Does Opposite Mean Incompatible?

Dear Toni--

Does a love relationship between opposites (emotionally, spiritually, different interests or background), have a good chance of long-term survival? What do they have to do EXTRA or DIFFERENT from couples who are not opposites, to maintain a good, satisfying and healthy relationship? --Looking For a Bridge

Dear Looking For a Bridge--

This is a very good question that is frequently asked by singles as they look for potential life partners.

The answer is complex, as the characteristics you listed are weighted very differently by couples in their importance to the success or failure of a relationship. How you define each one is also important, as it impacts how these are to be evaluated.

So, let's start by breaking down your list and looking at each.

* Emotionally Different
Different personality types can actually compliment each other and work well together. However, if you mix an emotionally stable person with an unstable one, all the giving and receiving are one-sided. This lack of reciprocity is a relationship buster.

If two people have different emotional styles yet can work together to build a bridge between them and their differences, they can achieve a successful, lasting union.

* Spiritually Different
The definition of "spiritual" in this context needs to be more clearly defined. When you say, "spiritually" different, do you mean specific religion/dogma differences; or the difference of one partner having a strong faith belief and the other having none and/or rejecting the beliefs of the other? You can see that this area can span a wide spectrum, and that where a couple falls on this will determine how significantly their differences will impact their future relationship.

Once again, how well they can accept the views/beliefs of the other, and work to find common ground, will make the difference between success or failure in a future life together.

* Different Interests
Many successful couples have different interests. They often will pursue a pastime or hobby individually; and this is good for them and for their relationship as long as it isn't all-consuming or does not allow time for shared interests.

These same couples often enjoy some things together as well. These interests can be everything from reading, cooking or watching TV together, to hang gliding or scuba diving. It is important that there is quality sharing at some level, part of the time. This allows for private connecting, relaxation and the shared fun that are key in sustaining and maintaining the intimate bond.

* Different Backgrounds
Here is another area that could use some clarification. By "background," do you mean the SAME ethnic, racial, and religious orientation? Or do you mean a similar set of values, beliefs, and goals?

For instance, a couple can be from different ethnic backgrounds; yet share similar views on the raising of children, need for education, importance of family, and the value of hard work. In essence, they share the same values.

If you want to read more about clarifying and living your values, go to my article on this subject at:

In evaluating whether differences matter, the focus needs to be on how the two people in the relationship can accept, compromise, and deal with these differences. If others outside of the relationship, (such as other family members/friends), can cause concern and doubt due to background differences, then the couple has a problem. They must be confident in their relationship, and their ability to live with and embrace these differences. If not, the differences will create a chasm between them that breaks apart even the most hopefully formed bond.

(from August 2003)

Want to read other columns on this subject?

This is the first "Compatibility Issues" column.

List of more
"Compatibility Issues"

"Haunted by HER Past Sexual Encounters"


Toni Coleman, LCSW
Phone: 703-847-1768


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