“If I want to dance, I have to do it alone”: how couples who are polar opposites fit together

“Be careful with the one in pink, she's unleashed,” a stranger warned Joaquín (this is not his real name), 34, at a wedding, while he was having a quiet drink at the bar.

Oliver Thansan
Oliver Thansan
30 March 2024 Saturday 10:24
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“If I want to dance, I have to do it alone”: how couples who are polar opposites fit together

“Be careful with the one in pink, she's unleashed,” a stranger warned Joaquín (this is not his real name), 34, at a wedding, while he was having a quiet drink at the bar. When he looked towards the dance floor, he realized that “the one in pink” was his partner. He and Mercedes (also a fictitious name), 33, have been together for almost 13 years. She was always “the life of the party.” “There are things that are good for me, they fill me with energy and they exhaust him,” she explains.

A study published in August last year in the journal Nature Human Behavior by researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder suggests that the idea that “opposites attract” may not be very accurate. From a meta-analysis, where 133 traits were examined from almost 80,000 opposite-sex couples in the United Kingdom, it was found that between 82% and 89% of the traits analyzed, ranging from political inclinations to substance use habits , couples were more likely to be similar than different. Only on 3% of the traits, and only in part of their analysis, did people tend to associate with those who were different from them.

How do couples who have very marked differences manage to be well together? Is it possible to complement ourselves with someone very different from us?

“Differences between couples are common and natural, since each person is different and brings with them a unique series of experiences and learnings. But it is true that when these differences are especially marked or even opposed, they can be a source of conflict and it is crucial to learn to manage them," explains psychologist María Palau, and assures that: "if the couple manages them well, they can promote personal and mutual growth, foster empathy and understanding. If not, they can generate tension in the couple, disagreement, distance and wear down the relationship.”

For Mercedes and Joaquín it was not always easy. “Sometimes when we went to his family's house, I needed to be alone for a moment. Go for a walk, run or read a book. And it bothered her. She told me: 'Why are you leaving?'” Joaquín remembers. “It was something we had to work on. Manage expectations and not expect the other person to behave in these situations as one expects or would have done, to avoid complaints and understand that the other person may be having a good time in their own way,” says Joaquín.

“If I want to dance in the middle of the dance floor, I'll have to do it alone. But that doesn't mean that he didn't give a lot of effort to accompany me to that wedding, where he didn't know anyone and it required a lot of social energy," she points out.

“I have always been very shy and introverted. I have a hard time talking to people I don't know or simply ordering food at a bar or calling to order food at home. He is totally the other way around. He can talk to anyone about any topic and is not ashamed of almost anything,” explains Alba (22), who has been in a relationship with Abderrahim (25) for more than three years. “It has never caused us any inconvenience or problem. From minute one we have known how to combine it very well,” she says.

Little by little, they found themselves at a “middle point.” “When we started, I was the one who had to order food and he, who perhaps before was speaking loudly on the street, calmed down with me more,” explains Alba. Another big difference between them is in their culture and religion. “He is from Morocco and I am Spanish. Luckily we know how to respect each other's culture, we celebrate the holidays of both parties and our families support us,” she says.

“When I met him, he was already vegan and I wasn't. So, the couple's dynamic regarding food was always the same,” explains Micaela Magri, 29 years old. She and her partner (32 years old) have been together for four years. She works in finance and he is an engineer and works at a renewable energy start-up.

“I think that in these types of couples someone always has to give in. I adapt quite a bit to everything and I can eat anything, I'm not much of a foodie. That makes it much easier,” she says, adding: “I didn't know anyone who was vegan before him, only vegetarians. At first, I had no idea what to cook. But now, after three years of living together, I am already super used to it.”

Although she feels “free to eat meat,” at home they eat everything vegan. "I have no problem. I really like how she thinks. I partly admire it because of her position. That's why I support it," she says and assures: "The only conflict or discomfort we experienced was due to the social part or the trips. Sometimes it gets a little complicated. “We have gone to Morocco, for example, where there is not a vegan option everywhere.”

They are Argentinian and the asado is usually a classic of group gatherings. “When we get together as a group, a lot happens through food. It's not a great plan for him. He has to carry his food,” she explains. In addition to being vegan, her partner is also teetotal. “The fact of not drinking alcohol is also a factor that limits social plans a little, because maybe some of them don't have as much fun,” says Micaela.

Mercedes and Joaquín believe that their personalities complement each other much more than they clash. “If we have to tell the neighbor something, I'm the one who does it. I know that it will mean much less social battery for me than it does for him,” says Mercedes. “She's better at some things and she has certain social skills that I don't have. Seeing how she handles herself in certain situations, I'm also learning how to improve that, which doesn't come naturally to me,” he explains.

Are there differences that may already be irreconcilable? When or in what cases should our alarms go off and would it be convenient to ask ourselves if that person is the right one for us?

“Some differences can be so fundamental that they become irreconcilable, especially when they affect central aspects of life together or personal values ​​such as respect or the importance of family,” explains psychologist María Palau. Among them, she includes differences in the desire to have children, diametrically opposed moral and ethical values, or incompatible visions of life.

According to him, if these differences generate constant conflict or dissatisfaction, compromise happiness, emotional or physical well-being, or generate the feeling that it is not possible to pursue personal goals or aspirations within the relationship, then they may become irreconcilable.

“The key to a healthy relationship does not lie in the absence of differences, but in how both parties choose and can manage them,” says the psychologist. For her, “It is essential to have conversations, even if they are somewhat uncomfortable. Also, mutual respect, the willingness to compromise and the ability to value each other's differences are fundamental.” "Compatibility - indicates the expert - is strengthened when the members of the couple are willing to learn from each other and grow together."

“You have to talk and find common ground,” says Micaela. Mercedes agrees: “It is key, because otherwise confusion and fights can often arise. From communication, from each person's vulnerability, understanding what another person needs or wants. Being able to say, 'Look, what you're doing hurts me, it bothers me, it makes me angry, how can we solve it?' Share the expectations you have, be open to receiving answers that may not be what you expect, and be patient. ”.

“Coexistence between people who are very different requires conscious work on both sides,” says María Palau and warns that “It is important to be able to talk openly and honestly about the differences and how both feel about them to try to understand the other's perspective without need to agree.”

“The issue does not lie in differences, but in good management of disagreements on a daily basis, in respect, in forgiveness, and above all, in never crossing the line of contempt and disqualification of the other.” ”, indicates for his part the psychologist and director of the Institute of Sexuality and Parella Studies, Pere Font.

In the face of conflicts, María Palau indicates, “the objective is to find satisfactory solutions for the couple that respect the needs and limits of each one, even if both have to give in in some aspects.” He also highlights that “it is important to respect individuality and allow everyone to have space for their own hobbies and interests, even if these are not shared without trying to change them, from the acceptance of the person and focusing on what is common, the shared values ​​and objectives.

“Many times society rewards being extroverted and expects us all to be so. It helped me a lot when she told me: 'If you don't want to go, tell me you don't feel like it, and that's fine. You are not obliged to be at all social events,'” says Joaquín. “It was learning that we are a couple and that we have a lot of moments together, but there are others that perhaps do me good and fill me with energy and exhaust him. It's about being a little less selfish in that sense and saying, 'You don't have to be there for me all the time.'"