It is sometimes said that opposites attract, but is “being opposite” really a useful standard for determining compatibility in intimate, interpersonal relationships such as marriages, partnerships, and companionships?
Like most clichés, this popular belief is overgeneralized and can be misleading, even dangerous. This is because the attraction between opposites can sometimes be a telltale sign of dysfunction. A dysfunctional relationship is one that does not support cognitive, emotional, and behavioral adjustment among its participants. For example, dependent individuals may be attracted to other individuals who enable or encourage helplessness or dependence.
Similarly, a person who is passive and another who is dominant may seem like a match. The passive individual may even seek out a dominant partner. However, in some such cases, this is a condition of an oppressive relationship. The powerful one may treat the passive one like a doormat.
Indeed, the classic case of an abusive relationship where the recipient of the abuse has a “victim mentality” is a case in which one individual is dominant (the perpetrator) and the other passive (the victim). It is no accident that many who harbor victim mentalities come out of abusive relationships only to enter into another such relationship.
This isn’t to say that all relationships arising from opposites attracting are dysfunctional. For example, some who are quiet and reserved may look for mates who are boisterous and extroverted and the relationship may (or may not) be functional. However, it is not because the relationship is between opposites that makes it compatible. Rather, there are more fundamental personality attributes that can make a couple compatible.
Read more: Elliot D. Cohen PhD, PsychologyToday