Opposites Attract, Dominantly Speaking

Do opposites attract? Source: siganmelostontos (flickr)

I’m sure you’ve heard the expression opposites attract. While it has been proven true for magnets, what about human relationships? Are we attracted to people with differing personalities and does this lead to stronger relationships?

Many scientists are very interested in these types of questions as they want to better understand the human condition and our inner drives and desires. Others, like me, are just lonely people with poor social skills who want to know how they can maximise their chances of romantic success.

A number of studies have investigated the question ‘do opposites attract?’ and have proposed different theories as to how to determine your ‘perfect match’. The majority seem to find that people describe their ideal partner as having a personality remarkably similar to their own. Of course, this is just what people say that they are attracted to, whereas who they actually form relationships with may be different.

A study by husband and wife team Patrick & Charlotte Markey found that long term relationships (together for at least a year) were more likely to form between people with similar personality types. However, the similarity between the partners was less than that between individuals and their ‘ideal’ partners. This may be because people have difficulty finding their ‘ideal’ partner, so they settle for the closest they can find.

This study went one step further, assessing the quality of the relationships. They found that in the highest quality relationships partners were similar in ‘warmth’ (the desire to show affection to their partner) but differed in terms of relationship dominance (one person tended to dominate the relationship while the other was submissive).

You can imagine that if one partner enjoyed public displays of affection while the other did not then there would be some dissatisfaction. But if both partners enjoy showing the same level of warmth, the relationship is more likely to be harmonious.

This is not what I mean by dominant partner. Source: Morgan Sherwood

You might also expect that two dominant personalities may fight more, as each would want to get their own way. Two submissive personalities may each expect the other to take the initiative and make the decisions within the relationship, also leading to conflict. However, with one dominant and one submissive, each partner gets to behave in their preferred way to fulfil their role within the relationship.

Further research into the interaction between dominant and submissive personalities and relationship compatibility is required. The above study focused on warmth and dominance, but there may be other personality factors that are important to successful relationships.

So for those searching for love, the lesson here is that we are attracted to people with similar personalities to our own. However in the most successful relationships there are some important differences between partners that allow their relationship to run smoothly.

But when it comes to matters of the heart, I suggest you don’t follow too strictly what the science says. Instead, I suggest that when choosing a partner you should just follow Clancy Wiggum’s advice: “If it feels good, do it”.


Markey, P. & Markey, C. (2007). Romantic ideals, romantic obtainment, and relationship experiences: The complementarity of interpersonal traits among romantic partners. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, Vol. 24, 517-513. doi:10.1177/0265407507079241

The Simpsons, Season 4, Episode 22: “Krusty Gets Kancelled”


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