Does Your Sweetheart Drive You Nuts with the Very Qualities that Attracted You?

"Fatal attraction" can suck the joy out of a relationship

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A few days ago, I read Elizabeth Bernstein's Wall Street Journal piece, How to cope when you and your partner are falling out of love.

It discusses the idea of "fatal attraction" - that the traits that drew you toward your sweetheart now drive you nuts. Often, we're drawn to a quality in someone else because we somehow lack or desire that quality in ourselves - but then that very quality turns out to be a point of tension. An introverted person might be attracted to someone's more outgoing nature, but then get tired of their constant desire to be sociable.

Bernstein cites the research of Dr. Diane Felmlee, a sociology professor at Penn State University, who has identified five situations in which this "fatal attraction" patterns emerges (I love these names):

Time Will Tell - you're drawn to someone who's putting best foot forward. You don't see the downsides to a trait until later.

Sour Grapes - you're in a tough relationship so you're trying to distance yourself from your partner, by recasting traits as negative.

Rose-Colored Glasses - you're attracted to a positive quality, but suspect there's a downside - yet ignore it until it's not possible to overlook it anymore

People Pleasing - a partner turns a positive trait into a negative trait, by laying it on too thick

Familiarity Breeds Contempt - there's no change. You just get annoyed.

I can give an example from my own experience, though I'm not sure it fits squarely into these five categories. I'd call it the category of "Every upside has a downside."

I'm an Upholder, and one disadvantage of being an Upholder is that I too readily meet expectations. It's hard for me to know I'm "supposed" to do something, and then choose not to do it.

My husband is a Questioner. He has no trouble ignoring an expectation if he thinks it doesn't make sense. I'm sure this is one of the things that attracted me to him in the first place.

In many situations, his Questioner nature is helpful to me. I often ask him, "I'm supposed to do X. Do you think I have to do it?" Or sometimes I just think to myself, "What would he do in this situation?" His Questioning provides a very healthy counter-balance to my Tendency. I admire this aspect of his nature.

But at the same time, his Questioner Tendency drives me crazy. I'll say, "Would you do X?" and he won't do it just because I ask him to. He's funny that way.

Until I understood (or rather, invented) the Four Tendencies, I didn't understand this dynamic. Now that I understand why we each of us behaves the way we do, and why his behavior really is helpful in many situations, I behave with much more patience. Well, I think I do. Maybe I should ask him if I'm acting with more patience. I feel more patient.

How about you? Do you recognize any of these patterns in your own relationships?

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