Why Do Opposites Attract?

Feb 13th, 2015 |

It’s an age-old question. For some, it’s brought on by a natural desire for completion. For example, an introvert seeks someone extroverted, who can perhaps pull him from his shell. Some enjoy the excitement of being with a person who provides the yin to their yang. And the opposite is true—some fear being out of control unless they are with someone they can count on to temper or balance their personality.

On the other end of the spectrum are those who manage to partner with someone who closely matches their personality. In these relationships, partners get along amiably without a lot of effort. Each knows what the other likes and dislikes, how best to communicate and interact, because it’s what they like, too. You might say they speak the same “language of love.” In psychology, this ability is referred to as unconscious competency—the individual has had so much practice with a certain skill that it has become second nature. He or she can even perform the skill while doing other things.

Our “opposites” couple has to work a lot harder. Each person must learn his or her partner’s behavioral profile—their preferred way of communicating, interacting and resolving conflict—because these preferences are different from their own. Each has to think through the interaction and strive to behave in ways to which their partner will respond positively. The psychology term for this is conscious competency—they understand how to get along but have to work at it.

Conscious and Unconscious Competency

The popular television show “The Big Bang Theory” provides us with two couples that perfectly demonstrate the difference between conscious competent and unconscious competent. Characters Leonard, the geeky, introverted scientist, and Penny, the beautiful, somewhat intellectually challenged extrovert, are a classic example of opposites attracting. They understand their differences and are invested in finding ways to improve their compatibility.

Characters Sheldon and Amy, both classic “C’s,” demonstrate the perfectly compatible, unconscious competent couple. They can practically finish each other’s sentences.   (Note: I’ve referenced characters from The Big Bang Theory in earlier posts, too. Unlike real people who typically display a blend of behavioral profiles, television characters offer pure illustrations of behaviors making it easier—and funnier—to understand what I’m referring to.)

Of course, these are only two of the four levels of competency. There’s also unconscious incompetency and conscious incompetency, and unfortunately these categories are where most unsuccessful relationships fall. In the first case, one partner, or both, does not understand how to get along or does not recognize the problem. In the latter, the partner, or partners, understands but just doesn’t care enough to want to do anything about it. Conscious uncoupling is likely in their future!

Assuming you and your partner have a desire to understand one another for the betterment of your relationship, here are some tips for how best to interact with some of the more common behavior profiles.

Communicating with Different Profiles

When dealing with a classic “D“, you should use a direct, to-the-point style of communicating, provided choices for activities and let them take the lead. Avoid right-wrong debates, because a “D” will often be aggressive to win.

Conversely, Influencers (the classic “I“) tend to avoid direct, open conflict. You should recognize their discomfort with conflict and allow time for them to verbalize their thoughts and feelings. Provide enthusiastic, verbal recognition and avoid criticism of them as a person.

The steady “S” also avoids conflict. Draw out uncomfortable issues by asking open-ended questions (how, what, where, when) and state the need to resolve conflict to maintain harmony in the relationship. An “S” likes to be helpful to others, enjoys informal discussions and opportunities to cooperate.

The conscientious “C” is an objective thinker, a practitioner and often a perfectionist. Provide opportunities for them to demonstrate their expertise and use logical, matter-of-fact statements rather than emotional expressions. Accept their need to be “right” and their discomfort with mistakes. A “C” will often want to think through a situation before responding.

Hopefully, these suggestions will help you better understand your partner. For additional information on increasing compatibility, I recommend picking up two copies (one for you and one for your partner) of the book The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman. It offers some great advice on how to build relationships that last. It might just be the perfect gift for Valentine’s Day!