There’s the old adage that opposites attract. In my experience as a counselor (and as, you know, a human being), I don’t think that’s the case. Whatever we might have seen on TV and in movies, it turns out people often marry people who have similar interests, backgrounds and so forth. In fact, this is often something I like to explore when I meet a couple for the first time. By the time a couple comes in for counseling, they may be at their wits’ end, fighting all the time. They may even have forgotten why they got married in the first place.
I notice that in discussing the background of the situation, couples often smile when remembering how they met, what they liked about each other initially, or their first date. Sometimes, collaboratively, we can work together to figure out what used to work about their relationship that is no longer being utilized or recognized. Other times, we are able to find new common ground.
It's rare that success (for me at least) comes from reminding an arguing couple that they are, in fact, complete opposites.
But this new study, brought to my attention via Wired, takes the similarity thing to a whole new level. The study, conducted in Sweden, found that “People with psychiatric disorders were more likely to end up with someone with a psychiatric disorder, and the chances were higher (marginally) that they’d share the same illness.”
How many single readers just felt their heart skip a beat?
Now, I’m certainly not suggesting that you head to your nearest mental health facility and study their census for that special someone who mirrors your own neuroses, delusions and “quirks.” But it is certainly something that might be worth keeping at the back of your mind, especially if you have a history of problematic long-term relationships. It might be worthwhile to ask yourself “is this someone who’s just like me in a bad way? Is there a red flag here in this relationship that might keep me from being the best ‘me’ I can be?” And if the answer is yes, maybe that’s something to give you pause. I don’t believe that there is a “perfect” significant other for anyone. It’s all about compatibility and working together. But red flags are red flags, and many of the couples who encounter problems may find themselves wishing that they had heeded those nagging doubts, as hard as that is during the rush of a new relationship.
Perhaps we need to all internalize just a slight bit of the old “opposites attract” adage in the interest of preserving our own sanity!
Mike McMahan is a psychotherapist in private practice in San Antonio, Tx.
Therapy Goes POP
Perspectives on therapy and mental health as viewed through the lens of popular culture