To the average person, it may seem that the physical/mental/emotional components that make up the majority of the world’s romantic relationships are completely random, unexplained, and entirely reliant upon the helpless process we call “falling in love.” For a relationship therapist on the other hand, after seeing couple after couple for issues involving communication, trust, finances, sex, parenting, etc., the recipe that creates particular bonds and attachments among people is soon revealed as something much more logical (perhaps, even intentional) in nature.
We may think we are falling for others for very specific and obvious reasons; for all the things we could ever want in a partner and for everything we just generally consider a “good match” to be. We think-up and write-out our love checklists, complete with our preferences for appearance, success, goals, and other ideal partner-traits and this helps us to believe that our love connections will be “satisfaction-guaranteed.”
The truth, however, is that our core attraction to others often has nothing to do with any desire that makes it on to that checklist. Surprised? That’s understandable. After all, you’ve put so much thought, time, and energy into figuring out who you want to share your life with---it’s only fair that your hard work should pay off, right?
Before getting too discouraged, the purpose here is not to discredit all of those wonderful traits you’ve sought out/found in your partner. This should of course be celebrated as you’ve done your part to secure “a good one.” The real purpose here is to instead call attention to the very odd and yet very real fact that what the deepest core of us is most attracted to in our partners actually turns out to be the exact same thing we despise about them…
Our truest feelings of attraction to our partners are based much more in our needs than in our desires. Unfortunately, we tend to be more conscious and in tune with our wants than we are with our needs and it is for this reason that our love checklists end up falling short in preparing us for our romantic experiences the way we expect them to. Luckily, nature/instinct has our backs when it comes to what we need and, like in so many other areas of life, it sets forth a purposeful and necessary balance that ultimately helps us (just unfortunately in very specific ways we happen to be oblivious to).
To better explain, consider for a moment these very common couple dynamics: Selfless/Selfish, Outgoing/Reserved, Worried/Laid-back, and Safe-player/Risk-taker. Couples made up of seemingly-opposing traits like these often end up in my office with complaints of “not feeling on the same page” and wondering “how they ever ended up together in the first place.”
Ironically, what I’ve found in my work with such dynamics is that the problems shared by my couples are actually, themselves, the answers; the core reasons for their deep-rooted misunderstood connections.
So let’s break this down:
-It makes sense that a Selfless Personality Type (always putting others first and self, last) would never actively and consciously seek out a partner who is solo-minded, self-involved, lacking social conscientiousness, etc. and yet, still often finds itself connected to a more selfish personality. The Selfish Personality Type (big on individuality and self-care priorities) would be just as unlikely to actively and consciously seek out a partner who thrives on care-taking, advice-giving, etc. and yet, somehow still finds itself connected to a selfless personality.
-The Outgoing Personality Type is most likely to actively/consciously seek out other outgoing, vibrant, and upbeat partners and yet, so often ends up with the quieter, introverted personality type. Similarly, the Reserved Personality Type would be most likely to seek out those equally calm and subtle partners, yet, somehow still manages to stumble into relationship with an outgoing personality.
-Those Worried Personality Types would likely, by choice, seek out a partner who is aware of potential dangers in everyday life and who strives for safety and protection, yet, they instead so commonly end up with a more laid-back partner who lives day to day and doesn’t show concern for things that aren’t happening in the moment. By the same token, the Laid-back Personality would be most likely to seek out another “live in the moment and don’t stress about tomorrow” type personality and yet, somehow ends up at the altar marrying their exact opposite, anxiety-ridden type.
-Finally, consider the Risk-taker Types (fused with excitement, energy, and a fearless approach to life) and the desire for that “ride-or-die” partner that will be right by their side throughout each gamble and thrill----well, instead they often end up with the safe-players (AKA “break-pumpers),” and those think-before-they-leap types many more times than not. Likewise, you’d be right to think that the Safe-player Type (guarded with a much higher awareness of all worst-case scenarios and a grueling internal process of weighing out worthy vs. unnecessary risk) would instantly attract to a similarly-cautious type and yet, somehow ends up with those high-stakes rollers instead.
So where do we go so wrong in our attraction process that our relationships end up so completely opposite of what we think we want and should expect??
As stated before (whether we like it or not) nature has a way of balancing everything out in the world and works to provide what is NEEDED, not wanted. It is for this reason that the “opposites attract” phenomenon rings true. It’s possible we like to believe that we have much more say in our attraction process than we actually do. Put simply, we may not WANT vegetables, but in various (and often unpleasant ways), nature reminds us that we NEED this kind of nutrition. Well, the things we need from our partners often tend to have just as bad of a taste… yet we seem to have no choice but to swallow!
