In Romantic Partnerships, Do Opposites Attract? ~ Joe Elliott

Cristian V.

As a couples and family therapist, I’ve spent quite a bit of time pondering the mystery of attraction in intimate relationships.

At the most basic level, attraction is born from an unbearable internal friction that demands release. At the most sublime level, delaying the impulse of attraction fuels incredible creativity and generosity of spirit. Biologically, we are wired for attraction through neurochemicals that activate pleasure centers in our brain, making us forget the pain that it took to connect with our intended object and that instigate our search for that object all over again.

Romantic partnerships fall in line with the principles of attraction. Romantic love is a powerful emotion that is amplified through the projection of our fears and insecurities onto our intended object. In romantic love, we imagine that we will be able to resolve the internal struggles that have brought us so much pain and indecision.

I remember a workshop that I attended many years ago on romantic love. We studied the movie “Titanic” in which the main character, Rose, is torn between the man who offers her lifelong security and a man who represents a life of freedom and adventure. Rose’s ambivalence comes to a head when she chooses to get out of a life boat on a sinking ship in order to be with Jack.


The point of the workshop was really how godawful romantic love is.

I remember asking the workshop leader: “Doesn’t romantic love serve some purpose?” She stewed over the question for a moment and somberly implied that it was completely hapless.

As a therapist, one of my primary objectives has been to find purpose and meaning in all aspects of the human experience, so I have sought to find a way to give romantic love its due. If we take a look at some traditional psychological research from the Gottman Institute, a pioneering venture to help explore what the keys are to successful marriages and partnerships, one of their descriptions includes couples who have a high level of passion and conflict.

In this case, the friction in their relationship actually pushes the couple towards higher levels of self-exploration and self-awareness. In all of their descriptions of successful partnerships, the most important element concerns positive interactions, not the degree of passion that is shared.

In my deeper quest to understanding the purpose of romantic love, I found Imago Relationship Therapy. Imago embraces the dynamic of romantic love as an unconscious desire to reconnect with aspects of our ‘lost self.’

The lost self includes personality characteristics that were unapproved of or disallowed in our most primary relationships. Imago asserts that the choice of a romantic partner is unconsciously informed by our lost self. Turning on this unconscious agenda offers a revolutionary perspective to most assumptions about romantic love and has the potent power to transform relationships into a vehicle for acceptance, awakening, and some of the deepest experiences of connection and fulfillment.


Joe Elliot has been working to help families for the past thirteen years.  His specialties are in couples counseling, family therapy, death and dying, parenting, financial management, and adoption.  Joe received his undergraduate degree from Naropa University in Psychology and Relgious Studies and his Masters in Counseling from Regis University in Denver.  Joe completed a Post-Graduate Certificate in Marriage and Family Therapy from The Denver Family Institute.  Joe has also taught a course in Family Therapy to students at Metro State Community College.  Find out more at www.joeelliottfamilytherapy.org

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Joe Elliott Dec 12, 2011 2:10pm

Hi Mom,
When I was at Naropa an old American yogi gave a talk about the tree of immanence and the tree of trancendence in yogic pratice. He talked about how there are these beatiful statutes of gods with very human like features and then said that he had seen someone take a razor and cut up the face of one of these statues. It makes me think about the Bamiyan Buddhas in Afghanistan and how the Taliban destroyed some of the oldest and most unique statues in the world. Immanence takes the approach that we are spiritual beings having a human experience and encourages letting go and realizing our true essence. Transcendence takes the approach that we have to overcome our human existence in order to realize something spiritual. When I used to meet with a mentor, he described transcendent practices as more foundational and immanent practices as more advanced.

Eileen Elliott Dec 12, 2011 12:44pm

Hi Joe,

Good article and I like the refining your friend did on desire and attachment. Can you talk a bit about transcendence and immanence?

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