How often have you heard the phrase "opposites attract"? This principle is based on the idea that we are attracted to other people not because they are similar to us, but because they possess certain talents, skills, and qualities we lack. When we are fascinated with someone, we often hope that their strengths and talents will become our own, on an unconscious level we want to possess those qualities that we lack. Our hope is that our own strengths and abilities will in turn, complement the relationship. If I am an avid sports fanatic, for example, it may be good for me to be in a relationship with someone who has other interests besides sports (and vice versa). The two of us together make a well balanced, integrated person.
The classic love story is two polar opposites who meet, fall madly in love and live happily ever after. We hear the relationship partner being described as the "perfect partner", "soul mate", or the "one I've been waiting for". The newly formed couple is in the delicious space of discovery- every unique aspect of their partner's personality is an enjoyment to be treasured and valued. The social animal meets the social wallflower and the chemistry explodes. Partners typically are attracted to their opposites in the following areas:
- The emotional person is attracted to the intelligent, logical person
- The clean, neat partner pairs up with a slob
- The spendthrift mates with the frugal saver
But after a few months, something else explodes too- our willingness to accept the special, unique qualities that are so different from our own. Why then do we begin to pick apart the very qualities that we were initially attracted to in our partners? Change becomes the name of the game- and we spend huge amounts of time and energy trying to change our once perfect mate. Concentrating on our partner's differences, which we once saw as a positive, we now see as faults. And over time, when they are immune to our efforts, our expectations of trying to change them will create a permanent tension in the relationship.
So, a very curious pattern emerges. It begins slowly, but eventually it takes on the speed of a runaway train- blowing through the station and threatening the long term survival of the relationship. This is the pattern where you try to change your partner into someone who thinks, feels, and acts just like you. Instead of respecting and appreciating your partner's differences, (like you did in the beginning of the relationship), you begin to see them in a negative light, just for being the way they are. Instead of keeping yourself open to what their differences have to offer you, you embark upon a silly path to change them into your mirror image. This path will only lead you to resentment and frustration, and is a sure way to inflict severe damage to the relationship. Much of our relationship stress comes from our conscious and unconscious efforts to change our partners. So, how can we stop this destructive pattern from continuing?
- First, be aware of your thoughts- are you seeing your partner differently than you use to and having a conversation with yourself about their "faults"? What is your internal voice saying about your partner? Internal conversations such as Good/Bad and Right/Wrong can be a common factor in our interpersonal problems.
- Realize what you are doing and make a conscious choice to stop. Replace those negative thoughts with new ones- remembering the positive attributes that your partner has and focus on those. Practice substituting thoughts or a thought stopping technique to help overcome the negative thoughts.
- Above all, know that you cannot change anyone else- only yourself. Spend the energy and time on changing yourself instead of your partner. Acceptance of this main idea leads to happier, healthier relationships with everyone.
Practicing these three steps will help you to realize that you don't have to search for the perfect partner- they are right in front of you.