Tuesday, August 20, 2013

A Theory on Relationships

* I originally wanted to post two sentences on this and call it a brief passing thought. But how little do I know about myself *

They say “Opposites attract”. It makes sense at some abstract level, but it also raises this question of how people can sustain relationships when they are different. From a common-sense point of view, compatibility also rests on a shared ground of similarity. It seems, compatibility requires some delicate balance between differences and similarities. I recently stumbled upon a small realization about this elusive balance.

From observations, interactions and experience, I think couples in successful relationships have certain core personality traits that are completely different. Differences in personality traits seem to work. These opposites attract and seem to sustain.

However, there are also similarities, and these are in the shared ideologies. Couples who share similar ideologies and belief systems are obviously more compatible. I think someone with liberal views and someone with hardcore conservative views are going to be battling each other for several decisions and ways of living. A difficult relationship.

Here’s why I think different personality traits work to the relationship’s advantage. People who are very similar in terms of their personality struggle to get through tough spots - even in day to day living. When the going is good, things are great. But when something happens that weighs down a certain personality type, both people get affected and struggle to move forward. For example, when both people in a relationship are quite sensitive, or prone to anxiety, or are high-strung, their combined anxiety can be disastrous. A balancing personality type would be really beneficial to the individuals and their relationship. On a more philosophical level, such relationships enrich the individuals because they grow and imbibe certain opposite traits for their betterment as the relationship matures. They truly complete and complement each other because they have different things to offer to each other. Taken together, the different  repertoire of characteristic traits come handy while handling life’s varied situations. For example, some situations require sensitivity, while some situations can do with some nonchalance.

The converse - similar personality traits and different ideologies is not going to be helpful. Can you imagine two stubborn personalities with different ways of thinking living under the same roof? I have seen the results ;). But these people at least understand or empathize with each other’s characteristics and motivations.  

At this point in time, I am inclined to rank the combinations thusly:
  1. Most successful - different personality, same ideologies
  2. Hits rough patches when their personality cannot handle life’s curveballs - same personality, same ideologies
  3. Difficult - same personality, different ideologies
  4. Unhappy? Disastrous? - different personality, different ideologies

Another crucial factor is perhaps shared interest. It can sometimes be that vital factor that holds a relationship afloat even when other variables aren’t that favorable. But, I do think that interests relate to ideologies, and to some extent get influenced by personality. Interests primarily flow from ideologies, ways of thinking etc., and gets honed by personality. I know people in very successful relationships (different personality, same ideologies) who don’t share any common interests or activities, but they are happy to engage in their separate interests and find a way to collaborate. Time away from each other is precious too. The husband is a man’s man - loves sports, building things, problem-solving. Wife loves cooking, crafting, painting. And they built their house together - from scratch. Husband was the contractor, architect, engineer, builder. Wife was the painter, decorator, planner, provider of nourishment. You would think this example is a pre-feminist stereotype, but people like this exist today as well and they are doing great. As I mentioned earlier, these two people are bringing in many different skill sets to the game and are figuring out a way to use their interests to complement a common goal. Common goals arise from common ways of thinking.  So, I am not including shared interest as a third variable to the matrix. It is more of a “weight” that influences the compatibility score within each category.

However, there is another equilibrium to consider. How similar should the similarities be and how different should the differences be to balance two people? What are the threshold values? Is there an optimum ratio of similarities : differences. This is when compatibility becomes unique and subjective to each couple! I kind of understand where astrology is coming from. They start with similar theories, but they ruthlessly pattern-match, extrapolate, and predict without accounting for the range of uniqueness that we humans manifest. We are too unique to be boxed in. When there are two people involved, it becomes even more of a unique situation. A parallel thought - maybe that’s why polygamy is simply impractical and too complicated for most (in addition to the other hairy reasons).

That’s my brain dump for now.


Aparna said...

Phew.. thats quite a lot of thinking you have done there! :) And well, I do agree with your thoughts .. Two people living together under the same roof, well, everyday is a learning!

SUMI said...

Great analysis Neeraja! Personally I've never looked at this so methodically, but it all makes so much sense!!

Neeraja said...

Thanks Aparna and Sumi!