Category Archives: Relationships

Opposites Attract? or Do Birds of a Feather Flock Together

By Joe Peraino, Ph.D.

Opposites sometimes attract but they tend not to last. People assume that they need someone to complement them so they look for someone who has characteristics they do not possess. For example, an introvert may seek an extrovert, someone with weak homemaking skill searches for an individual who could double as a maid, etc. The notion of complementarity likely began with the notion that male and female genders possess underlying differing abilities and their union, through marriage, would make each complete. A symbolic manifestation of this is the universal sign for yin and yang.

My research on couples’ personality characteristics tested whether “opposites attract” or whether “birds of a feather flock together.” The findings indicated that serious dating couples who were more similar to each other were significantly happier in their relationship than those who were less similar. A subsequent study on married couples found similar results. Studies looking at traditional couples versus egalitarian couples demonstrated the latter couples to be happier. The main reason for this is that egalitarian couples tend to share roles while traditional couples tend to have distinct activities they engage in. For example, the focus of the woman in a traditional marriage is domestic and centered around child-rearing while the man’s focus is on job and achievement. Over time their interests and the things they enjoy diverge more and more. The only way to overcome the insidious separation is to spend extraordinary time working on finding things in common to do and talking through numerous differences. Egalitarian couples do not have to work so hard since they already have a priori commonalities.

People marry for many reasons that have little to do with true love, which of course, is the ideal reason for marrying. These reasons can include: unwanted pregnancy, pressure from family, being afraid of not finding somebody else, being afraid of not finding anyone, promoting one’s career, wanting to be married by a certain age, security, status, etc. Hollywood couples could marry for many reasons. I have not seen research that specifies whether their divorce rate is higher than the national average of near 50%. Some actors and actresses, like many others, may have intimacy deficits and thus marry for superficial and/or status reasons. These relationships do not last long. They likely have more pressures on them than the typical American—people wanting to get to know them, being away from home a lot, many people coming on to them, being too busy with work, not being able to nurture their relationship on a regular basis. One thing in their favor is that they both hold jobs in the entertainment industry.

Communication is important in a relationship. Communication is easier when people hold similar attitudes and belief systems. Opposite may attract but, like opposite poles of a magnet, they more often propel away from each other. Stick to somebody like you.