Do Opposites Attract? Here’s What The Science Says

Updated March 21, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Some Traits Are More Important Than Others In Relationships

If you're confused about who you're attracted to and who might be right for you to date, you're not alone. Dating can be exciting, overwhelming, and frustrating -- sometimes all at once. A therapist or relationship counselor can help you identify the qualities in others that lead to happy and successful relationships, set healthy boundaries, and even develop friendships, particularly if you are not attracted to anyone.

Why Do People Say “Opposites Attract”?

Opposites attract if you're working with magnets. With people and relationships, it can be a little more complicated. The age-old saying "opposites attract" dates back is translated into many different languages, and in many cultures. But so is the adage, "birds of a feather flock together." The theory has been studied for years, and modern science continues the exploration, aiming to pinpoint which saying is true when it comes to human interaction.

On TV, you may have watched Belle (aka Beauty) fall in love with the Beast. Perhaps you gushed as the underprivileged Cinderella was swept off her feet by the rich and titled Prince Charming. Did you rejoice when Ariel the mermaid searched for ways to get rid of her fins and marry Prince Eric?  Media is filled with portrayals of people who are “wrong” for each other (as deemed by societal standards). Aside from that, these shows romanticize the rich and the poor, making the watchers curious about how to marry rich once they grow up.

Are people with opposite personalities, beliefs, and physical traits drawn together like opposite poles of a magnet? Why do opposites attract-if they attract at all? 

Although over 80% of people believe opposites attract, it's not necessarily true. It's not 'opposites' that draw us to our romantic partners but certain personality traits, similarities, and even biological cues.

Personality Pairings

In the 1950s, a sociologist by the name of Robert Francis Winch led a study on mate selection to answer the question, "Do opposites attract?" During his investigation, Winch interviewed married couples and examined their relationships as well as their personalities and needs.

Based on his research findings, Winch argued that to make a marriage work, aspects of one's personality, especially socially related traits like aggressiveness and assertiveness, should complement each other. For example, a very outgoing husband would be content with a more introverted wife. Winch's research suggested that it's not that opposites attract, but complementary traits.

Further research on complementary personalities suggests mixed results. A few studies parroted Winch's findings, but many have found that the opposites largely do not attract. People are pulled to those who they share similarities with in one way or another. Still, Winch may have been onto something with his complementary notions, since some later research does suggest that partners prefer their spouses to express certain personality traits that they may not exhibit.

For example, a 2007 study by Markeyand Markey found that husbands who are aloof or standoffish are less satisfied with their marriages when their wives were also cold. These men preferred their partners to be warm on the affiliation scale. Wives who were on the "colder" end of the affiliation scale also prefer warm partners. In this way, opposites can appeal to one another. But do opposites attract in all areas of personality?

Surprisingly, the findings weren't the same for dominance/submission. The Markeys' results indicated that submissive wives were happiest when they had husbands who were also submissive. This pattern continued through the rest of the research. Outgoing partners prefer outgoing partners, affectionate partners appreciate and desire affection, and so on.

Birds Of A Feather

So, to answer the question, "Do opposites attract?” -- not necessarily. Similarities in age, intelligence, religion and education level are the blocks that build the foundation for a healthy relationship. Even couples who differ in race, culture, and other significant areas will have things in common on a deeper level. 

A 2013 study by Eharmony mirrored these findings. An investigation of the matchmaking site's matching system results showed that even when opposites are initially attracted, it is similarities that make for a long-term relationship.

As psychologist Dr. Leslie Beth Wish puts it, the formula for a healthy/happy couple is "common values and ethics." This is not necessarily the case with personality. This brings us to another interesting finding: there are certain personality traits that people are attracted to regardless of their personality types or even physical beauty.

Kindness Is A Magnet

You may have heard the saying that "nice guys finish last," but according to science, this isn't always accurate.

A 2014 study conducted at the Huazhong University in China found that having a positive attitude (being honest, and kind) increased the attractiveness of one's face. During the study, a group of men was split into groups and shown women's faces with no descriptors. Another group was shown the same faces but also told about their personality (i.e., kind, shallow, etc.)

