Experts reveal the recipe for relationship success

Whether you are complete opposites or carbon copies, a successful relationship can be a balancing act. Here’s how to make it work.

Have you ever been attracted to someone wildly different to you?

Perhaps they’re a thrillseeker when you’re more of a bookworm, or an outdoors type who likes to sleep beneath the stars when you’d prefer to laze by the pool before retiring to a comfy bed.

The axiom opposites attract has been embedded in dating culture since before our parents were born, but is it true?

What relationship research tells us

Although Hollywood films often tout the idea and about 80 per cent of people are said to believe it, evidence that opposites attract is fairly thin on the ground.

A commonly referenced 1950s study led by US sociologist Robert Francis Winch suggested when we seek out a partner, we are often drawn to those who exhibit personality traits we lack.

But subsequent research has revealed the laws of attraction are a little more complicated.

A recent study comparing the personalities of couples and friends found strong similarities in all five personality traits (extroversion, agreeableness, openness, conscientiousness and neuroticism), opening the door further to questions about who we are drawn to in relationships.

Like many things, to whom we are attracted and why is more rainbow‑coloured than black and white.

Do opposites really attract?

Relationship coach Megan Luscombe says while opposites do attract it’s more nuanced than that.

She explains people are often attracted to their opposite because they can bring out new parts of us.

“If we date someone who is an adrenalin junkie when we are more of a homebody, it can allow us to experience something new and spontaneous,” Megan says.

“It creates opportunities for us to learn and grow in different ways.”

The benefit? “The relationship can be kept interesting and spontaneous.”

But when the novelty of something wildly different to what we’re used to wears off, not having enough common ground to bond over and differing value systems can make things shaky.

“What initially attracts us can be the thing that ultimately puts us off in the long term,” Megan explains.

Recipe for relationship success

According to dating coach Jiveny Blair-West, co-author of How to Make the Biggest Decision of Your Life, successful long-term couples often display a mix of similarities, approximations and differences.

“They have similar values and goals in life, are approximate in terms of education and socioeconomic status, and have complementary personalities where they are ‘opposite’ or different to each other in complementary ways,” Jiveny explains.

The ideal recipe? Jiveny says it comes down to a mix of similarities and differences. A partner who is different to us “makes our life richer in many ways” while having similar values helps ensure lasting success.

“It’s about complementarity,” she says.

Megan agrees success can’t be reduced to the idea of a partner who is either your “opposite’’ or “similar’’.

Rather, it’s a balancing act.

“It’s about having enough shared similarities you have things to bond over together but also allowing space for opposite similarities so you can have independent time,” she says.

The caveat is your core values aren’t compromised.

Jiveny says research suggests the more similar the personalities, the better the marital satisfaction.

Of course, many of us will continue to be drawn to those who take us out of our comfort zone. As Jiveny notes, “novelty is a key ingredient for fun’’.

But if you’re going down that path, it might be worth bearing in mind research by US psychologist John Gottman.

“From his groundbreaking research studying ‘normal’ or ‘successful couples’ he found that 69 per cent of conflict is about unresolvable, perpetual problems,” Jiveny says.

“Much of this results from this tendency to be attracted to people with different personalities who have different ways of doing things, of approaching issues and of life, generally. Personality traits are stable over years, so the problems that follow from them are stable over the years, too.”

In other words, be prepared for conflict in your relationship!

How to find your perfect relationship fit

With your perfect fit likely to have a mix of similarities and differences to you, what’s the best approach to finding “the one’’?

“I encourage people to keep an open mind when dating, recognising that great partners can often come in unexpected packaging,” Jiveny says.

Megan says the old adage to just be yourself is the secret sauce to finding “the one”.

“Be yourself fully. Don’t change who you are, what you think, how you feel and the things you need,” she advises.

More on relationships:

Written by Sarah Vercoe.