• 07/13/2021

Can the “Olive Theory” Predict Your Relationship Success?


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If you’re a diehard Red Sox fan, and your mate loves the Yankees, you probably have quite the friendly rivalry going in your household come baseball season. However, you might have a less happy tale to tell if you and your spouse have opposing political viewpoints. The “Olive Theory” comes from the television sitcom “How I Met Your Mother.” According to it, if one person in the relationship loves olives, but the other despises them, they’re a match made in heaven. However, do opposites truly attract? Here’s the skinny on whether the olive theory can predict relationship success. 

Do Opposites Attract in Reality? 

The old song about, “You say tomato, I say tomato” doesn’t translate well into print. However, should you call the whole thing off if you and your mate seemingly disagree on everything? 

According to the olive theory, consider it a green light if you and your mate don’t pronounce “potato” the same way. Variety does add spice to life, after all — and you don’t have to worry about your mate polishing off the last of your sushi if the thought of uncooked fish makes them queasy.

According to Dr. Ramani Durvasula, clinical psychologist, the initial excitement of hooking up with someone who seems our polar opposite fuels the attraction. However, this perception could be skewed by familiarity. 

Case in point: you probably don’t think of the grocery store checkout clerk as someone completely different from you. You wouldn’t know if they’re an inveterate night owl while you like to rise and shine until you’ve shared a schedule. 

In reality, though, people tend to gravitate towards others who share many of the same characteristics. Social media provides the perfect testing ground for this theory. Researchers examined the habits of what people liked and interacted with online and discovered that most people shared similar personalities with those on their friend’s list, at least over the internet.

Yet what about the tales of night owls and morning people and Yankees and Red Sox fans sharing marital bliss despite their differences? What secret do these couples have to their longevity?

When It’s Beneficial to Be the Opposite of Your Mate 

You might think the secret sauce lies in the fact that some differences are primarily superficial. Sure, it’s nice if your mate shares your musical tastes when your favorite band rolls into town on tour. However, does it really matter what team you cheer for or which ice cream flavor you prefer? 

However, some couples get along well despite differences in their worldviews. For example, in recent years, many Muslims and Jews have wed in countries like Britain. These couples have found that they share a lot in common despite centuries of conflict in the Middle East. It’s hoped that this trend will influence global conflicts toward peace. 

 Being the opposite of your mate is beneficial when it opens you to new experiences or ways of looking at the world. The mental shifts need not always be as dramatic as considering another person’s religious faith. For example, you might have long mocked the sport of golf as a silly pastime for privileged people — until your mate takes you on the links for the first time and you get hooked. 

Sometimes, your significant other can help you heal the wounds of a traumatic past. For example, if you grew up in a household where every disagreement resulted in tears and screaming, you’ll likely enter adulthood either imitating the same pattern or fleeing from every perceived conflict in fear of the emotional impact

However, if your partner came from a home where they calmly discussed issues, you could learn a different method of resolving conflict. This new emotional insight will benefit you in every area of your life, not just your relationship. 

Where You and Your Mate Should Agree 

The secret sauce may lie in open-mindedness and a mesh between your core values and those of your mate. For example, in the instance of those of different religious faiths, each partner might follow unique rituals. However, at their essence, they both recognize and honor the importance of spiritual worship to human life  — that’s the core value they share. 

The core value principle may explain why some people went so far as to divorce their spouses of many years over who they voted for in recent elections. Certainly, Democrats and Republicans have long wed — look at James Carville and Mary Matalin. 

On issues such as gun control and tax rates, couples can agree to disagree. They understand that people see the world differently, and when they approach discussions from a fact-based perspective, they can often find understanding, if not agreement. However, when the question becomes how you treat other human beings, the stakes become higher, even prompting one party to leave. 

You and your mate should ultimately agree to treat each other with respect. Additionally, you should come to an agreement on how to handle conflicts. Honest communication alone might not make your marriage last, but it can go a long way toward smoothing over any differences. 

Does the “Olive Theory” Hold in Your Relationship? 

Many long-lasting couples might seem like opposites, but at the core share unshakable respect for each other. Maybe the ultimate question isn’t whether or not the “olive theory” can predict relationship success but whether your partner makes you feel heard, understood and validated.

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