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Why Do Opposites Attract?

Next month, Lisa and I will celebrate 27 years of marriage. They say opposites attract and, in a lot of ways, we’re opposites. While Lisa is a neat freak, I tend to toward slop. She likes parties. I prefer isolation. She enjoys chick flicks, and I think they’re the biggest waste of time on the planet. This is the stuff of marriage.

Rubens_-_Adam_et_Eve.JPGBut while opposites attract, there’s a catch: Most of the problems in a marriage are often the ones created by people being opposites. Their differences – many of which wooed them at first – become sore spots. The things that once attracted them now repel them. Why is this?

I’ve been privileged to officiate thirty-some weddings, and tend to take it personal when someone I’ve married gets a divorce. It’s only happened a couple of times. Nevertheless, I’ve come to believe that most couples bail on a marriage at the exact point it could become stronger. In other words, the marital friction is an indication of a need to grow, not an excuse to separate. But rather than work through their differences, humble themselves, and concede change, they harden their hearts and divorce. Of course there are legitimate grounds for divorce. But ideally, working through relational issues should be preferred to jettisoning the relationship.

How is it that the “opposites” that attract a couple, also work to separate them? At one point, Lisa’s drive to “organize” everything was something I appreciated, something I needed. But after 27 years, it often irritates me.

The way I see it, the belief that opposites attract is an admission of inferiority, of incompleteness. It’s a concession to deficiency, that we are weak in an area that someone else is strong in. Lisa fills up what I lack, and vice versa. Our strengths and weaknesses not only balance us, they complete us. Marriage then is a means toward wholeness.

I’m not sure if this sits well with modern man. Our obsession with self-realization, personal fulfillment and independence doesn’t completely jive with the suggestion we need someone else to be whole. But it harmonizes with biblical theology. After Adam named all the animals, in the early chapters of the Book of Genesis, it was nuclear-bomb.jpgsaid that a suitable helper was not found for him. He was lacking something. God performed surgery, caused him to sleep, and built a woman from Adam’s rib (Gen. 2). Eve was the perfect partner. Why? She was – literally – part of Adam.

This is an important point because, while God made Adam from the dirt, He made Eve from Adam. He completed Adam by extracting something — no, someone — from within him. In a sense, Eve was always in Adam. No wonder relationships can be so volatile: Eve was formed from the splitting of the Adam.

This instinctive attraction of opposites is, I believe, a hearkening back to that “Adamic yearning” – we are missing someone. That longing is for something greater than just friendship — though friendship is no doubt part of it; it’s a thirst for someone who is a part of us. However, the very dynamic of attraction is also what makes relationships potentially nuclear.

So, on the brink of my 27th anniversary, I’m wondering: Why do opposites attract, and why does that attraction, inevitably, separate?

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{ 12 comments… add one }
  • Nicole August 28, 2007, 3:18 PM

    This is so good, Mike. I’ve thought it very interesting that the first choice for Adam’s companionship was animals, and look what happened with “the woman you gave me”. (Yeah, he didn’t step up and do the right thing.)

    I think the same things could be said for those of us who marry partners who are a lot like us, too. Those characteristics we share can also drive us crazy when down the line, we don’t appreciate them in ourselves so they bug us in our mate.

    Having come out of the world and been divorced, when I remarried after living with my eventual husband for four years, I was determined to stay married this time around. Then we got saved so we had incentive and learned understanding of the covenant we’d made. But we brought in so much baggage that it took YEARS to work out the kinks, and we were on the brink of divorce a few times. You’re right when you assessed the very thing people give up on will make them stronger if they persevere. We’re coming up on 29 years in September.

    Great post, Mike. Honest and real. Happy Anniversary!

  • matty August 28, 2007, 4:20 PM

    “No wonder relationships can be so volatile: Eve was formed from the splitting of the Adam.”

    You tricky little wit.

    Congrats on 27 years (I’m celebrating 3 with my opposite in Nov.).

  • janet August 28, 2007, 8:04 PM

    Happy Anniversary, Durans! Twenty-seven years…wow. Dave and I celebrated our 12th on the 18th.

    Good thoughts. Much of my discontent comes from feeling like my man doesn’t “get” me. We don’t like the same movies or music, he doesn’t read books and I’m a writer, I’m bigtime social and that stuff makes him nuts… So the things I’m passionate about don’t mean much to him.

    But, yeah, I’d probably be in big trouble on my own. The man works two jobs so I can stay home, home school, write, quilt, walk the beaches, etc. He supports whatever I want to do, sends me off to Dallas, lets me go back to college… A real good guy. And while he doesn’t “get” the things that make me happy, he wants me to be happy and that counts for something.