The findings indicated that the standards of beauty for the second group of men were swayed by the positive descriptors regardless of their personalities. So, it may be that those who are cold or unkind aren't drawn to nice partners because they are opposite but because we as humans are attracted to kindness.

A 2010 study had  with body types. During the experiment, men were separated into two separate groups. One group was provided only pictures of female bodies but no other non-identifying information. The second set of men was provided with positive personality information for some of the photos they viewed and negative for others.

The first group presented a very narrow view of which body types were considered attractive. The second group's perception was broadened by the information about who was kind and who wasn't, leading them to identify a greater variety of body types as appealing.

But more than personality, there's something else that attracts us to our future spouses, and it's right under your nose.

Oh, Pheromone!

So much scientific research focuses on how we choose our partners, but what if we don't "choose" at all, at least not consciously? This could be a whole article since there is so much recent research on the topic of scent attraction.

Think of it in this scenario: You're at a bar or a bookstore and the attractive person sitting across from you catches your eye. You start chatting and feel instant chemistry. What you don't realize is that invisible forces may be at work. Before you know it, you're in love with "first smell."

The search for human pheromones has gone on for many years. A pheromone is a chemical secreted in sweat. Scientists have long thought that pheromones played a role in sexual attraction and now there is scientific evidence.

Some Traits Are More Important Than Others In Relationships

In one study, women judged men's attractiveness through smelling their t-shirts, and in another, men were able to sense a woman's fertility through smell. The participants were attracted to various scents, suggesting that beauty truly is "in the eye of the beholder".

Reasons Why Opposites May Attract

Even if we accept the researchers' conclusions that opposites don't attract as fact, you may be wondering how all the seemingly opposite-paired couples in the world fit into the mix. We all know at least one couple made up of partners with opposite traits or tendencies. And what about those who date people that are wrong for them, over and over again?

These types of relationships are different from the ones that happen organically. Sometimes, people who are seeking relationships have formed trauma bonds, which affects the way they approach relationships. These people may struggle with self-esteem, confidence, and healthy relationship boundaries.

In these cases, people may be making decisions based on "attractions of deprivation." They might have a deep drive to seek out love and approval from their partners, even if the partners aren't capable of providing. Their fear of abandonment can make it difficult to walk away from situations, even those that are not ideal. Back and forth they go, in and out of relationships with people that we have nothing in common with but can't seem to let go of. In this case, opposites might attract but not for a good reason.

Learn How To Identify Compatible Partners

The takeaway isn't about what attracts us to our partners but what will help us build the best possible futures. If you find yourself attracted to like-minded people with similar qualities at their core, you're probably on the right track.

On the other hand, if you find yourself dating people who don't seem right for you, it might be a good idea to seek guidance. There are ways to break this cycle, and a qualified therapist can help guide you through the process. BetterHelp counselors are available at any time to discuss your specific issues and help you work through your problems.

Just like a face-to-face therapist, an online therapist can use strategies like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to help you understand your reasons for seeking out partners who don’t serve you, develop the confidence to communicate your attraction to someone, or find closure in a relationship that abruptly ended. Through online therapy platforms like BetterHelp, you can attend sessions that are convenient to your schedule, and from a preferred location with internet connection. BetterHelp uses an initial survey to match you with a compatible licensed counselor who is uniquely qualified to support you in your specific goals.

Online therapy has helped many people to overcome a variety of challenges when it comes to relationships. In one 2022 study, 60 participants ages 21 to 69 years old (30 couples) were divided into two groups, in which one group received face-to-face couples therapy and the other took part in videoconferencing couples therapy. After six sessions and a three-month follow-up assessment, it was determined that therapeutic alliance did not differ between groups. Results highlighted improvements in relationship satisfaction and mental health for both groups, indicating the promise of online therapy as an effective resource for people seeking support for their relationship-based challenges.


Whether you’re striving to identify more compatible partners or hoping to resolve a challenge in your relationship that stems from having opposite values, opinions, or backgrounds, the online therapists at BetterHelp can serve as impartial guides. Take the first step in gaining clarity and confidence in your partner selection by reaching out to a BetterHelp counselor today.

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