Do Opposites Attract in Relationships?

Cropped shot of a happy young couple spending time together outside

Shapecharge / Getty Images

We’ve heard it again and again. But is there real psychology behind the popular phrase "opposites attract" in relationships? A myth has developed that like magnets, we are attracted to our polar opposites.

In old romantic movies that we viewed, we might have seen the good girl attracted to the bad boy. Or we may have a friend, a shy, retiring sort, who is attracted to an outgoing and friendly person. It seems to make sense that they’d be a good match.

For example, if a college student studies day and night in his room and is academically driven, we might set that person up with a more social student who goes out on weekends and gets less than stellar grades. The rationale is clear. 

We reason that the student getting good grades will be a positive influence on the other’s study habits and the social butterfly will draw the other student out of their room for more fun times.

As a result, we erroneously conclude that complementary personalities make for better, stronger, healthier relationships. Scientific evidence has proven, however, that this is not true.

This article discusses why people who are wildly different from one another find themselves attracted to each other, the pros and cons of dating your opposite, and what really makes a relationship last past that initial phase of attraction.

Why Do We Initially Attract Our Opposite?

Opposites may attract at first because the other person seems new and exciting. Maybe the object of your attention is a medal-winning professional snowboarder and you are an accountant.

Or perhaps that person who entered the conference room represents something forbidden. He might come from another class, race, or socio-economic background that is different than the kind of partner your family expects you to be with, for example.

Upon first meeting, the physical chemistry might be off the charts. This might be evidence of lust. Strong sexual desire in and of itself can be healthy. It can also keep the flames of passion stoked in a long-term relationship. But lust without emotions, intimacy, and commonalities does not make for a healthy long-term relationship. According to scientific studies discussed below, neither does staying with our opposites.

After the initial encounter and you've both decided to date, the ways you’re both diametrically opposed enhances the appeal of you two as a couple. In the beginning stages, the differences may still seem intriguing. That’s because differences haven’t proven to be obstacles in the relationship yet. If your current flame or partner is your opposite, it will make for a more difficult road ahead.

What About Couples With Mismatched Sex Drives?

While sexual satisfaction and frequency contribute to healthy, long-term romantic relationships, partners having different or opposite sexual requirements is common. Past findings linked the mismatch to poorer sexual and relationship outcomes.

However, those who feel like they are opposites when it comes to sexual compatibility can rest assured. A new study sampling 366 couples found that higher desire rather than matching desire was most important. The idea is that couples won’t always have to be in the same mood or aligned about sex. And that’s OK.

But zeroing in on increasing and sustaining desire, and working through differences, was proven to be more important than matching your partner’s desires. Study participants had higher sexual and relationship satisfaction as a result.

Pros and Cons of Dating Your Opposite

Let's take a look at some of the pros and cons of dating someone who is your opposite.

  • You may learn to compromise

  • You can learn how to be more patient and empathetic

  • There may be greater opportunity to learn new things

  • The excitement may be more intense

  • Might not be sustainable long term if excitement wears off

  • More potential for disagreements

  • Requires better and more frequent communication

  • You may find you both have widely differing lifestyles and goals

The Pros of Dating Your Opposite

To be sure, there are benefits of being in a relationship with somebody who is your opposite. For instance, people who have type A personalities might calm down and feel less pressured by coming home to type B personalities with more laid-back traits.

Other ways you may benefit for a while from being with your opposite include:

  • Their strengths complement your weaknesses and vice versa
  • You’ll get more comfortable with compromise
  • You’ll teach each other new things
  • You’ll stretch your understanding and empathy muscles
  • You’ll keep the passion alive more easily
  • You’ll find more balance
  • You’ll increase your tolerance level
  • You’ll gain more patience

The Cons of Dating Your Opposite

The drawbacks of opposites uniting date back to early research. In one study, timid, verbally inhibited participants were paired with critical, assertive partners. The study showed that although they might have been attracted at first, the quality of the relationship suffered as the relationship matured over time. The pairings became unsustainable.

The study consisted of timid, inhibited males who were alienated by strong critical females. While at the time of the study, society’s reluctance to honor assertive females may have come into play (the study was published in 2003), further studies conducted by The Gottman Institute noted that adding criticism and contempt into the mix by any gender can prove destructive to any relationship. Nevertheless, the study revealed that opposite pairings were unsustainable.

We also know the limitations of pairing opposites through other studies. For example, if another’s face is similar to your own, you’re more likely to deem that person trustworthy, according to an article published in the journal Psychological Science.

That suggests that if someone looks like us, we are more likely to trust them, and if they don’t appear similar to us, we consider their character not as desirable.

Recently, psychologists analyzed the combined results of over 240 studies in one. They, too, found that similar partnerships scored the highest. Similarities fell into the areas of values, attitudes, personality traits, and interests.

Without similarities, it seems like partnerships fall apart. For example, suppose one person in the relationship is ambitious and has certain life goals and the other person is free-spirited and doesn’t have the same values. In that case, the relationship likely won’t work in the long run.

Similarities Make for a Stronger Pairing

Michael Kosinki, assistant professor of organizational behavior at the Stanford Graduate School of Business coordinates a global collaboration between more than 100 universities studying Facebook digital footprints of 8 million people. He co-authored a study published in the journal Psychological Science.

By analyzing the digital footprints people left on Facebook—their likes and what they posted about—evidence showed birds of a feather do flock together. Most people interact with others who are similar to them online. As humans, we tend to gravitate toward those more like us.

Partners who are opposite to you in certain aspects like in their taste in music or favorite foods can enhance a relationship for sure. And in the short term, opposites can work in relationships. Just keep in mind that if partners aren’t in alignment regarding many important aspects of a relationship, it just might not last.

Before entering a relationship, check to see if your core values, attitudes, personality traits, interests, and goals are in sync. Based on solid science, relationships are more likely to flourish if you’re engaged with someone similar.

6 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Kim JJ, Muise A, Barranti M, et al. Are Couples More Satisfied When They Match in Sexual Desire? New Insights From Response Surface Analyses. Social Psychological and Personality Science. 2021;12(4):487-496. doi:10.1177/1948550620926770

  2. Swann Jr WB, Rentfrow PJ, Gosling SD. The precarious couple effect: Verbally inhibited men + critical, disinhibited women = bad chemistryJournal of Personality and Social Psychology. 2003;85(6):1095–1106. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.85.6.1095

  3. Lisitsa E. The Four Horsemen: Criticism. The Gottman Institute.

  4. Farmer H, McKay R, Tsakiris M. Trust in me: trustworthy others are seen as more physically similar to the selfPsychol Sci. 2014;25(1):290-292. doi:10.1177/0956797613494852

  5. Montoya RM, Horton RS. A meta-analytic investigation of the processes underlying the similarity-attraction effect. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships. 2013;30(1):64-94. doi:10.1177/0265407512452989

  6. Youyou W, Stillwell D, Schwartz HA, Kosinski M. Birds of a Feather Do Flock Together: Behavior-Based Personality-Assessment Method Reveals Personality Similarity Among Couples and Friends. Psychological Science. 2017;28(3):276-284. doi:10.1177/0956797616678187

By Barbara Field
Barbara is a writer and speaker who is passionate about mental health, overall wellness, and women's issues.