Do Opposites Always Attract or Is Partner Similarity Also Beneficial?

Do Opposites Always Attract or Is Partner Similarity Also Beneficial?

Opposites attract. That’s a ready pithy reference for most people who may be trying to make the point that dissimilar personalities complement themselves and that fact assures success in relationships.

It goes this way, hot-headed people should partner with calm people, introverts should marry extroverts and so on. Moreover, I’ve seen a lot of slender guys loving fleshy girls, short girls loving weirdly tall guys, you know this.

It’s in search of the perfect match, and the argument has mostly favoured the oft repeated wisdom, opposites attract. But love and real happiness isn’t physics, it’s also psychology, biology, chemistry and some other more disciplines, complex stuff, I know.

Some research now suggest similarities may also be very attractive and significant in many ways.

A team of psychologists at the University of Amsterdam decided to take a broad look at whether similarities between couples is beneficial. Their findings suggest that partner similarity does actually matter – especially for the trait of ‘agreeableness’.

Other studies have explored other factors besides personality and found too that similarity is beneficial like in areas such as whether you’re a morning person or on the matter of a sense of shared identity (shared religious views, political views etc)

Research by Van Scheppingen’s team confirmed the old view that difference works when some factors are considered, but it also studied the extent of the impact of other background variables. The findings are interesting.

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Generally speaking, it was found that the most important trait for couples was straight-forwardness. Other cases showed instances where a perfect match may not be the best thing. For people who had low levels of conscientiousness, similarity wasn’t optimal (it was better to be with someone with a somewhat higher level of conscientiousness).

The study showed circumstances where similarity was beneficial.

The standout exception, but only for women, was agreeableness: a trait associated with trusting others and having more empathy. Greater similarity to one’s partner was the ideal situation in terms of feeling more supported in the relationship. Less clear-cut, but also in favour of a similarity effect for both men and women, was a degree of similarity in openness (a trait associated with enjoying new experiences and appreciating art and culture).

Psychologists have also been examining the effect of feeling a sense of shared identity with our partners, or what Courtney Walsh and Lisa Neff at the University of Texas, Austin call ‘identity fusion.’

In their study about newlyweds, individuals who felt their sense of identity was fused in a balanced way with their spouse’s tended to be more confident in their relationship and to deal more constructively with any marital turbulence.

More research to study how perceptions of a shared identity might interact with partner similarity would be nice to extend the boundaries of knowledge so far.

It is probably safe to conclude that partner similarity does matter to relationships almost as much as partner difference matters. The truth is that there cannot be a generalization on these issues as many intervening variables impact results and actual partner interaction such as age, childhood, attachment styles, gender etc.

A perfect match doesn’t have to be perfect. It can be imperfect and still beautiful and beneficial.

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