It’s said that ‘opposites attract’ and this is often true, in love and even friendship.
People happily in love sometimes say, ‘He (or she) completes me.’ Is this really true? And is it healthy, if it is?
The key is whether love is a celebration of the life you already love, or whether you cannot enjoy life without the presence of a particular person.
Does your love add to something that is already fulfilling and rewarding — or is it the only thing that makes happiness possible?
If you feel that the love or connection you enjoy is the only thing making it possible, then back up a minute. What is it about yourself, or life in general, that keeps you from being happy simply for being alive? I’ll bet that if you thought you had a terminal illness and later discovered it was a testing error, you’d be relieved and joyful. If so, why?
I have noticed that ‘opposites attract’ for different reasons.
Some people seek opposites in order to attain unhealthy completion, while others are seeking to celebrate and add on. If you think about it, ‘opposites’ make sense either way.
If you’re desperately seeking completion, you might need an opposite — for example, someone strong and happy where you’re weak and unhappy — to handle that task.
Similarly, if you’re seeking to celebrate life through love, then somebody different is a way to make it spicy, interesting, and to provide added value (for each other) that neither would otherwise have.
Opposition can lead to problems, of course. But much of that depends on how you look at it. Some romantic partners get fixated on changing the other. ‘I love him now, but if he could change in this way, it would be better.’ This, rather than the difference itself, is what starts to create problems in the relationship.
Couples begin to fight over nonessential things, or perhaps even start extramarital affairs, when one feels that the other wants to change him or her. Even without the fight or affairs, there’s an unspoken, even seething resentment beneath the surface that isn’t the essence of love as anybody defines it.
‘Being opposites’ tends to get the blame for this, unfairly. The real problem here is that one partner wants to change the other, and the other doesn’t like it.
I look at successful and happy relationships to understand how people might and ought to handle their differences and ‘oppositions.’
I have found two basic ways. They’re not mutually exclusive, and one can utilize them both.
One way is to realize that, ‘The things that are different, and perhaps annoy me, are part of what makes this the person I truly love.’
The other way is to consider, ‘The differences don’t matter—not when compared to all the things we both take away from this relationship.’
It has been said that love is the art of compromise. This is true, but not a compromise of self or your basic values. You value truth, honesty, integrity or productivity? Then you won’t be tempted to settle for the opposite of these things. If you are tempted, you’re compromising your own values, things you previously thought you could not live without. Why do so? The only possible motivation would be the desperate seeking of completion.
So in what sense is love the art of compromise? Acceptance of who the person really is—and loving the person precisely because of who he or she is. This means not only accepting the differences, but embracing them. If you cannot embrace those differences, then you will not be able to love.
One classic example I hear is, ‘I wish he were more outgoing,’ or, ‘I wish she were quieter.’ These are not issues of fundamental character or integrity, but they are important personal preferences.
The next thing to look at is, ‘What does the fact of his being quiet say about his personality that you otherwise like?’ He’s quiet, but he’s also thoughtful and intelligent. When he says something, it seems to matter. He doesn’t like a lot of people or big crowds, but when he does like or love someone, he does so full throttle—making him an intense and loyal spouse. What’s wrong with that?
The same applies in the other direction. ‘She’s talkative, but she’s also likable, fun and engaging. I have a lot more friends than I would otherwise have, and a lot more enjoyable memories, thanks to her being outgoing.’ The point of this exercise is not to lie to yourself, but to sincerely and objectively look for the benefits the fact of being ‘opposites’ brings you. It’s very powerful, if people would just invest the thought in doing it.
I have noticed that people desperately seeking completion find differences between partners intolerable. “She (or he) has to be more like me. Otherwise, there’s no way to fill the hole.” Why is there a hole in the first place? A “hole” suggests an absence of self. If there’s no self, who is there to love — or to be loved?
In the end, there’s always one important area of common ground: Both you and your partner—however otherwise different—want to love and be loved. (Healthy people desire both.) So long as you truly find things to love, and exhibit qualities the other finds lovable, something fundamental is probably working. With this bond in mind, a great deal can be worked out without any compromise of self or values.
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