Selfless Partners: As much as you can’t stand your partner’s selfish tendencies, it is important that you realize how much you need someone in your life to model what self-care and individual prioritizing looks like. You can only neglect yourself for so long until you start resenting everyone around you, lashing out, and pushing them away. If you can’t learn to take care of yourself, emotion has a way of sneaking up on and getting the best of you to MAKE it happen. Its survival and it won’t come in a pretty form if you let it wait too long. Appreciate your partner for forcing you to stand alone sometimes so that you can learn what it means to focus on you. Believe it or not, it’s your biggest unrealized reason for why you love him/her.
Selfish Partners (and selfish here is not meant in the derogatory sense): As much as you can’t stand your partner’s selfless tendencies and wish he/she would stop fussing over your every thought/need, it is important that you realize how much you need someone in your life to model what relationship-maintenance and an enriched life of teamwork/connection can be like. You need someone to share your thoughts, feelings, and dreams with because they can only go so far when you’re keeping them to yourself. Letting others into your world and taking part in theirs’ is the only way to experience true intimacy and love. Appreciate your partner for trying so hard to give this to you in his/her own annoying way. It truly is your biggest unrealized reason for why you’re with him/her.
Outgoing Partners: As much as you can’t stand the way your partner tries to “calm you down” at times, or stifles your upbeat attitude and outgoing nature by always choosing that corner table at the restaurant, or preferring to stay cooped-up inside on a Friday night, it is important that you realize how much you need someone in your life to show you the beauty in the simple things. Life is not always exciting and it is crucial to know how to make the most of some of its “buzz-kill” realities. Appreciate your partner for putting some limits on your go-go tendencies and allowing you to turn off. It’s your biggest unrealized reason for why you adore him/her.
Reserved Partners: As much as you can’t stand the way your partner “erupts” into obnoxious laughter, animated gestures, or crowd-pleasing dance routines, it is important that you realize how much you need someone in your life to show you how to let loose into the freedom that is YOU. Sure, a great life can be built on the “aim-to-please” track, but it’s often all too easy for your unique feelings and ideas to get lost alongside of it as well. Appreciate your partner for pushing you to test life’s boundaries, get into your own zone, and just enjoy life. It’s your biggest unrealized reason for why you’re in love with him/her.
Worried Partners: As much as you can’t stand the way your laidback partner can often seem void of all emotion and just entirely unaffected by the world’s many instabilities, it is important that you realize how much you need someone in your life to pull you out of (rather than feeding into) those dark places you often go to. When your mind spins with thoughts about how you might get fired, or how you may never get the kids under control, do you want someone next to you saying, “Shit, maybe you’re right,” OR would you rather someone say, “You worry too much, things always work out.” As much as the latter may often sound dismissive or even naïve to you, the fact remains the same that it is exactly what you need to hear to keep from spiraling downhill. Appreciate your partner for reducing the power your anxiety has over you. It’s your biggest unrealized reason for why you stay with him/her.
Laid-back Partners: As much as you can’t stand the way your partner worries about little things you would never consider alarming, it is important that you realize how much you need someone in your life to help you feel and think more deeply. A life of depth is not doomed to a life of suffering. It is not only healthy, but it is enriching to take time to look at life from different perspectives and to consider its many positive/negative possibilities. Even if this may release some nervous butterflies in your stomach and make you feel a bit out of control, it reminds you that you’re alive. Appreciate your partner for awakening your intensity. It’s your biggest unrealized reason for why you stick by him/her.
Risk-taking Partners: As much as you can’t stand the way your partner “thinks things to death” and procrastinates on most decisions, it is important that you realize how much you need someone in your life to help you recognize when what you have is enough and that there isn’t always something more that you need to go chasing. There is certainly a time and place for adrenaline rushes and for being “in-it-to-win-it,” but learning to be in the moment is often just as, if not more, fulfilling. Appreciate your partner for reeling you back in when you’re getting lost in your own chase. It’s your biggest unrealized reason for why you keep coming back to him/her.
Safe-player Partners: As much as you can’t stand the way your partner seems to live and breathe for that next cheap thrill and the way he/she looks at you like you’re a curse of bad luck, it is important that you recognize how much you need someone in your life to break you out of that comfort zone and help you shoot for your biggest dreams. It’s impossible to enjoy the extravagant things that life has to offer you when you’re always standing on the sidelines and waiting for a sure thing. Appreciate your partner for tossing you into the pool and helping you prove to yourself that you can swim. It’s your biggest unrealized reason for clinging so tightly to him/her.