One of the most recognized signs of relationship potential is someone’s interest in knowing us. They want to know about our past, our present, and our dreams for the future. They want our opinion of the movie and whether we like sushi or pasta. They look at us with rapt attention. When we resonate with mutual interest and delight, when we also want to know about them, we share an essential ingredient for falling in love- the desire to know.
It depends. It most cases it’s not the differences that threaten a marriage, it’s how the partners experience and react to those differences.
There Are Always Some Differences
Whether you were drawn together by the attraction of opposites or finally found your ideal match in terms of similar looks, education or socio-economic background, most partners at some point realize they are married “ with differences.” The fact is that no two people have the same goal, react the same way or enjoy the same thing, at the same time – ALL THE TIME. ( Thankfully)
When Do Differences become Problems?
Working with couples, it seems that differences become problems when they are unexpected, imply change or are experienced as a threat to either partner or to the relationship. Often partners react to the assumed threat with accusation or judgment which sets the stage for conflict. For example,
While most partners can live with having different tastes in foods and music, differences that emerge in the face of life events ( jobs, children, financial burdens) often threaten partners.
Recently the question was raised by some of my colleagues as to whether there can be happiness in a sexless marriage. An article on the subject refers to the research of Robert Epstein, a psychologist who reports that 10 to 20% of the romantic relationships in the U.S. are sexless.
According to Epstein, a sexless relationship is defined as one in which the partners have had sex less than once a month or less than 10 times a year. Others writing in the field take the word more literally – suggesting that many couples happy with that schedule would not describe their relationship as sexless.
Maybe the question of how sexual a marriage is and whether or not the partners are happy is a far more complicated one than the rate of sexual intercourse over time.
Work with couples would suggest that happiness from sexual relating must account for the trust and special connection partners feel for one another, the way they hold, touch, laugh, tease, celebrate, walk together, worry about, lean on, cry with, nickname, argue, text and call each other — the many dimensions of sexual intimacy.
For as many people as there are who dream of being with the right person, there are as many who dread breaking up with the wrong person.
Recently, there was a good deal of press about a study by social psychologists Ethan Kross and Marc Berman reporting that social rejection from an unwanted break-up was registered in the same regions of the brain activated when people experience painful sensations in their body. Clearly having someone break-up with you is not only emotionally but physically painful.
Is it equally painful to be the person who sets in motion the break-up?
While we may not yet have the MRI scans, most have personally experienced or witnessed through family and friends that breaking up is, in fact, “hard to do.” What I have found to be a commonly voiced deterrent for both men and women is the fear of being the bad one.
What Does this Reflect?
Whether the fear of “ being the bad one” is self-reflection or the expected judgment by the other partner, the fear of breaking up is complex and is underscored by human drive, attachment needs, sense of self, dependency issues, historical and cultural expectations.
In a winter of stormy weather, a landscape of serious financial decline, an on-going war, reports of international unrest and plenty of personal challenges, you don’t have to be a cowboy to have true grit.
What is Grit?
The formal definition of Grit is of rough granules, as of sand or stone. The psychological definition of Grit is as a positive non-cognitive trait that involves perseverance of effort to accomplish a long term goal no matter what obstacles or challenges lay within a “gritty” individual’s path.
Research defining grit as perseverance and passion for long-term goals found that as a trait, Grit had better predictability for success than IQ or conscientiousness.
The person with true grit is not likely to be the student with the highest SAT Score, the team member with the greatest talent, the manager with the Ivy League background or the most popular Mom on the block.
Actually the person with true grit shares many of the qualities of Rooster Cogburn, the character of the U.S. Marshall played by Jeff Bridges in the 2010 Coen Brothers’ motion picture, True Grit. The person with true grit, be they a senior learning to use a walker, a soldier in basic training, a father searching for a new job or a woman re-locating after losing her spouse and her home, has:
A recent study reported in the Journal of Consumer Psychology found that young couples are actually better than long-term partners at knowing each other’s preferences. In this study of 38 young couples aged 19 to 32 and 20 older couples aged 62 to 78; the older couples had far more difficulty correctly predicting their partners’ food preferences.
Adding to this counterintuitive finding is the fact that the older couples actually expressed more confidence in “knowing” their partners than the younger couples and they actually knew less. Older couples also predicted that their partner’s preferences would be similar to theirs – they were wrong!!
So in your relationship is it a matter of “opposites attract” or “birds of a feather”? The question of whether similar or dissimilar personality traits are a source of romantic attraction and marital satisfaction has been debated for years. There are those who propose a complementarity hypothesis claiming that partners may be more satisfied with those who differ with them on certain personality traits because these partners complement them or offer what they don’t have: she is a thinker; he is a doer.
Reflecting this sentiment, Tim Lahaye in his book Opposites Attract maintains that people with similar temperaments never marry because like temperaments repel — they don’t attract. Similarly, Harville Hendrix, author of Getting the Love You Want, proposes that “There’s a polarity in the universe physically that is also reflected in relationships, especially when it comes to personality traits. So a high-energy person will be attracted to a low-energy person … Incompatibility makes for a dynamic, powerful, growing, exciting relationship.”
Disagreeing with this, authors Scott Lililenfeld, Steven Lynn, John Ruscio, and Barry Beyerstein describe “Opposites Attract: We Are Romantically Attracted to People Who Differ From Us” as one of the 50 Great Myths of Popular Psychology in their 2010 book by that title. These authors contend that most studies demonstrate that people with similar personality traits are more likely to be attracted to each other. This similarity-attraction hypothesis seems to hold up across characteristics as physical attractiveness, attachment style, political and religious attitudes, socio-economic background, and level of education, according to Pieternal Dijkstra in his 2008 article “Do People Know what they Want: A Similar or Complementary Partner?”
So do opposites or similarities cause attraction and satisfaction? Maybe both.