Similar or Complementary: What’s the Best Partner for You?

June 27, 2019
Should you look for someone who's similar to you or one who can complement you with their differences? Read on to discover it!

Similar or complementary? That’s the question that many people ask when looking for a partner. While some think that “opposites attract”, others want to avoid the conflicts that differences can cause at all costs.

The truth is that both have their pros and cons. Those who think that it’s better to have a relationship with someone who’s different, and therefore complementary, cite the example that two similar irritable people will always end up clashing.

Those who’re inclined to look for a partner who’s similar to them point out that, sooner or later, differences will manifest and cracks will start to form.

Other people adopt an intermediate position. In their opinion, it doesn’t matter whether their partner is similar or complementary. The important thing, they say, is proper balance: similar in some things and complementary in others. What does psychology tell us about this?

A couple hugging.

The Beauty of Opposites

When a person doesn’t have a very positive opinion about themselves, they’ll often be attracted to those who are different from them. You’ll see in the other person an opportunity to project onto them the type of person you’d like to be.

For example, someone who feels that they always go unnoticed will attempt to turn their partner into a very popular person.

There are also cases of those who look for someone to depend on, rather than someone to create a true relationship with. They’re basically insecure and fearful people who need someone else’s strength to protect them or to give them the support they need. In principle, this isn’t necessarily a negative thing if it helps the person to grow and mature. However, if it produces dependence, then it’ll create a very unhealthy relationship.

Many people who think about whether they need someone similar or complementary end up choosing the latter because they consider their relationship a team. Sometimes it can almost be compared to a business. That’s why they think (and we emphasize the word “think”) that it’s better to combine strengths and weaknesses in order to bring about common achievements.

Similar or Complementary?

Science has also wondered whether it’s better for lovers to be similar or complementary. The University of Kansas performed a study with 1523 couples. They discovered that, in 86% of cases, similar couples lasted longer.

Another study from the University of Michigan came to a similar conclusion. Apparently, what really makes the difference here is that there’s agreement when it comes to aspects such as personality, values, attitudes, hobbies, alcohol consumption, and the use of technology.

Everything seems to show that sometimes people are attracted to what’s different. This produces a certain curiosity in them, and they see it as an opportunity to explore new emotional territories. However, over time, what was once a novelty begins to become a barrier. The differences then create negative feelings in the relationship.

A couple embracing.

Openness and Flexibility

The debate about whether similar or complementary is best is actually a little artificial. There’s no way we’ll ever find a partner who’s exactly the same as us. Nor will we find someone who perfectly complements what’s missing from our world. The reality is that each person reaffirms and contrasts us at the same time.

It should also be noted that all the research in this area indicates that similarity in basic tastes and attitudes is very important. Even so, there will always be aspects in which one or the other is going to have to give in. The most stable couples are those who are able to relax with each other.

That being said, differences between partners can also be healthy. They’re a factor that contributes to mutual growth. Much of our love life has to do with how those differences are dealt with.

When these differences are few and small, then there’s a strong probability that the couple will be able to achieve this satisfactorily. If, however, the differences are very deep, then there’s a greater probability that they’ll be difficult to resolve.

Similar or Complementary: Our Conclusion

So what’s our answer to the question of whether it’s best to be similar or complementary? We would say that both. We should be similar in essence, but complementary based on voluntary and conscious agreement.

That’s what love is all about: finding a balance between self-affirmation and helping to reaffirm the other person.

  • Salgado, C. (2003). El desafío de construir una relación de pareja. Editorial Norma.