Have you ever sat there and just thought about both how different you are from your partner, but also about the common ground you share?
Have you wondered if the differences could break you?
Do you wonder if your attraction to your partner is because of the similarities or the differences?
If so; these are not uncommon questions people think about, especially as relationships are forming. These types of questions also may come up if some rocky ground has been forming in the relationship over time.
While relationships can evolve and dissolve over time, today we are going to explore how relationships tend to thrive when we focus on the commonalities or lack thereof.
“Birds of a feather flock together” is a common expression. Though a set of magnets would disagree that likes attract, when it comes to people, research largely supports that when we are similar, we tend to be attracted to one another.
Similarities typically will include interests, beliefs, values, goals in life, spirituality, etc. There is also a concept in psychology that explores the idea that the more time you spend with your partner (or anyone really) the more alike one becomes which strengthens attraction even further. Again, this supports that similarities seem to act as a glue that provides additional cohesion that can help weather most relational storms in the future.
Let me use my own marriage as a guinea pig here to reflect on these sentiments. My husband and I have similar personalities and interests. Regarding personality, we are both very honest, loyal, funny, and whimsical. I would also argue that both he and I are easily excitable if our passions are brought up, such as someone discussing our favorite video game or animals.
Regarding our interests, we both get enjoyment out of spending time with animals, trying new foods, video games, and are fascinated by how things work in life. I am a therapist and love to explore why people operate the way they do or how the brain takes in information due to experiences across the lifetime. My husband is an engineer that likes to focus on how mechanical things such as valves and actuators operate to assist a greater process.
Due to having similar points of view, I have always been able to go to him and talk about problems I run into, stress, sadness, etc. because I know he will be able to help me with whatever I am battling at the moment.
I believe these commonalities have helped strengthen our relationship over many years as we explore our passions together. However, this does not mean that our marriage does not take work, like anyone else’s relationship. For there are also differences that I have had to learn how to navigate, and him with me, over time to make our relationship function healthily.
Again, similarities are great, but the truth is we all naturally have differences as well. Having dislikes about random things your spouse does or differences in areas of life that are important to you but not to them does not necessarily mean a relationship is doomed.
What it boils down to is a willingness to work toward acceptance and appreciation of these differences. Am I able to truly accept this difference in value, spirituality, life goal, and way of operating, OR, does accepting this difference in my partner extinguish a piece of my soul and dim my own individuality in any way?
If so, then you have your answer that this may be more of a compatibility issue for a longer-term relationship if the answer is “yes” to the second part of that question.
A concept worth mentioning is that sometimes what initially attracts us to our partner, is the very thing that drives us insane by the time the “honeymoon” phase of the relationship ends.
For example, you may be very attracted to someone else having an extroverted personality who is very outgoing and spends a lot of time bringing you with them to parties, or gatherings with family and friends. However, a few months into the relationship, you may be starting to feel burnt out and wish to spend a bit more alone time with your partner while they do not understand why things can’t just continue what seems par for the course for them. Usually, this happens because the excitement has worn off or we are just used to how things are and we desire a change of some type, among countless other reasons.
Though my husband and I are very alike, we are also very different. The balance of these two things has kept us extremely attracted to each other as well as compatible with one another as we continue to make more and more progress towards our shared and individual life goals, make memories, and enjoy each other’s company.
Now, let me reflect on these statements about operational differences between him and me. One major difference between him and I is that while we both could argue we are both “thinkers” and “feelers” if we are being rigorously honest, I tend to be the more right brain (feelings-based) and he tends to live in more the left brain (logic-based). For differences in how to solve a problem, due to being more of the ‘feeler’ in our marriage, when I have a problem I tend to have a lot of feelings about them that I need to process before switching gears to ‘problem-solving mode’. My husband is very aware of this but sometimes can make the mistake of trying to speak to the issue I am having by providing solutions when I first need him to reflect on understanding “how awful”, “fantastic”, “eventful”, “hurtful”, etc. something was first. We “feelers”/right-brain dominant/”understanding-first” people need validation before we are even open to hearing solutions if that is even what we want. This can change at any time.
On the flip side, if my husband is experiencing a problem, I tend to naturally be more focused on his feelings and experiences, versus solutions, which is usually what he desires after the initial validation. His “logic”/ “left-brain dominant”/ “problem-solving first” approach deems that he wants to focus on solving the problem and not focus on the emotions it may be causing him right off the bat. In his case, he will report to me that he feels less stressed after identifying solutions, which can help him then process any residual emotions as needed, again if that is even what he wants at that time. This can also change at any time.
As you can see we are opposites here. The best way we navigate this is to literally say to each other something along the lines of, “I am looking for [support, solutions, or just venting]”, after our initial brain dump to each other.
Even though I’m typically a “feeler” and he is typically a “thinker” our needs can change based on every single situation so it is important not to assume one’s needs even though one way typically works 90% of the time.
Despite the fact that I met my, now husband, in 2009, my crystal ball broke a long time ago, and even though I know him really well (and vice versa) there is no way I will ever be able to read his mind despite being a very inquisitive person. Reading someone’s mind is a thinking error, not a skill that develops with the longevity of a relationship. It is unfortunate that ‘mind-reading’ is something that has become rather romanticized in the media which causes us in real-life to think that making assumptions is sexy, desired, and a litmus test of closeness one has with their partner.
To bring things full circle after using my own relationship of the marriage I have with my husband to explore these initial concepts, here are some main takeaway points that you can apply toward your relationship….
If we are able to accept the differences, it becomes about how one navigates through life with their partner accepting both the differences and similarities of their partner. In essence, the theory I’m supporting here is that “likes attract likes”, similarities increase attraction, and both of those concepts truly help to further connect people together.
However, when it comes to our differences, it means that we need to be aware of the differences, respect them (when it’s not toxic or unhealthy to do so), know our own biases to them, and leave room for our partner to have different perspectives, experiences, and approaches in a way that does not judge, pathologize, or is unsupportive to an unhealthy degree.
We don’t have to necessarily love the differences between our partners or in how they operate, but we sure need to remember that when we commit to a relationship of any kind, in a healthy relationship, we are committing to that person with all their similarities and differences in comparison to oneself.
Now that we’ve discussed why both similarities and differences are important in a relationship, I encourage you to start asking yourself some questions about the relationship you are in or desire to be in:
What are the similarities between you and your partner?
What are the differences between you and your partner?
Do the similarities and differences strengthen your relationship?
How are you navigating the differences? Are they viewed as barriers to growth or enrichment in your life?
The answers to these questions are all important to review both individually and as a team to help determine your compatibility with one another.
It’s also important to remember that being too similar or too different may not be a problem for some but may be for others. What truly matters is how you view these similarities and differences and how they affect your own morals, beliefs and dreams for your future.
If you find the similarities or differences with your partner are starting to negatively impact your relationship with one another, Solid Foundations Therapy is here to help! Visit our website at www.solidfoundationstherapy.com or give us a call at 630-633-8532 today!