intelligence. Opposites tended to dislike each other, and not work well together, except when it came to dominant and submissive partners.

Online Dating Sites

It takes a lot of work to make a relationship function well. On the surface, and initially attractiveness is rated high the majority of times. As the relationship progresses, standards may be based on what each couple has to offer to each other, based on their personal views.

For example, a wealthy man may pair himself with an attractive woman. Each of these attributes being attractive to each other. It has been found that couples who start online relationships through internet dating services had less intimacy in their initial relationships than those who began their relationship face to face.

This may be due to greater misrepresentation of themselves online. The statistics for online sites show that about 66% of people who meet online, meet in person. 25% will date, 3% will marry.

Who We Find Attractive

People tend to be attracted to better looking people because beauty and handsomeness boosts our own self worth. Good looking people are viewed to be in better health, and possibly more fertile. People are attracted to wealthy people because material goods boost our social status and ego. Those with more money can invest their resources in their children.

Quality of relationships do better when the closeness and sharing are reciprocal, but they don’t have to be equal. Relationship satisfaction is greater when couples tell each other personal things. This self disclosure often helps promote it in each other, and creates an atmosphere of trust and equality among the couple. This creates an increase in intimacy.

Another study done by Michelle Shiota and Robert Levenson looked at the idea of opposites attracting, using personality factors. The Big Five Personality traits is a commonly used reference to describe five broad personality qualities.

Personality Traits and Attraction

Click here for more about the Big Five Personality Traits.

  • Openness - creative and desiring new experinces vs. Close-minded
  • Conscientious - organized and mindful vs. Disorganized
  • Extroverted - outgoing and assertive vs. Introverted
  • Agreeable - affectionate and empathetic vs. Disagreeable
  • Neuroticism - moody and nervous vs. Calm and Relaxed

In this study that surveyed couples across the years, the findings showed that people who have similar personality traits had less couple satisfaction in the middle and later years of their relationship. The authors of this study believe that as our life changes through the decades, our needs from our partner change due to these external demands.

In the early years, intimacy and connection grows when both people are open to the same thing. In mid life, the couples reported less satisfaction because the demands of life put pressure on them as they try to balance family, finances, fun, and other multi tasking needs. It was found the couples who held opposite personality traits faired better during these demanding times.

Their opposite personalities actually helped each balance what the other couldn’t do. With couples who have been married for longer period of time, they reported less marital satisfaction with similar personality traits also. These couples needed someone who was opposite them to offer differences in their shared experiences. There was an expectation to fill in the boredom and open up the confinement they may be feeling.

The study concluded that similarity and opposites in relationships serve to satisfy the relationship at different time and in different ways

Self Perception and Choosing a Partner

Relationships are by far one of the most complex subjects to explain and understand. There are so many factors, from our background and baggage, to our beliefs and our behavior.

Couples who are opposite, often spend a lot of time negotiating and compromising in order to adapt to each other. Too many differences may make it harder for the relationship to survive. On an unconscious level, relationships have a great deal to do with getting our own needs met.

We seek someone who complements us. Yet in a study done in July 2003, with 978 heterosexual participants, aged 18-24, New York, they looked for similarities to themselves with 10 attributes of a long term partner. The study concluded that they looked to match characteristics of another to their own self perception.

Reality is much more complex than any of these studies could hope to demonstrate. In reality, we need a person to both complement us, yet not be identical. We need someone to be similar to us, but help fill in the gaps about ourselves, we deem we have.

What Do You Do?

In Your Relationships Do You Gravitate Towards Someone Who Is Similar, or Opposite to You

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