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Why Do Opposites Attract?

This year, Lisa and I will celebrate 31 years of marriage. They say opposites attract and, in a lot of ways, we’re opposites. While Lisa is a clean freak, I’m not. She likes parties. I prefer isolation. She enjoys chick flicks… by herself. Hey, this is the stuff of marriage.

But 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 lots of weddings, and tend to take it personal when someone I’ve married gets a divorce. It’s only happened a couple of times, thankfully. Nevertheless, I have this running tally of marriages I blessed, that failed.

Truth is, 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. And not everyone who marries should ride it out. But ideally, working through relational issues should be preferred to jettisoning a relationship.

So how is it that the opposite qualities that attracted a couple also work to separate them?

The way I see it, the belief that opposites attract is an admission of inferiority, of incompleteness. 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 said 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.

So 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. Our 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.

What do you think? Why do opposites attract, and why does that attraction, inevitably, separate?

* I think this is one reason postmodern Christians do not believe Adam and Eve were historical figures. A literal interpretation inevitably forces one toward a male headship model.

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{ 14 comments… add one }
  • Bruce Hennigan June 30, 2011, 6:51 PM

    Adam had an X chromosome and a Y chromosome as all males do. If Eve had come first, there would have been no Y chromosome. She has two X’s. See? It is perfectly logical and has nothing to do with male supremacy. It’s simple genetics.
    So, what attracts a man and woman are the similarities (we both have X chromosomes) and yet the opposites (an X for the woman and a Y for the man). Savvy?
    No? I don’t get it either! But, I relish the opposites that attract us and my wife and I have been celebrating our differences for 31 years in October!

    • Mike Duran July 1, 2011, 6:59 AM

      31 years? No kidding? The X and Y particular is fascinating, Bruce. I think it’s because we men need SOME advantage over our double Xers.

      • Carradee July 1, 2011, 7:41 AM

        Just as a note, due to mutations (errors) in various genes, it’s possible to have a fully functional XY, female. ^_^

        But wow, 31 years! Congratulations!

  • Wendy July 1, 2011, 5:45 AM

    Congratulations to you and Lisa! Thirty-one years is a BIG deal! You have spoken right to the heart of my relationship with my husband. We are polar opposites, but as you stated he is strong in areas where I’m weak.

    I’m thankful for him and I trust he is for me…even though we both drive each other nuts. It’s a beautiful thing.

  • xdpaul July 1, 2011, 6:45 AM

    Coming up on 31 years of marriage is no excuse for a pun that awful.

    I hate myself for laughing (at the pun, not your pending anniversary.)

    I suppose Genesis also explains why the family is referred to as “nuclear.”

    • Bruce Hennigan July 1, 2011, 7:55 AM

      It also explains why parts of the nucleus, particularly in women are called rib-osomes!

      Much groaning!

      Sorry!

      Had to do it!

      This is one of my traits my wife does not share. She rolls her eyes at me all the time. It’s a wonder she isn’t reading her own mind!

  • Levi Montgomery July 1, 2011, 7:02 AM

    As one coming-up-on-thirty-one-years (31 Jan 1981) veteran to another, I congratulate you! I hope the next thirty-one are as easy as the first.

    🙂

    • Mike Duran July 1, 2011, 7:12 AM

      Easy? Ha! We’ve had our share of Chernobyls.

  • Katherine Coble July 1, 2011, 7:19 AM

    Wow. Thirty-one years. I thought I had it good. 🙂 Congratulations. I think you guys should celebrate by going to Baskin Robbins and eating all 31 flavours. It has a nice sort of symmetry. Then again, that is the sort of thing I would do, so you might want to avoid it. People often look at me funnily.

    As for opposites attracting and repelling, it’s basic physics. Look at Newton’s laws of motion. Law #3: For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Law #1: A body at rest stays at rest.

    If you want to go anywhere in this life, it’s best to surround yourself with people who challenge you, who provide opposite reactions to your actions. Whether or not you marry, this is just a plain good idea at work, at church, in your avocations.

    But when you marry, being married to someone who challenges you will pull you in directions you wouldn’t ordinarily go and make you a more dynamic person altogether.

    And it also means that those of us who are slobs will not live in pig styes thanks to our clean-freaky mates.

  • Bruce Hennigan July 1, 2011, 7:59 AM

    All humorous puns aside, I have learned that my wife completes me. In my weaknesses, she is strong and vice versa. I believe it is because we are opposite that we complement each other. Only if we are opposite and complement each other can we come together and make a whole that is stronger than its parts. You try and force two similar objects together and they will always repel each other, as Katherine so astutely pointed out. Maybe there is a book in this, “The Physics of Marriage”.

  • Ane Mulligan July 1, 2011, 8:12 AM

    Just last night, we had dinner with some old friends from our youth. When we first married 401/2 years ago, we were 4 couples who lived in the same old small apartment building. Today, we 4 couples are still married, but most of our friends’ marriages didn’t last.

    We talked about that last night. It takes commitment and flexibility to stay married for a lifetime. But oh, the benefits of growing old together outweigh the downs in a marriage. And there will be downs. Few marriages get by without them.

    What I learned is if I don’t focus on the hubs’s “faults” but on my own, God changes the hubs. If I ask the Lord to revive my love, He does.

    Pride is our worst enemy. If my pride is so big that I can’t humble myself before the Lord and say I’m wrong, I’d never be able to save any relationship. Pride makes us adopt the “I deserve” attitude.

    The last thing I’ll say is both husband and wife need to learn to lose the word “should.” Early in our marriage, I told the hubs, “Don’t should on me and I won’t should on you.”

    It worked. 😉

  • Jill July 1, 2011, 9:50 AM

    Parallel lines never meet. He’s brunette, I’m blonde. He’s a peacemaker, I’m a trouble maker. And on and on. But, I tell you, don’t ever piss off a peacemaker. Just trust me on that one. 😉

  • Marion July 2, 2011, 7:00 AM

    Well, I’ve only been married for 4 years in October but we dated for 5 years before marriage.

    Also, I waited until I was 36 to got married. I know this may sound hokey…but I believe God likes it when opposites get together.

    A spender and a saver.
    An introvert and a extrovert.
    A talker and a listener.
    A care-free spirit and a cautious person.

    And so on…..

    God is a God of integration and he wants different people coming together to show all facets of humanity.

    However, it can be frustrating and rewarding when married to an opposite. I beginning to believe that we must agree on the big issues of marriage and work out the differences in the small issues. But if we don’t agree on the big issues that’s where the opposites can attack instead of attract!

    Thanks to all the couples who have been together for 30 plus years…it gives us young couples an inspiration to keep it together when society says it’s time to trade-in your partner every few years like your car.

    Marion

  • Bob Avey July 2, 2011, 7:54 AM

    Interesting post, Mike. My wife and I have been married for 41 years. I know, it sounds crazy. And I know what you mean about the differences. With my wife and I, I am the clean freak and she is not. However, similar to your situation, my wife prefers crowds and noise and I do not.

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