    I think I’m learning that there is ONE who “gets” me like noone else. And HE gave me friends who love books and the movies I like and who understand me when I talk about my thoughts on the Bible and such. Our spouse will not, can not, meet all our needs. Jesus can. If we don’t look to Jesus, we look elsewhere. And that usually doesn’t get you to 27 years…

  • Melody August 29, 2007, 12:38 AM

    I will also be celebrating my Anniversary on September 27th.

    Jacob and I had a conversation about this same topic a few days ago. After going through a whole list of opposite character and personality traits, we did however agree that we had the same values. That may be the only thing at this point that we have in common.

    We can actually think about opposites in two different ways? One in personality and one in gender. If we are talking about Adam and Eve, we know Gods design is that opposites attract in gender, as far as personality, I don’t know.

  • dayle August 29, 2007, 1:51 PM

    Why do opposites attract? Easy. To fill in the gaps in our own personality. Thus the Biblical idea of two becoming one. Sort of like less is more.

    We are incomplete creatures longing to be reunited with out creator. Until that happens we can find some fulfillment by joining with another incomplete creature and becoming a little more complete. The traits of all man combined = the traits of God minus Evil.

    Okay, enough of the heady stuff. My ex-wife and I were complete opposites. At the time, I thought this to be a hinderence. However, as time goes on I see that it is probably preferred. If you marry someone who is too much like you, then there is very little to learn from each other-to broaden each other’s personality. For example: She possessed an extraverted passion that I completely lacked. My rational logic nature often paralyzes me into ruts. I needed what she had to help me out of those ruts. She needed my stable nature to rein in her throw caution to the wind attitude.

    Or, it could be that men and women are different and only opposites exist. And this whole line of thought is a dirt road off the freeway of reality.

    You decide.

    Personally, I believe that divorce is rampant because Christianity if being forced out of our culture. As this happens the importance of a promise before God becomes merely a ritual, not a profession of commitment.

  • Linda Gilmore August 29, 2007, 4:36 PM

    Congratulations on 27 years! My husband and I will celebrate 30 in January. We are opposites in some ways, but not in all ways and probably the ways we are alike contributed more to conflict than the ways we are different. 🙂

    I’ve thought a lot about what makes a marriage last. I’ve seen other long marriages fall apart and wondered why? Were there problems all along that no one else knew about? Did one person just get restless and decide to look elsewhere? Sometimes it’s hard to tell.

    One thing I’ve noticed about people who have been married multiple times (and I’m talking 3 or 4 or more times) is that they tend to talk about “my” house, “my” money, “my” kids — even within the context of the relationship. It’s always struck me as odd — you’re married, part of a couple, it’s not all about you alone. But I think that’s probably a contributing factor — this idea that it IS about me alone, my happiness, my fulfillment, my needs, my wants. (I know there are other factors, too.)

    So how have Bob and I stayed together for 30 years, with 6 kids and most of the time on a near poverty level income? For one thing, neither one of us ever considered quitting. We made a commitment for the long haul, we shared the same values, we believed God wanted us to stay together. And, at least on some level, we always thought of ourselves as parts of a whole. It wasn’t just me alone or Bob alone — we were a team. So when the going got tough — and sometimes it did — we struggled through it together. And, more important, God was always a part of our relationship — a cord of three strands is not easily broken.

    My this is long. I guess what I’m getting at is that maybe it’s less about being opposites or being alike and more about building your marriage on the right foundation. I’m sure that’s at least part of why you and Lisa are still together. And it probably is true of most of us. On our own, we’re on our own. With God, we gain a better persepective and we aren’t really on our own.

  • Nicole August 29, 2007, 5:42 PM

    Long and Good, Linda. 😛

  • Trish August 30, 2007, 4:45 PM

    Good posting! I agree with Melody, because Jon & I are opposite in our personality but we do have the same or @ least very similiar values and most of the time we do like doing the same things. Well congrats Mike & Lisa on 27 years! And congrats Melody & Jacob for many more years to come!

  • JD August 30, 2007, 8:19 PM

    Just so you know Trish I hate love movies. But I guess you can say we agree on somethings.

  • Trish August 31, 2007, 2:11 AM

    JD, you know that deep down inside you do like love movies! Remember you said that, “The Notebook was a good movie and it was the best love movie you ever seen…” I think Mike remembers that! 😉

  • JD August 31, 2007, 7:25 PM

    Yes you’re right I did like it, but only because I watched it with you!

  • Dave Wallace September 1, 2007, 2:17 AM

    Well, Mike:
    First, I’d like to say congrats on 27 years with Ms. Lisa and secondly, thanks for performing our marriage almost 16 years ago. Ours was one of those that stuck.
    Wow how time flies!
    I think that our differences are more than made up for by or foundation for marriage, Jesus.
    He is the one who meets both of ou deepest needs and desires, I’m just icing on Cindy’s cake..ha.
    God Bless
    Dave Wallace (Spuds)* ask Trish

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