In many of the happily married couples I have encountered, often, the two partners came from widely different backgrounds; few couples grew up together in the same community. Yet, they all made good choices. How did they pick their mates?
Aside from physical attraction, which is of course every important in choosing a life partner, and at a deeper level, one is searching for the best conscious and unconscious psychological fit with another person.
People often come together through a common interest--shared hobbies, work, or political, ethical, and religious values. One man of one of the couples with whom I worked said,
"We share interests and disinterests."
Two people may have a common past or background:
"We both came out of terrible first marriages and are both survivors."
Or a shared vision of the future; "We both wanted to live in a small community and raise our children." Or, "We both wanted to rescue the world,"
or "We both need an oasis."
What is shared may be loneliness. All of us look for another person out of loneliness and the wish for intimacy, companionship, and sex. But some find it impossible to love alone after leaving home; they want to be sure someone is waiting in the wings. Some people come together out of shared anxiety: this may be my last, my only chance.
"I had better grab it and not look too carefully."
People are attracted to each other because of internal images, or transference, related to parents and other important figures. By young adulthood these transferences have been woven into a general set of internal interactions governing what we expect from ourselves and from others. These images are very influential in the kind of marriage that people expect to create.
People are also attracted to each other because of differences: we look for someone who has a quality we lack. Thus the search for the right fit involves filling a void we feel in ourselves. This fitting together of psychological differences in ourselves and the other person in order to feel more complete is called complementarity.
Each of us scans the available pool of partners for what we need. For example, one dependent woman may run into the guy in black leather jacket to gratify her need for danger and rebelliousness while she continues to remain meek and dependent.
Complementarity is a powerful, psychological mechanism that can work to good or bad ends.
In a happy marriage the fitting together of psychological differences has the power to heal. Complementarity can also lead to a collusive marriage in which the couple remains together for neurotic or childish reasons.
To choose wisely in marriage, a person first has to be able to stand alone. Standing alone does not just mean living in your own apartment. It does mean have a sense of self that allows you to go home alone from a party. It means being able to get through the night by yourself. It means not being driven by loneliness to make bad decision about who you invite into your apartment or life.
The Good Marriage - Wallerstein & Blakeslee