When Your Partner’s Opposites Aren’t So Attractive Anymore

messy man and neat woman sitting togetherThere’s a reason you and your partner can’t agree. It’s because you started out as opposites. And opposites attract. So annoying, right? But you are in excellent company because opposites attracted long before the human species got here.

It turns out that Einstein’s theory of relativity is built on it, and if you remember your high school science, electrons and protons whoosh right into each other. In the animal kingdom, opposite-ness has the survival value of creating a diverse set of genes.

But among humans, the problem gets a bit complex when the very qualities that attracted us in the first place are the ones we now find highly irritating.

In the world of corporate America, it is well known that people work well together when they are similar in outlook and disposition. If we merely choose people we can get along with, we tend to choose similar ones. But if we choose those we are attracted to, then our unconscious tends to kick in and lead us down paths we probably wouldn’t take if only we knew (consciously) we were doing it. Often, those paths lead to our opposites.

Then again, attraction is hardwired into the animal kingdom, so it must have a positive purpose. What could that possibly be? Back in 1967, Henry V. Dicks had a theory about this (Whitehouse, 1981). According to his view, we are attracted to someone who has a quality we don’t have because that quality was a part of our personality when we were children. At some point, it was attacked or rejected by our parents. So we also rejected it, but at the same time missed it.

Because the quality was put down, we don’t care for it. But because the quality was a part of us at one time, it is still attractive. So, we now have ambivalence about that quality. In a 1981 study of 30 people, it turned out that the annoying quality was an exaggeration of the very quality the person was originally attracted to, supporting Dicks’ theory.

So, for example, if a person was attracted to someone who was outgoing, years later the complaint might be that the object of attraction socializes too much and doesn’t pay enough attention to the person.

What do you do? How do you resolve these sorts of things without giving up who you are?

This is an interesting psychoanalytic approach. Here’s mine: We are here on Earth to learn and grow. We reach for the stars. That is hardwired into us. That part of us that wants to expand our horizons naturally would be attracted to people who have qualities we don’t have. Yet, we of course get along best with people whose outlook and style are more similar to ours. We are pulled in both directions. I think it’s as simple as that.

What if you find yourself in exactly that situation right now? You are in a relationship with someone who seems to be your polar opposite. You are a saver; the other person is a spender. You like to travel; your soulmate likes to stay home. You feel that a comfortable home is a tidy one; your significant other feels home is where it’s most relaxed. You prefer time alone together; your mate wants to socialize. What do you do? How do you resolve these sorts of things without giving up who you are?

Step 1: Get the Magic Back

Without the magic you once had, all the discussions in the world may be of no avail. There was a time when you counted the minutes to being together. There was a time when the list of things above would have been petty in your eyes.

Do something fun, exciting, romantic, and then do something else that’s wild and happy.

The magic comes when you put the whole person into perspective. You used to love something deep and undefinable about that person; now it’s time to reach for that something again.

Step 2: Take a Look Inside

Use the ideas presented above to look at yourself. What is it that you wanted in this other person? What is it about you that is missing that thing? How did that happen? How did you come to find it attractive in your partner?

A little soul searching may help you remember that you had a reason—a good reason—to be attracted to this person. There was, indeed, something about him or her that completed you, even if you were not consciously aware of it at the time.

Step 3: Cherish That Quality

You were once attracted to that quality, so now is not the time to reject it. Cherish it.

True, it may need some refining. We were all put here to grow, and that includes not only you but your friends and relatives as well. By being in contact with one another, each of us can grow.

But the best possible climate for growth comes from acceptance, not rejection. If Dicks’ theory is correct, then plainly we see that rejection by our parents did not help us grow. Take responsibility for the fact you chose this partner.

Step 4: Say What You Need

If you have done all of this introspection and recognize where the attraction came from for this now-annoying quality, and it is still intolerable, speak up! But do it with love.

