What is the best balance of similarities and differences between two people that makes for happy relationships?

The old saying that opposites attract might be true when it comes to the initial stages of a relationship. But as time wears on, it could very well be those opposites that start to bug the other partner.

Those little quirks that were thought to be so cute can start to become irritating and get under ones nerves. And soon we’re out of touch with how we used to evaluate what we laughed about.

It might be truer to say that we’re more likely to get along with someone exactly like us. But even if that’s the case, there just isn’t another human being with the same background, interests, and baggage that we’ll bring into any relationship.

The similarities as well could bother us if we haven’t become comfortable with our own patterns of thinking. But there must be some things we have in common if spending time together isn’t going to be a constant struggle of negotiations.

Yet, even if we have similar Myers Briggs Personality Test results or Enneagram numbers, there are always differences. So, a crucial question becomes, how do we relate to the differences?

It’s actually how partners handle these inevitable differences that will make a relationship worthwhile. It does little good to give up and exchange someone with another set of differences for the ones we already have if both partners don’t know how to live positively with differences.

So, as we look for a partner in life, paying attention to how they negotiate varying perspectives and tastes they come across will tell us a lot about our own future with them. A relationship needs their ability to cope positively with differences.

Are they generous and relaxed with those around them who exhibit varying lifestyles? Do they merely tolerate them, or does the fact that not everyone agrees with their tastes particularly stick in their craw?

It’s not that they should be wishy-washy or uncomfortable in knowing their own preferences. Without a lack of clarity about their preferences, though, do they give room to those they meet who have others?

And, importantly, are they good at handling and negotiating disagreements they have with others? Do they find differences to even be learning experiences that enrich their lives and provide them with other perspectives that are found in the variety that is the human race?

Because, now we are getting close to the heart of compatibility in any coupling – can the differences we have be at least tolerated with humor and optimism? And are we ourselves at an emotional and psychologically healthy place to do that?

I’m a writer and academic. I see much of the world in a very linear fashion as if I’m reading sentences and logical arguments. My partner is a graphic designer and artist who sees in pictures.

So when we look at something, our responses can be very different. For example, as I looked at a modern building and expressed my view that it was ugly, he looked at it and said: “But look at the lines and the patterns of colors.”

That’s difference – and he helped me look at that building, well, differently. Neither “look” was right or wrong, but the result was a more holistic look for me. I could see it.

And it was a difference that I’ve come to appreciate, even welcome, as we negotiate museums and life together. There are still things I just don’t appreciate; there are still works of art that we react to differently. But I’m learning in the process to value those differences of taste and style.

The fact is, when different tastes, styles, and ways of seeing things can’t enhance a relationship, when we can’t mutually negotiate differences with another, the love and happiness we seek will be equally elusive.

Contributed by

Bob Minor

University of Kansas
Emeritus Professor of Religious Studies
A national resource for information on gender issues and gay/straight relationships for organizations, businesses, educational institutions, and media outlets such as NBC and USA Today, Bob Minor, Ph.D. …

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