Beliefnet
Harville's advice columns will appear regularly on Soulmatch, Beliefnet's values-based dating site.

Dear Harville,
Do you think it's true that opposites attract?
--Searching

Dear Searching,
It's been my experience that only opposites attract because that's the nature of reality. There's a polarity in the universe physically that is also reflected in relationships, especially when it comes to personality traits. So a high-energy person will be attracted to a low-energy person, an intellectual person will be attracted to an intuitive person, and so on. The great myth in our culture is that compatibility is the grounds for a relationship--actually, compatibility is grounds for boredom. Incompatibility makes for a dynamic, powerful, growing, exciting relationship. But this comes with a cost and a benefit--because it is the context for most growth and ultimate happiness.

Though opposites attract at first, eventually they repel. And that's when the growth can happen--because we are going to be attracted to somebody who's a carrier of undeveloped parts of ourselves. All of us have thinking, feeling, sensing, and movement, which I call "the four functions of the self." But when we were growing up, most of our parents validated just two of those functions and invalidated the other two. So if I am a thinker, a parent probably said at some point, "I really like the way you think." But if I cried or whined, they said, "Stop complaining and grow up." So I will be attracted to somebody who is full of feelings because I had to keep my feelings in.

The attraction of opposites causes you to experience transiently what I call "spurious wholeness." But when you get committed in the relationship, your unwholeness shows up. Then suddenly you want that person not to have that trait, because it reminds you of a missing part of yourself that was rejected in childhood by your caretakers, and you will tend to reject it in your potential partner. And that turns out to be the growth area for you. So when your opposite shows up, you've got a keeper. Then you have to figure out how to get them in the boat and then stay in the boat with them--all the way home.

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