Symmetrical Relationships

The three basic relationship styles identified by marriage experts are often called complementary, symmetrical, and parallel. Valuable insight into the dynamics of your marriage can be gained by understanding the characteristics of your relationship type. Complementary and symmetrical relationships have potential for both positive and negative attributes. Parallel relationships are generally considered to be the most preferable type because it is a blend of the desirable qualities of the other two. What type of relationship do you and your partner share?

The premise underscoring complementary relationships can be summed up by the common expression “opposites attract”. This style is based on the maximization of differences between partners. [See previous article.] By contrast, symmetrical relationships are based on the minimization of differences between spouses. This idea is sometimes expressed by the phrase “birds of a feather flock together”. In other words, couples who were attracted to one another primarily due to perceived similarities regarding personality traits, backgrounds, life experiences, and other qualities likely have a symmetrical relationship. These relationships generally develop because it is felt – either consciously or unconsciously – that such similarities are important in the process of developing relatedness, mutuality, bondedness, stability and so forth.

There are certainly beneficial elements of symmetrical relationships. Some important areas of similarity or agreement typically translate to better marital adjustment and satisfaction. Such areas are often related to having similar backgrounds and life experiences. They include moral values, religious beliefs and affiliation, political ideology, views on family, and others. This does not mean that marriages which are not in perfect agreement in all of these areas are necessarily doomed for failure. But, those who enjoy harmony in most or all of these areas are generally at an advantage.

Common interests often result in shared activities which can help to develop intimacy and friendship in relationships. Shared personality traits, ideology, and values can generate a “kindred spirit” mentality that can serve to strengthen mutual affection, attraction, and commitment. These are a couple of the other benefits of symmetrical unions.

The symmetrical style of relationship is not without potential problems, however. When commonality is viewed as extremely important to one or both spouses and the relationship is based, to a great degree, on this understanding then certain expectations naturally develop. When differences come to the surface – which is inevitable since no two people are identical in every way – it can be a disappointing experience. In some cases, it is may even be viewed as a threat to the stability of the relationship. It can be particularly distressing when symmetrical couples discover that they don’t agree on some matters that are perceived to be very important to them.

As with the complementary style - which also has both pros and cons – the important thing is to focus on the positive aspects. If symmetrical is your relationship style, use the natural similarities between you and your spouse to strengthen your marriage. But, also be aware of the potential for disappointment when differences arise and prepare yourself to work through these situations in a positive manner.

Articles in this series...

Complementary Relationships
Symmetrical Relationships
Parallel Relationships
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