When it comes to relationships, it’s easy to feel that like goes with like: people with similar interests, careers, backgrounds and life views are attracted to one another and stick together.
In fact, more often than not, it’s been argued that our differences make us stronger. Think about it: if we end up with people just like us, we won’t be exposed to new activities or ways of overcoming challenges. Our relationship won’t have quite so many nuances. And we won’t have to get out of our comfort zone.
What’s more, science has found that couples with different personality types work – and can be super-happy together.
According to 2012 research by Cornell University’s Vanessa K. Bohns, published in the journal Social Cognition, opposite couples worked well together as a team on mutually-shared long term goals. These couples pursued a “divide and conquer” strategy to reach their desired outcome, and even though they used different strategies to achieve what they wanted, they reported the highest relationship quality.
Indeed, it is these tenets that gave rise to Heineken’s #OpenYourWorld campaign, where two strangers divided by their beliefs met for the first time - and as this video proves, they found more that unites them than divides them.
And so to test the theory, we spoke to different couples to see how their personality differences have proven to be positives in their relationships.
Differences can teach you something
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We all bring certain personality traits to our partnership and, often, we seek out partners that can mellow us out or bring us out of our shy shells.
“I would say Andrew's optimism and extroversion are a great foil to my more reserved personality,” says Lulu, who has been married to Andrew for three years.
“He helps me to put myself out there socially and to see the best in people, while I think I help him to stay grounded and to slow down.”
Annemiek, married to Caspar for two years – and together for almost a decade – agrees that in a relationship with different personality traits, there is always something to learn.
“We are the exact opposites of each other,” she says. “He keeps me on my toes and I teach him to relax a bit more. Every day we learn from each other.”
Different personalities do not mean different values
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Two people can fundamentally be very different when it comes to interests, hobbies and daily pursuits. They can even be on opposite sides of the political spectrum. But those differences pale in comparison to the big issue: values. And the strongest couples tend to share those.
“Sometimes, I think my husband and I are so different, I wonder how we can sit in a room together. His idea of fun is doing an Ironman or an ultra-marathon that involves camping. I want a strong flat white, a magazine and my bottom firmly planted on a soft couch,” says Sharon, 47, married to Scott, 45.
“I once said to him, ‘We have absolutely nothing in common.’ His reply was, ‘We have the same values.’ He's right, so there you go.” They are celebrating their 10th wedding anniversary this year.
Catherine and Oliver, married for nine years, feel the same way.
“Our values are very similar, yet we have always found completely different things irritating, and this has created a perfectly clichéd, ‘You're the ying to my yang’ relationship,” Catherine explains.
Differences create a balance
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Partners with different views - family time, wellness, prioritising leisure over work - can help each other to adapt. Different attitudes will also have a positive impact on the relationship outside of the immediate couple says Emma, who has been married to Hannah for two years and with her for 12.
“Hannah is super close to her nuclear family and in the early days of our relationship, I found the amount of time they spent together a bit unnerving. It was very different to my own family relationships. Over the years though, her much closer relationship with her family has encouraged me to get closer to mine.”
They can also make you stronger
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For many, the true test of a relationship comes when faced with difficulties – big and small.
Rhiannon, married to Daniel for three-and-a-half-years, explains that her husband’s rational approach to adversity helps her to make decisions without being unduly influenced by stress, while her unwavering confidence in her partner helps him to stay calm when faced with a stressful day at work.
“Our strengths come to the fore to meet different obstacles, so one of us will meet the challenge when the other might be less able to. It means that we always deal with issues from a position of strength,” says Rhiannon.
“He encourages me to be bolder, braver and more confident and to push myself," she enthuses.
Differences let you be yourself in the relationship
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Remember that naive assumption we have when we were younger that the only relationships that work are those where you have exactly the same interests as the other person?
That simply isn’t true – as Lucy and Arabella have found. In fact, their different interests give them space to be themselves, making time together even more enjoyable.
Lucy, 35, has been together with Arabella, 37, for nine years – and civilly partnered for six of those.
“When I was younger, I thought that the successful relationships were the ones where couples shared hobbies and spent loads of time together,” she explains.
“But as my relationship with Arabella deepened, we’ve also developed very different interests.
“All the crucial stuff we still share - sense of humour, intelligence levels and emotional openness - but what I’ve realised is that us choosing to spend our free time doing different things isn’t actually a sign that we’re not aligned."
They can keep the passion alive
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“We have lots of differences, but where it matters we are similar, if not of the same opinion,” explains Julia, who has been with George for four years.
“Our differences keep us from taking each other for granted and thinking we can second-guess each other, keeping us fresh," Julia says.
And they should be celebrated!
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Celebrating the characteristics that set couples apart and how their differences enrich their relationships is key.
“Well, in many ways, we couldn't be more different: Maths vs Arts - though I guess both linguists of a kind! He's fundamentally an action man; I'm fundamentally a bit lazy. He's brave (sports include climbing and skiing) and I'm timid (though game!),” says Oli, who has been with his partner, Steven, for four-and-a-half-years.
“But the differences are usually complementary - and to be celebrated. We went to a lesbian wedding a couple of years back where the dress code was to come as well-known couples/pairings. We went as chalk and cheese.”
Is there more that unites us than divides us? See how Heineken are striving to show we can all find common ground and enjoy the revolutionary video.