Jake is an atheist; Stacy is a devout Christian.

Bill loves to spend; Cristy loves to save.

Victor loves a vacation out in the woods, camping in a tent; Amy prefers a nice condo on the beach.

Steve gets up at 6:00 am in the morning; Megan believes the day should start around 10 am.

The list of differences in relationships can go on and on. The questions are: Do they make the relationship better or worse? Do opposites attract? And if they do, will their relationships work long term?

In our society and through our media, we have been constantly told that opposites attract because they help complement each other, create balance, and bring excitement to the relationship. This can be especially true when the relationship first starts; however, what initially attracted and intrigued two people can lead to annoyance and problems down the road. With time, differences are amplified and personality-related characteristics that are not clearly identifiable initially become more apparent. After a while, people find themselves trying to change their partner’s behaviors or traits, even though they may have approved of them early on.

When two people have similar backgrounds and belief systems, it is more likely they will develop a strong foundation that is based on compatibility. The relationship between them and their ability to work through life stressors becomes significantly easier because they share most customs and practices. This allows people to focus on the exterior stressors that may be in their lives, rather than being distracted by interior stressors caused by conflict within the relationship.

However, it is not whether opposites attract or not that matters; it’s whether two people can truly see the value in their differences, respect those differences, and openly communicate without the feeling that one party is trying to change the other. A relationship that is truly rewarding and satisfying depends on several conditions. Some of these conditions include the number, type, and importance of differences between the partners, since the bigger or more important the differences, the more challenges the relationship will face. Each difference takes negotiation, adaptation, and compromise, which create stress. This stress and strain on the relationship may affect its ability to survive. Below are some of the differences that create the major strains in long-term relationships.

Religious or Spiritual Perspectives: If she likes to go to church three times a week and he does not believe in God, it eventually will create major conflict. Ideological beliefs are part of one’s core and difficult to compromise.

Life Vision: If a person envisions living a very simplistic life in the country while his partner has a vision of living life in a major city, it will create disharmony and possible resentment when geographic or housing decisions are made. Life visions drive decisions and desires, and being able to share a similar vision with a partner is important in achieving mutual happiness.

Definition of a Relationship: We all create different definitions of relationships based in part on the examples of role models we see growing up. For example, if he believes that women should be at home with the baby and cooking, while she grew up with two working parents and shared household responsibilities, it will create challenges in understanding and accepting each other’s expectations.

Energy Level and Sociability: If one person wants to go out several nights a week or constantly have people over and the other person loves to relax on the couch, alone, most nights—this may be a red flag because shared leisure time is an important factor for satisfaction in relationships.

Spending Habits: If one person focuses on the future and saving money while the other lives for the now and is eager to spend, it can be catastrophic. It’s no secret that money is the root of many relationship problems.

Level of Intellectual Engagement: If he comes home and looks forward to an engaging conversation and sharing ideas and experiences, while she looks forward to watching TV or reading a book in silence, it will create a disconnect in the relationship.

Problem Resolution: If there is a disagreement and one person that feels that talking about it openly is important while another one would rather repress it or explodes, then the relationship will deteriorate because conflicts will escalate. Conflict compatibility is perhaps the most important instance in which you do not want to attract your opposite.

Often we do look for people that complement us in some way. We don’t want to wake up next to ourselves in the morning. We want a partner that will help us grow and develop and become more complete. However, the challenge is coming to a true acceptance of those differences. One thing will always stay the same in any relationship—each person will continue to grow and develop in a unique way. The question is whether that growth will make a relationship stronger or slowly crumble it. Below are some things that you may be able to do accommodate differences into your relationship.

Openly express expectations and feelings: You cannot force your partner to change or vice versa, but you can learn to understand his or her perspective. By openly talking about your differences, you can come to a mutual understanding of each other’s needs and wants and how to work around or compromise your differences.

Do not wait until it’s too late: Do not wait until there is an argument to address your differences. The faster they are addressed, and the less that you are both emotionally affected at the time of the discussion, the better chances you will have of developing a deeper understanding of each other and agreeing to work in cooperation.

Make a list of factors that initially brought you together: With life stressors and conflicts in the relationship, it is important to reflect on what brought you two together, especially your similarities or shared interests. Which experiences do you mutually enjoy and how can you make them more frequent in your life? When you find joy in the similarity you can better work through the differences.

Make a list of things that you appreciate about each other: Again, gratitude and appreciation can impact every aspect of your life and your perception of it. By making this list you may be able to see how some of the differences can be a blessing in disguise.

Make a list of things that are uncommon between you and your partner: Rate them on their importance and the value that they have in your life. How do these differences improve your relationship? How do they hinder it? If your relationship is more valuable to you than the differences, then make a list of ways that you may be able to compromise with each other so that both people’s needs are met.

Remember, most problems in relationships are not created by what happens in life but by people’s perception and expectations. The only person that you can truly change and influence long term is you. Ask yourself if it is possible to settle your differences with your partner and whether it is for both of your highest good. Whether opposites attract or not, the functionality of your similarities and differences are up to you and your partner. The most important question you have to ask is:

Can I honestly accept my partner for who he or she truly is?

Author's Bio: 

Joeel A. Rivera, M.Ed., Ph.D. (ABD) holds a Master’s Degree in Counseling and is currently completing his dissertation for his Ph.D. in Psychology. Joeel’s extensive career as a relationship coach includes certifications in P.R.E.P, a 30-year research-based program for couples, Nurturing Father’s curriculum, and Parenting 21st Century. Joeel is now taking a select number of Life, Relationship, and Entrepreneurship Coaching clients. Contact Joeel at joeel@transformationservices.org