Does ‘opposites attract’ work for long term relationships?


Fact Box

  • The phrase 'opposites attract' applying to social situations has been in circulation since the 1850s but is based on Coulomb's law from 1785, which was the foundation for the theory of electromagnetism. 
  • According to experts, a long-term relationship lasts 'anywhere from two to three years, with couples breaking up around this time.…[and noticing] relational issues that bother them or feel unresolvable. Others go on and continue their commitment to each other.'
  • A recent Singles in America survey by found that, in 2020, over 75% of singles 'believe it's important for partners to share the same political beliefs.'
  • A University of Michigan study found that couples may begin to look like each other over time, even if they looked very different when they first started dating, because 'decades of shared emotions result in a closer resemblance due to similar wrinkles and expressions.'

Ellen (No)

The idea that 'opposites attract' in romantic relationships is the stuff of Hollywood movies and Harlequin romance novels because most people don't gravitate to starkly different partners. While romantic partners might favor different cuisines, music, or sports, they usually desire someone with similar goals and worldviews. If one person wants to have children and the other is strongly against it, or if one partner is deeply liberal and the other an arch-conservative, the relationship likely won't go far.

Experts assert that people tend to prefer others who are similar to them regarding religious identity, political viewpoints, and hopes for what a long-term partnership (married or not) will bring them. There can be variations and more profound reasons for this, but much is due to how aligned a couple is and also how well they communicate. Even though most people believe that 'opposites attract,' the science suggests otherwise. Studies actually show that people are attracted to those who are similar to themselves. Similarities are powerful because they tend to lead to friendships and, in turn, to intimate couplings.

Of course, we can find exceptions to these rules, as fans of the hit British TV show Poldark could point out--the lead couple's unlikely romance is characterized by a member of the gentry falling for a woman from an impoverished mining family. But most of the time, 'birds of a feather flock together' holds more true. While people might fantasize about dating a vastly different person because it's exciting and unusual, they mostly opt for something of a mirror-image to themselves, someone with whom they can be together for the long haul.

Amelia (Yes)

While it’s often said that opposites attract in a relationship, some might doubt the validity of that theory. But in a long-term relationship, finding someone with opposite traits is actually one of the best ways to build a strong bond that will last.

When two partners exhibit different opinions or aspects of personality, evidence suggests that this is what keeps a relationship interesting for the long haul. An opposite perspective or way of approaching a problem can help individuals grow and learn, which is crucial in any lasting relationship.

Differing personality traits can complement each other. For example, if one partner is an extrovert and the other is an introvert, each person can offer opposing social strengths. Being with someone who is different inspires both people to be more open-minded, compassionate, and skilled at compromise. 

It’s also true that when opposites engage in a long-term commitment, they become better at communicating in a way that benefits every other relationship (such as family, career, and friendships). 

Opposites provide the added benefit of sharing and being exposed to new media or experiences that would never have been explored otherwise. It can be only beneficial to a lasting relationship when two people encourage each other to try new things, listen to a different genre of music, or enjoy something they might have never known about without a partner’s influence. 

People who possess opposite traits ultimately harbor long-term commitments based on more than surface-level attraction or the kind of security that serves as an excuse not to change and grow.

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