As the text indicates, social psychologists have found strong positive effects of similarity on liking, and mixed, inconclusive results for the complementarily hypothesis. For what kinds of...

As the text indicates, social psychologists have found strong positive effects of similarity on liking, and mixed, inconclusive results for the complementarily hypothesis. For what kinds of attributes, or for what stages of relationships, might you expect to find similarity effects and for which, if any, complementarily effects?

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M.P. Ossa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Dryer and Horowitz's "When Do Opposites Attract? Interpersonal Complementarity versus Similarity", the authors part from the premise that each individual seeks to validate his or her own traits and qualities (even those whom they dislike) by finding them in a partner. Their study revealed, however, that similarity and complementarity play very different roles in the relationships of people. 

Complementarity, or the concave/convex paradigm of personality, entails that what one person is lacking, will be found in a partner who possesses the qualities that the one partner is missing. Theoretically, one would assume that two "pieces of a puzzle" would fit perfectly together because one offers what the other is devoid of, and vice versa. However, the study showed that there is no consistency in that complementary couples are necessarily also happy and satisfied: when it comes to issues such as dominance and submissiveness, the aspect of complementarity seems to work because there is a sense of compliance that enables the submissive to respond positively to a dominant partner who seeks to remain so. However, every other dimensional aspect of a love relationship seems to get lost in that particular instance: goals, hopes, wishes, needs, wants...all of that seems to be superseded by the energy exerted into maintaining "the role of who is who and who is in charge".

An example of complementarity can be seen in relationships that may be disparate in age, or dislike their own cultures, or anything specific about themselves. Whoever offers something different will be found ideal because it will counteract what the one individual is tired of. For instance, someone who dislikes their financial situation will find a "soulmate" in a generous, giving individual. Look at those matchmaking sites, for example: there is an element of complementarity that serves as a "retainer"; whenever a couple no longer likes the same things, there is the magnet of complementarity to keep them together. What keeps people together when they are no longer similar? The things that they share through daily EXCHANGES - whatever one gives the other that completes them.

Think about couples who are decades apart and still get married; the younger person needs direction and maturity; the so-called elder needs a refresher in life-- they both complement each other. However, if they also share similar tastes and likes, they are more likely to succeed. If, on top of being similar, they have already fulfilled their psychosocial stages of development, they are sure to last forever.

Similarity fared more favorably in the study. The premise being that people undoubtedly prefer to spend time with others who share their personality traits, their likes, wants, needs, goals, and challenges.

Apparently, behavioral complementarity [(submissive v. dominant behavior)] is not in itself sufficient to guarantee satisfaction; a person's goals must be considered as well.

This being said, think about the many unhappy couples that do not separate because of the following conventions:

  • because one of the spouses is a good provider
  • because one of the spouses is a good parent
  • because a house is in one of the spouse's name
  • because of the amount of time invested in staying together
  • because of bank accounts, and other financial stipulations

None of these things have anything to do with inner wishes, nor personality or psychological changes. All of these are complementary variables within a relationship. This is when one of the spouses decides to take matters into their own hands and goes awry looking for a relationship outside of marriage. It is like looking for a "similar" to have both: what they like, and what they need.

Hence,we all look for people who are similar to us in terms of of what we essentially like and want. Yet, what if you do not know what you want, nor like? What do you aim for? Perhaps someone who will give you the direction that you lack; the motivation that you are unable to produce; in many ways that is an unfair way to complement each other. Yet, it occurs more often than none, and (as the study also suggests) it may be the reason behind the high US divorce rate.

At the beginning of a relationship everybody looks for a "similar", or "kindred" soul who would share endless hours of discovery; the teenage years are a prime idea. However, if we do not fulfill the maturity challenges of our teenage years, we run the risk of becoming immature adults who have nothing to aim for. Hence, a complimentary (and not a happy, similar) relationship, is the result.