Relationships 101: Do Opposites Attract?

It seems logical that like would attract like, but in my private practice as a marriage counselor and psychotherapist, I often see people drawn to their opposite—because it’s new and exciting. However, what’s exciting in the newness of romance often becomes unbearable in the constant contact of a long time relationship

If you and your partner don’t have a certain degree of similarity, your relationship will be too stressful to last. On the other hand, if you’re too similar, your relationship could be boring. The excitement and challenge of your relationship comes from your differences; the security and ease of your relationship comes from your similarities.

Here are some relationship dynamics you can learn to understand to overcome challenging differences between you and your partner:

Gender differences
Although times are changing, most men and women are socialized differently as children, and these differences can trip us up in romantic relationships. Women’s and men’s brains, and therefore language processing and reasoning, are organized differently. Cultural anthropologists theorize that it’s because of the different survival skills they needed to learn. They maintain it takes different perception, ideation, cognition and communication skills to raise a baby versus hunting down a mammoth. Whatever the case, the differences can be bridged. The main thing you need to understand is that most women take a meandering mental route, full of emotional (and distracting for men) side trips, which are rich in meaning for the female. It is why research shows that women are so good at multitasking, cooperation and relationship-building, and less focused on reaching a specific goal.

Men value competency and problem solving. Women value intimacy and emotional connection. Women, you may think he’s focused entirely on time, power, or money, but what he’s really trying to do is create enough security that he can feel safe to let his guard down. Men, you might think she’s illogical or irrational, but she’s responding to emotional cues you haven’t been trained to see.

Different Families and/or Cultures
It’s not just that “Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus”—it’s that all of us have grown up on different planets. Whatever your family did seems “normal” and “right” to you, and couples can get caught up in arguing about who’s right rather than focusing on what will work.

This is especially difficult in mixed-culture families. Blended couples have blended children, who need both cultures. Learning to combine traditions, cuisines, and family celebrations can really create a brand new culture that celebrates everyone. When a couple can accomplish this the result is joyful.

Coming Together
When your differences are grating against each other, you need to stop insisting you’re right or your partner is wrong, and seek to re-establish your connection. To reconnect, be sure you are listening to each other and understanding your mutual needs and wants. The most powerful thing you can do to keep a marriage strong is form a partnership, a team, where both parties feel respected, cared about, and needed. If you really want to revive your relationship, begin not by complaining about your needs that aren’t being met, but by focusing on understanding your partner’s needs, and communicating what you want. Once you make the connection, you can begin to work out the issues.

Intimacy Breaks Barriers
Intimacy is the art of making your partner feel understood and accepted. When this feeling is created, barriers fall. Gentle touch, eye contact, a gentle sense of humor, and the right words all create an intimate atmosphere. Commenting positively on your partner’s looks or the day’s activities will also help. Partners often disconnect when they don’t feel interested in each other anymore. When there’s a problem with intimacy, a partner who’s sympathetic and doesn’t make demands can be very healing and appealing.

Four simple steps to create a successful relationship despite your differences:

1. Talk frequently and honestly to each other about your frustrations, about intimacy, about anger, about disappointment, about your appreciation of each other, about the meaning of life, about everything.

2. Strive to work together to solve anything that comes up. Learn to be a team, a partnership. Don’t get stuck on who’s right or wrong. Instead, focus on what will solve the problem.

3. Keep your connection going through communication, affection, understanding, and mutual concern for one another.

4. Have a sense of humor, give the benefit of the doubt, and lighten up. Try not to react so dramatically, and let small things roll off your back.

When you follow these four steps, your differences won’t separate you -- they’ll excite you. (adapted from The Unofficial Guide to Dating Again (Wiley) ©2010 Tina Tessina


Author Bio:
Tina B. Tessina, Ph.D. “Dr. Romance,” is a licensed psychotherapist in S. California, with over 30 years experience in counseling individuals and couples and author of 13 books in 17 languages, including It Ends With You: Grow Up and Out of Dysfunction (New Page); How to Be a Couple and Still Be Free (New Page); The Unofficial Guide to Dating Again (Wiley) and The Real 13th Step: Discovering Self-Confidence, Self-Reliance and Independence Beyond the Twelve Step Programs (New Page.) Her newest books, from Adams Press in 2008: Money, Sex and Kids: Stop Fighting About the Three Things That Can Ruin Your Marriage and Commuter Marriage. She publishes “Happiness Tips from Tina”, an email newsletter, and the “Dr. Romance Blog” and has hosted “The Psyche Deli: delectable tidbits for the subconscious”, a weekly hour-long radio show. Online, she is Dr. Romance, with columns at Divorce360.com, CougarCandyStore.com, and Yahoo!Personals, as well as a Redbook Love Network expert. Dr. Tessina guests frequently on radio, and such TV shows as Oprah, Larry King Live and ABC news. Follow her on www.twitter.com/tinatessina, and www.facebook.com/tinatessina

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