Dr. Shirley Glass

"Reflections By Glass"

We all know many couples where one partner is outgoing and talkative and the other partner is quiet and socially reticent. The irony is that some people who are initially attracted to their opposite personality type spend the rest of their relationship trying to turn the other person into a clone of themself. So what gives - Do opposites attract or do we look for a partner who is similar to ourselves? The answer is complex because marriages are more successful if people are similar in certain aspects but complementary in other aspects.

Most people end up marrying someone similar in background factors such as religion, education, philosophy of life, social class, or ethnic group. Research indicates that people who smoke and drink tend to marry others who smoke and drink. Of course this is more likely if they met in a bar. Conflicts in couples with similar background usually come from unanticipated differences over a simple decision such as the traditional stuffing to make for the Thanksgiving turkey (cornmeal or oyster). Although someone believes they were fortunate to have married someone from the same religion, they may find themselves uncomfortable with the liberality or the strictness with which their partner observes their common religion.

Couples who appear to be quite different racially or religiously were originally attracted to some perceived similarity in the other person such as intellectual compatibility, similar recreational interests, or political views. No matter how similar we appear to be to another person, we will always have to resolve differences -- particularly if we marry someone of the opposite sex. I believe that two women from totally different cultural backgrounds often have more psychological similarities than they have with male partners from their own culture.

The attraction to a person who appears to be our reverse image is created by looking for the missing part of ourself in the other person. For example, a humanistic, tender-hearted psychologist like me marries a practical, bottom line accountant like my husband. If our relationship is successful, then we both stretch and become influenced by our partner so that I become much more business-like and he becomes more aware of psychological subtleties. If we polarize, then I become impractical and he becomes hard-hearted. In our case, I find myself saying to somebody in therapy, "Have you considered the financial repercussions of that decision?" and he has said to a business client, "Have you considered therapy? Your business problems are caused by your personality problems?" Our selection of a partner helps us to achieve balance so it is common for spender to be married to a saver, or the emotionally expressive person to be paired with someone who is fairly stoic and mellow.

One of the most interesting observations about attraction is that it's usually the thing that initially attracted you to another person that eventually drives you crazy. He married her because she was bubbly and energetic, and now he is annoyed by her constant talking. She married him because he was stable and ambitious, and now she is unhappy that he is a workaholic. In order to accept our partners, we have to take the bad along with the good. If we love the fact that he is good-hearted and kind, we have to expect him to help the neighbor spread the mulch on Sunday afternoon. Our positive traits can become annoying if they are inflexible or extreme. The impressions and expectations that we had during courtship provide a clue to the things that we both love and hate about our partners. Talking to each other about what attracted you at the beginning is not only fun, but can actually lead to your rekindling that old flame.

This column appeared on oxygen.com, part of Oxygen Media. All rights reserved

© Dr. Shirley Glass