If you think opposites attract, think again! Just about everyone believes that opposites attract, but they don’t. Yet many relationship experts write that people seek partners whose traits complement their own.


It’s a myth that opposites attract, states Matthew D. Johnson, Chair & Professor of Psychology and Director of the Marriage and Family Studies Laboratory, Binghamton University, State University of New York.

He writes, “Love stories often include people finding partners who seem to have traits that they lack, like a good girl falling for a bad boy. In this way, they appear to complement one another. For example, one spouse might be outgoing and funny, while the other is shy and serious. It’s easy to see how both partners could view the other as ideal — one partner’s strengths balancing out the other partner’s weaknesses . . . The question is whether people seek complementary partners or if that happens in the movies.

“As it turns out, it’s pure fiction. There is essentially no research evidence that differences in personality, interests, education, politics, upbringing, religion, or other traits lead to more significant attraction.


“Researchers have investigated what combination makes for better romantic partners — those who are similar, different, or opposite?.. Social scientists have conducted over 240 studies to determine whether similarity in attitudes, personality traits, outside interests, values and other characteristics leads to attraction. In 2013, psychologists Matthew Montoya and Robert Horton examined the combined results of these studies in a meta-analysis. They found an irrefutable association between being similar to and being interested in the other person.

“In other words, there is clear and convincing evidence that birds of a feather flock together. For human beings, the attractiveness of similarity is so strong that it is found across cultures.”


Truths about arranged marriages support the case for similarities attracting. According to Utpal Dholakia, PhD, regarding Indian arranged marriages, ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­when a marriage is arranged, “prospects come vetted.” They are matched in characteristics such as social class, religion, caste (still today for Hindus), and educational attainment, which signals similarity and that such likenesses may be significant predictors of longer-term marriage success.

Marriage arrangers routinely pair people with similar values and lifestyles. People in these marriages report high levels of satisfaction over the longer term.

A study concludes that over time “the love experienced by Indian couples in arranged marriages appears to be even more robust than the love people experience in “love marriages.”


Despite all the evidence to the contrary, why does the myth that opposites attract persist? We may take our similarities for granted because they’re less noticeable than our differences. Consequently, spouses may give more weight to differences like introvert/extrovert, emotional/intellectual, planner/spontaneous person, etc.

A way to make sense of this apparent contradiction to the opposites-don’t-attract conclusion is to differentiate between “opposite” and “different.” The studies mentioned above conclude that it is similarities that attract looked at characteristics such as attitudes, personality traits, outside interests, and values, which reflect one’s essential self.

The complementary dissimilarities, which may stand out in compatible couples, are secondary in importance to their essential similarities. More examples of such less significant contrasting traits: optimist/worrier, morning person/night person, and adventure seeker/security seeker. These differences are not deal breakers when they occur in a respectful relationship that’s supported by the presence of key similarities.

Sometimes secondary differences cause conflict. But by appreciating each other’s dissimilarities, spouses can grow by dealing successfully with the resulting challenges that may arise. So how do couples who are basically compatible in the essential ways manage to stay happy together when faced with a difference that can be frustrating?


Psychologist John Gottman found in his extensive research that 69 percent of marriage problems are not solved. But in good marriages many issues are managed. Gottman states that couples can live with unresolvable conflicts about perpetual issues in their relationship if their differences are not deal breakers. It’s not the presence of conflict that stresses the relationship; it’s how the couple responds. Coping with differences positively and respectfully can keep a marriage thriving.

Couples who stay together happily learn to manage their differences. Sometimes it’s as simple as agreeing to disagree, such as when spouses support different candidates for elected office or favor different political parties. In other situations, it’s about finding a way to manage a difference. A conflict about differences where there is a willingness to put the relationship first can result in a good resolution. The key is to be aware of, accept, and respect differences that need not be deal breakers.


Caroline and Kyle are compatible in essential ways. They share the same religious background, educational level, and critical values. They both like living in their quiet town in upstate New York. One big difference was that Kyle didn’t want to become a parent, and Caroline longed for a baby. Kyle loved Caroline and put their relationship first. He decided to go along with her wish. He explained his decision philosophically by saying, “If you have children, or if you don’t, you will regret it.” It turned out that they both found parenting fulfilling. Now their son is married, and they adore their young grandchildren.

Kyle and Caroline have a security seeker/adventure seeker difference. He likes staying close to home. She loves to travel. They manage this difference well. She doesn’t try to convince Kyle to act against his homebody nature, which would cause him to resent her for pressuring him. He doesn’t try to force her into his stay-home mold by insisting she stop taking trips.

Their solution: Caroline travels with women friends who share her interest in visiting places like Argentina, Denmark, New Zealand, and elsewhere. Kyle misses her when she’s gone but is glad to have a happy wife. Kyle and Caroline manage this difference not by trying to change each other but by accepting it and creating a solution that fits both of them.


Not all opposites or differences can be managed. Some potential deal breakers:

· different religions;

· different spending styles, e.g., one is frugal; the other
spends wildly;

· one wants children; the other doesn’t;

· One has an addiction or a mental or physical condition
that the other cannot tolerate;

· different lifestyles, e.g., one wants to live in an urban
area; the other in a rural one;

· different core values, e.g., one wants fame and fortune;
the other wants a quiet, contemplative life;

· different ideas about fidelity, e.g., open marriage versus
traditional marriage.


Spouses with similar values, enough compatible interests, and good character traits are more likely to have lasting, fulfilling marriages. When differences arise in a good relationship, instead of judging their partner as “wrong,” partners listen to each other and express themselves respectfully. They put their relationship first and find solutions that work for both of them.


Johnson, M.D. (2018). No, opposites do not attract [blog post]. Retrieved from https://theconversation.com/no-opposites-do-not-attract-88839

Montoya, R.M., Horton, R.S. (2012). A meta-analytic investigation of the processes underlying the similarity-attraction effect. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 30(1): 64–94. Retrieved from https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/0265407512452989

Dholakia, U.M. (2015). Why Are So Many Indian Arranged Marriages Successful? The upsides of relinquishing choice, deciding quickly, & lower expectations [blog post]. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-science-behind-behavior/2015...

Marcia Naomi Berger, MSW, LCSW, Author, Therapist
Written by Marcia Naomi Berger, MSW, LCSW, Author, Therapist

You’ll gain practical tips in my books (audio, too) to create a more fulfilling marriage and other great relationships. www.marriagemeetings.com

Author's Bio: 

Marcia Naomi Berger, LCSW, is a psychotherapist and the author of ​Marriage Minded:An A to Z Dating Guide for Lasting Love (She Writes Press 2021) and Marriage Meetings for Lasting Love: 30 Minutes a Week to the Relationship You've Always Wanted (New World Library, 2014. Her books are available in print, e-book, and audiobook formats. www.marriagemeetings.com