So many people think that being assertive is the same as being harsh, demanding, and autocratic. That’s the furthest thing from the truth. The reality is that an assertive response is one that doesn’t beat around the bush but doesn’t say it with anger, either. Although you may be annoyed, do some deep breathing and let go of the bad feelings.

Step 5: Figure Out a Solution Together

The beauty of relationships is that so much can be accomplished by putting your head together with someone else’s. Almost every problem really does have a solution. Enjoy the teamwork and the renewed sense of closeness it fosters.

And if you need a little nudge or guidance in the right direction, contact a qualified therapist.


Whitehouse, J. (1981). The role of the initial attracting quality in marriage: Virtues and vices. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 7(1), 61-67.

© Copyright 2015 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Deb Hirschhorn, PhD, Relationships and Marriage Topic Expert Contributor

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • Kev

    July 10th, 2015 at 6:03 AM

    Just one of those things that I would presume happens at some point in all long term relationships.

    The thing that pulled you together could in the end be the thing that drives you apart.

  • Mike

    July 10th, 2015 at 4:20 PM

    I like that you are optimistic about resparking a relationship involving opposite qualities. I am good friends with my ex (her mental health problems were too severe to sustain being in a close relationship but we still like each other). Yes, I am good friends with her, but we have many opposite qualities. We negotiate a lot on how to speak our mind and opinions of each other so as not to be hurtful. It’s really possible to work this out. She is wonderfully good at this. We both have to be willing to give up a little spontaneity because we have to be sensitive to the other person’s feelings, but the friendship is worth it.

  • Lisa

    July 10th, 2015 at 9:26 PM

    If we’re opposites the likelihood is that one of will go to all thos trouble and the other won’t. Funny, but true. ..

  • Lisa

    July 10th, 2015 at 9:28 PM

    Darn typos. One of us…that trouble. ;)

  • Jane

    July 11th, 2015 at 3:46 AM

    Thx for a good article. I learned a lot, and can see it working when I do take the time to admit that I still admire those opposite qualities. This also explains why I was so attracted to my opposites as a young woman,and vice versa, which I have never truly admitted to myself. The concept that these qualities are in me, but rejected is true as well. Thanks, I love to learn……..oops, he loves to stay the same……. JES.

  • Talitha

    July 11th, 2015 at 11:19 AM

    There are going to be times that my husband drives me a little nutty, kind of like I am sure that I do the same for him. But the truth is you have to look at it like he didn’t change, it is you that has changed so if you want to make things work it is like you are the one who has to do some soul searching about that one. he was already like that when you married him and you knew that so to come back and pin it on another person, well that isn’t quite fair.

  • tatum

    July 13th, 2015 at 9:27 AM

    If someone is up front and honest with us from the get go, then how can we ever blame them when we start to not like something about them? I mean, the truth was out there, now whether we chose to see it, that is on us.

  • DrDeb

    July 13th, 2015 at 10:08 AM

    Tatum, you are 100% right.

  • Zeb

    July 14th, 2015 at 2:08 PM

    If you get to this point with each other then this could be a time to start some couples counseling to reconnect on that level that you first did when you starred dating each other. There could be a lot of conversation to have right now to talk it all out!

  • DrDeb

    July 14th, 2015 at 3:47 PM

    As a couples counselor, I couldn’t agree more! Thanks, Zeb

  • Charlotte

    July 15th, 2015 at 1:29 PM

    Maybe you should view it like this-
    maybe your own quirks are not quite as endearing either as they may have once been.

  • Trey

    July 16th, 2015 at 11:51 AM

    You sort of have to look at it like anything else with your relationship, there are always going to be good days and bad days. There will be days when you love everything about him or her and there will be others where they will drive you up the wall. These things usually go away over time and you just have to learn to sort of go with the flow of it, knowing that after a bad day, another good is generally right around the corner.

  • Sloane

    July 18th, 2015 at 10:04 AM

    What an interesting theory, that we are actually seeking out something that we were at one point in time.

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