After 22 years of marriage and over 25 years of providing therapy, there is a common question I often hear. Do opposites attract? My husband’s hobby is playing video or complicated role play games and my hobby is being active and endurance trail running. I am literally falling on my face to go to sleep around 9:00 p.m. and he can stay up until 2:00 a.m. and still function as if he got 8 hours of sleep the next day. I could go on and on about our differences. But there are times when I reflect, do opposites really attract? Not necessarily!
In Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy (EFT), we have learned that couples get into a cycle of disconnection and that pattern can present itself across various “topics” of conflict. For example, you can be arguing around parenting, chores, or money and typically the same dynamic will show up. One person will tend to move towards the other in a way that is intended to communicate, be heard, and express the concerns. Pursuing can feel to the other partner as critical or attacking despite their intentions to resolve the conflict. The other partner may move away from their pursuing partner in an attempt to “not make it worse” by shutting down, literally leaving the room, or trying to explain themselves. Both of them have positive intentions for the relationship. One is attempting to resolve the conflict and the other is withdrawing as a form of protecting the relationship by not making things worse. This dynamic is challenging and exhausting. Whether you and your partner are similar or different, this dynamic is what you want to pay attention to. The strategies you use when you are disconnected are strategies you learned early on in your life when you were under stress or seeking comfort. As our systems move into fight or flight, we naturally react the way we learned or observed when we were younger. All of the opposites or similarities in the relationship are no longer relevant at this moment. The relationship is in distress and this cycle is the enemy.
That being said, there are pros/cons to being opposites. Here are some things to consider:
** Respect and honor each other’s differences
** Create intentional time to be together and find common ways to have fun together even if that isn’t your ideal activity
** Be curious about your differences to increase your connection, empathy and understanding
** Recognize the positive intentions in the cycle of disconnection. The two of you are fighting against the cycle, not each other. Your strategies to cope and manage this disconnect is different but is not meant to hurt the other person
** Talk about the differences between you but also acknowledge the ways you are similar. Although my husband and I are quite different in many ways, we actually have fundamental similarities in our approach to parenting, money, values/morals, and personal characteristics (and the fun in using sarcastic banter in daily conversations).
As I have worked with many couples over the years I would say the important thing to emphasize over anything is respecting each other, staying curious and open to each other, finding joy together, and learning how to manage the cycle so it doesn’t drive your relationship apart. Identifying and working together to “beat” the cycle will help you in so many ways.