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Source: Chelsea Madsen, 785-532-6984, chelsben@k-state.edu
News release prepared by: Jennifer Torline, 785-532-0847, jtorline@k-state.edu

Tuesday, Feb. 8, 2011

DO OPPOSITES ATTRACT? THERAPIST SAYS IT'S BEST TO LOVE SOMEONE WHO LOVES WHAT YOU LOVE

MANHATTAN -- When it comes to love, it might not be best for Capulets and Montagues to mingle and marry.

That's because while opposites can attract, they may not be best for each other, according to Chelsea Madsen, a Kansas State University instructor of family studies and human services and a licensed marriage and family therapist. People are typically attracted to someone who loves what they love, she said.

"We tend to search for someone who is similar to us because it's comfortable and familiar. It's not foreign to us," Madsen said.

When we hold similar values, expectations and attitudes with our partner, we generally know what to expect and we are less likely to negotiate and compromise on every minute element of the relationship, said Madsen, who also teaches a course that discusses mate selection.

That's not to say that opposites can't attract -- but major, significant differences have the potential to become a breeding ground for disagreements, unmet expectations and additional difficulties.

"There is still the excitement of 'Oh, they are different,' but in the long run you have to ask yourself the question: Is that really going to be that beneficial for you? Do you have the communication skills to be able to work through those differences?" Madsen said.

She pointed to a growing number of studies that show similarities in values and attitudes are associated with increased marital satisfaction and can make things easier for a couple long-term.

In some ways, opposites can attract in a healthy way. Madsen said it can be exciting to be with a partner who encourages exploration of new things and unfamiliar experiences. But all too often opposites attract for unhealthy reasons.

"A lot of times when opposites attract it's because somebody feels there's a lack in their life, or there's a hole that they try to fill with a person who is an opposite," Madsen said. "Sometimes that attraction can be 'I am missing in this area, and you are really good in this area. Put us together and we are a perfect whole.' But it can actually often create more difficulties."

For example, an introverted person may be attracted to an outgoing person. The introvert may think the outgoing person will help them become more outgoing, but in the end, when the two go out, the introverted person may feel more isolated and ignored from the partner. That can leave both people frustrated.

Choosing a partner involves the filter theory of mate selection, in which an individual sorts out potential mates, Madsen said. Often, the person eliminates opposite mates. For instance, someone who is hardworking isn't likely to look for a partner who's a slacker. An honest person doesn't want a lying partner.

It's for this reason that opposites may not even meet in the first place. It's easier to find a partner who has similar interests, Madsen said. Two people who like golf are more likely to meet each other than a person who dislikes sports and another who loves sports.

It's best to know what you desire in a partner and work on those characteristics in yourself, Madsen said, noting that if you want someone who is honest, work on being honest. Often, the characteristics we look for in a partner are the characteristics we desire in ourselves. When we improve ourselves and set standards for the qualities that are important to us, we're more likely to have successful relationships with others, whether they be similar or opposite.

While there will be qualities that really don't matter to you or the relationship satisfaction, it's most important to find a partner who is similar in qualities that are the most important to you.

"Nothing is definitive," Madsen said. "I've seen happy similar couples and happy opposite couples. Couples work in all different ways."