The Second “C,” Commonality vs Polarity. This post is the second of five on The Five C’s of Relationship.
There are two forces operating in relationship, commonality which pulls us together and moves us in the same direction and polarity, the drive to separate, individuate and be different. Both are important to successful relationship.
Commonality is the pool of common values, interests, and identity between two people. As we mentioned above, dating services know that the more things a couple have in common the more likely they are to have a solid friendship base. And a solid friendship base is very important to a rich relationship. Relationship can survive without chemistry, but it cannot survive without friendship. Sooner or later we get out of bed and have to build a life together. The more we have in common the easier it is. Friendship is the glue that keeps us together.
Polarity is the opposing force to commonality. It is that which drives the experience of being separate and different from one another. Polarity provides energy, spark and creative tension. It is at the heart of the old chestnut that opposites attract. Our commonalities make my partner comforting to me, our polarities fascinate, stimulate and aggravate! The friction of our differences creates heat and intensity.
Relationships with high commonality are easier to manage, but can become bland. Below are examples of how two real-life couples can play out on the commonality, polarity axis.
June and Saul both come from a middle-class background and both are teachers. When they met they knew they wanted kids and that they wanted to raise them in the Jewish faith. They love going to the movies and are taking a Thai cooking class together. They spend a lot of time comparing notes about their teaching experiences. When they have a conflict they talk it through logically. When asked to describe their relationship they say they are best friends.
Gita and Mark met at University. Gita is second generation Pakastani and she is studying Fine Arts. Mark is British and plans to become an electrical engineer. Mark talks about falling for Gita’s “exotic beauty,” and he is fascinated by her paintings. Her passionate and emotional style both stirs and disturbs him. Gita loves Mark’s openness, gentleness and the respectful way he is genuinely interested in her work. Each feels that they have met their soul mate. Gita’s parents are very unhappy about her relationship with Mark; they cannot support the fact that he is neither Pakistani nor Muslim. The couple know that it’s not going to be easy but are committed to getting married and working it out with her family over time.
Gita and Mark have a high polarity relationship. They are very different in terms of background, interests and emotional style. High polarity relationships are often high in chemistry and energy. There is a deep fascination with the different, such couples often say they feel completed by the other. At the same time the lack of commonality will be an ongoing challenge as many things will need to be negotiated and little can be taken for granted. Bridging differences is both stimulating and exhausting. And the lack of family support adds an additional strain to the relationship.
Both of the above relationships have a different set of strengths and challenges to negotiate. This is neither bad nor good; it is just the nature of their particular relationships. Also the commonality /polarity dichotomy fluctuates in a dance of coming together and flowing apart over time, as the Third Entity seeks balance. Marita and I are mixed in the commonality/polarity index. Our backgrounds are very different, I am American and she is South African. In the US we lived 3,000 miles apart. Yet we are bound by our common work and have common values around relationship. Over the first 10 years of our life together we strove for commonality and union. We immersed ourselves in creating the ORSC program together; we created gardens together and travelled together. However we also have considerable polarity.
In working together we frequently disagree and since we are both opinionated and stubborn the creative process involves a certain amount of brawling. Even after 20 years I can feel a sense of shocked surprise, “You think what?” Marita is bewilderingly, frustratingly, different. This often drives me crazy but it also keeps me curious and interested. I can never predict what she is going to say or do. In short the commonality of our relationship creates a profound bond, and the polarity of our relationship keeps that bond lively.
In your own relationship what is your ratio of commonality vs polarity? What is the impact of that on your relationship?