A few days ago, I shared insight into how I bounced from relationship to relationship, unwittingly playing ‘The Opposites Game’. This is where you subconsciously (and sometimes consciously) home in on a trait (or traits) of your last partner that you believe to be part of the reason why the relationship didn’t work and then seek out someone with the opposite trait. And then still find yourself running into a number of the same problems.
The fundamental reason for playing ‘The Opposites Game’ is simply that we don’t actually understand why the relationship ended.
It’s a hell of a lot easier to jump on the most annoying thing about them. This is no doubt part of the problem, but it’s not all of the problem. As with a lot of things in relationships, it’s important to see the wood for the trees. Yep, the big picture.
When we play The Opposites Game, we focus so much on avoiding the previous annoying thing that we may totally overlook or be blinded to other red flags that signal that this new relationship is not healthy for us either.
Just like when we stay in a relationship with someone and focus on their ‘good points’ as if focusing for instance on 10% goodness can totally obliterate what is 90% dubious or downright outrageous, focusing on ‘bad points’ and not understanding what fundamentally wasn’t working about the relationship will result in being involved with same person, different package.
The Opposites Game ends up being about avoidance because in focusing on specific things, we don’t look at wider reasons or even address our own issues.
When we carry beliefs about ourselves, love, and relationships, we choose people that reflect these things. If we have negative beliefs, we are drawn to and attract people who will confirm, not challenge those very things. Until we’re aware of what is contributing to our pattern, we’ll keep throwing ourselves back into oncoming traffic. And then wondering why we’re getting run down. Yep, relationship insanity.
Relationships serve to teach us more about ourselves. They’ll keep serving the same lesson(s) at us until we learn what we need to.
I’ve written in detail about common misunderstandings about what makes for great relationships. We’re particularly focused and sometimes obsessed with type, compatibility, and common interests.
As a result, when our relationships don’t work out, using the same flawed reasoning about type, compatibility, and common interests, we end up focusing on the wrong things about the person and the relationship. This makes it easy for us to keep falling into the same traps and making the same mistakes.
Chasing people with misunderstandings about type, compatibility, and common interests means missing out on the fundamental things that are needed for a relationship. Like boundaries, values, and love, care, trust, and respect.
Playing The Opposites Game won’t change the fact that you may still be looking for the wrong things in partners. It won’t change being unaware of the impact of other factors that have the potential to contribute to not only the ending of the relationship but also to the diminishing of your self-esteem.
So, take my experience of playing The Opposites Game. If we step back and look at what we were looking to achieve or avoid with each partner, we can actually learn a lot from the experience and grow out of it. That, and we instantly realise that playing The Opposites Game is foolhardy.
I wanted security without having any personal security. Boom, I looked for love in all the wrong places.
When I found myself with someone who’d switched from feverish pursuit to lukewarm and often cold, I vowed to be with someone more expressive.
I wanted to achieve being with someone who could talk to me, express his feelings, and show me love. I wanted to avoid being with a mummy’s boy and feel devotion. Devotion, though, came in the form of an intensity that was smothering and aggressive. I found myself with someone who did nothing but express himself, both passive-aggressively and aggressively. And it was often whilst drunk, veering through extremes and never in a middle ground.
The next time I wanted to avoid being challenged. I wanted peace, and I didn’t want to be in an intense relationship.
In fact, I wanted to be in control. I got someone who was so agreeable he made my teeth hurt, and yet I discovered that he was passive-aggressive anyway!
So then I decided that being in control wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. I needed someone who could challenge me and I could challenge back. He appeared to play the equals game but slowly turned the tables. It was a bait and switch, and the balance tipped. Any challenging was met with control and withdrawal.
When I was the Other Woman, I didn’t want to get hurt. I wanted to avoid real emotional intimacy by being with someone who couldn’t be with me properly. I also didn’t want to be silenced and wanted to ‘express’ myself.
