From Yin and Yang To Peas and Carrots: Opposite Clichés Are Popular Romance Shorthand, But They’re Also Fraught
Yin and yang can be oil and water, or baking soda and vinegar. Peas and carrots can be like cats and dogs. As a couples therapist, I’ve heard all the cliché opposites romance metaphors. The status of opposites is a popular sub-genre of love and romance. I recognize both their virtue (and their propensity to attract), but also the ways these clichés can be so fraught.
A Relationship Is More Than Alchemy: It Takes Work
Perhaps the mistake with these clichés lies in understanding relationships as mere alchemy. They imply that elements are placed together, and either compliment (like dill to salmon) or explode.
What is a better way to understand romantic chemistry? My answer, of course, evokes another cliché, which is that relationships are work. If you want the wonderful stuff that comes with a partner who is different, you’re going to have to learn to negotiate those differences, and to do so as people who may negotiate differently.
The Key Is Understanding The Relationship As Its Own Indivisible Unit
The work in relationships in which partners are different is to understand this systemically/dynamically rather than characterologically. By this, I mean it doesn’t fly to marry someone, and then be mad at them for who they are. The alternative isn’t to simply ignore that. But, it’s also not pointing out: “You always do that annoying thing!” Catch yourself. That annoying thing came in the package with all those differences you like so much.
Instead, understand the relationship as its own indivisible unit like a team. If player A misses a shot, player B needs to rebound and reshoot, or player C needs to open up the floor so player D can make a move to the basket. It helps to work with the you + them dynamic: What am I doing to make this work? Can I provide a different input to get a different result? Where can strengths compensate? What conditions can I introduce that can make this better or different?
Couples tend to go in and out of understanding their relationship as a unit. In moments when the unit is thriving, couples celebrate it (“we make a great team!”), but when it isn’t working well, couples switch to an individualistic model. But, if couples underestimate the system of the relationship, the only options are to be frustrated or just live with it. Alternately, if they appreciate the system, each partner has ownership. Every member of the unit is responsible for the success of the unit as a whole.