Of course, in the quest for validation, I drove myself crazy expressing every thought in my head. I still looked for security in a guy without having my own, and still had someone who was veering between extremes with how he expressed himself. He created conflict every time I wasn’t agreeable, and wanted everything on his terms.
None of these people really gave me what I had been looking for. Instead, I picked up more problems on the way.
It took all of these experiences and more for me to wake up and realise that there’s more to these men and the problems that we had than a trait or two. It wasn’t enough to just seek the opposite.
It’s too simplistic to just choose opposing partners as it’s never just one thing. The world is not divided into good and bad people. You could go from being involved with an aggressive drunk to an aggressive sober person.
Playing The Opposites Game causes you to miss the point.
I started looking at the commonalities between these guys and also the commonalities in how I was behaving and how I was feeling.
As you can see in part one, while there were some differences, the frightening similarities were difficult to avoid. Also, I was a secretly unhappy person that valued the wrong things in people and relationships and didn’t value herself.
Some of these guys were major pains in the backside, but you know what? If I’d had more love, care, trust, and respect for myself, I wouldn’t have peed on any of these guys if they were on fire, never mind given them the time of day!
How do you stop playing The Opposites Game?
Get out of the illusions and get real. And I don’t just mean about them, but also about you.
I asked myself, “What can be going through your mind for you to end up in this place again?’
What does their behaviour say about you? And that’s not blaming yourself for their actions; that’s being accountable and recognising that we make choices even when we don’t think we’re making choices. We often stick with poor situations in relationships because it works for us. It’s the quiet agenda of negative beliefs and self-sabotage.
We may be miserable. We may be wondering why they’re ‘not changing’. But it ‘works’ because we get to avoid confronting the real issues and making change.
The classic example of this when we get involved with people who have an allergy to the truth or whose actions contradict their words. This is a sure sign that we are illusions focused and often in denial.
It’s very difficult to change the situations you’re in, break patterns, and steer clear of choosing opposites if you’re not prepared to get real about yourself and also about what makes for better relationships. If you can hold your hands up and say ‘OK, I was so desperate to be loved that I’d rather have taken the crumbs than stand up for myself or be alone‘, that’s real. You can say, ‘Yes, it’s a damn good idea to look out for the signs of manipulative people, or emotionally unavailable people or whatever. But I know I will be better equipped to try and forge relationships if I deal with my own issues and start getting a healthier picture of relationships and myself’.
The reality is that you could bounce from opposite to opposite picking up much of the same problems for years. Nothing’s going to change until you shift your mentality and address your own issues instead of believing that the solution to your relationship problems lies in someone else.
And don’t fall into the trap of playing the opposites game with yourself.
I’ve bounced from needy, to aloof, to argumentative, to meek and mild, and round and round. Trust me, it’s not just one thing. Even if you are needy, for instance, you still need to look at why you are needy and address it. The answer isn’t to say ‘Ooh, I think I was really needy in the last relationship. Right, so I won’t call them on anything in case they think I’m too demanding’.
Just like when I’ve said that being with someone where there is no middle ground is dangerous, not having your own middle ground is also dangerous.
Playing The Opposites Game can take you to extremes.
It can make you hypersensitive about your own contribution and also about the factors that you feel led to the demise of the relationship.
Particularly if the other party jumped on something and used it on you, you may internalise this and make it the focal point of your thoughts and actions. Next thing, you’ve forgotten about everything else. Classic gaslighting.
Just like the way you can’t hang around someone and dine solely off their few good points to the exclusion of the things that are actually damaging the potential for the relationship, it’s important to look at the whole picture of the relationship. That’s you, them, and what you both had (or didn’t have) together. It’s all-too-easy to choose something that suits you to pin the relationship’s failure on and miss the point entirely.
I can’t stress this enough: it wasn’t just one thing. In fact, take the one thing and look at how it fed into everything else, and you’ll quickly reveal more about the entire relationship and yourself. Yes, you might learn some uncomfortable truths. The opposite (aha), though, is carrying on in denial or obliviously throwing yourself in the front line of pain.