People say it all the time: “The very things that first attract you to your spouse often end up being the very things that annoy you.” And these very things can even tear couples apart. Many spouses (of all ages) shrug their shoulders andPersonality differences have the potential to make or break a marriage passively give in to this “truth,” slowly watching their marriages wilt.

It’s heartbreaking to see this pattern repeat itself over and over again. This heartbreak is what drove me to research this topic extensively. Because I know the other side of this truth—those very things that attract us to our spouses have the power to invigorate our relationships. They have the power to give meaning and vitality to our marriages. If we use them correctly, they have the power to re-attract us to our spouses, over and over again.

For the majority of couples, those attracting/repelling factors are personality differences. The introvert who marries the extrovert. The spender who marries the saver. The organized person who marries the not-so-organized.

Personality differences have the potential to make your marriage . . . or break your marriage.

Why are personality differences so attractive (often, subconsciously) in the beginning of a courtship? Because they promise something. And it’s something that we all want: completion. Underlying the attraction to someone who is different from us offers a sense of feeling complete with this other person.

Many people take issue with the idea that we need someone to “complete us.” I agree with them. We shouldn’t need someone to help us stand firmly on our own feet or feel good about ourselves. Completion is not dependency. So what do I mean by “completion”?

Take Lenny, one of the people in my relationship study, who told me about his earliest encounters with his wife. “I felt really centered around Carla. It felt great. Her serious, quiet side brought out a part of me that I always wanted to have. And she loved my crazy, outgoing personality. I loved to watch her come out of herself around me.” Lenny got a glimpse into who he could really become—centered and grounded—and what his relationship with Carla could become. In other words, he realized (partially subconsciously) that their completion as a couple would also be a doorway—and a shortcut—to his own individual completion.

A few months after the wedding, however, Lenny started getting frustrated with Carla’s reserved nature. “Now that we’re married, it’s so frustrating. She is so serious, and when we go out, she is really quiet. Why can’t she just interact with people?” We can all relate to Lenny’s annoyance. The energy flowed so easily in the beginning. Now it did not.

But the story is as follows: The completion we initially feel with our spouses is like a free gift to show us the potential of what we can have. Then, the training wheels are taken off; this is when every couple needs to put some effort in, to make that completion real.

If we want to succeed in anything, then we need to work at it. If we want to be a great athlete, we need to work out. If we want to be great doctors, we need to invest in years of study and practice. And if we want to attain the completion we experienced while we were dating—both on a personal level and on a relationship level—we need to put in some real effort.

We all have an independent part of ourselves that might struggle with this idea. On some level, we want to believe that we can become completed individuals on ourMarriage is like a jam session own. Why should we need to get married to do this? Here’s an analogy: Marriage is like a jam session. If you want to make great music with someone else, what’s the prerequisite? To play solo. But if you can play solo, that doesn’t mean that you can automatically jam. Only when you play with others do you realize where you’re out of tune or rhythm.

In life, no matter how well we play solo, we will never see ourselves as we truly are (and therefore can never come into our true potential) until we can successfully jam with someone else. We spend a lot of time playing solo, but only when we get super close with someone—specifically in the lifelong, committed relationship of marriage—will we see and understand where we need fine-tuning in order to grow into the happiest, most loving versions of ourselves. Although other types of relationships assist us in this, only marriage—that lifelong commitment to one’s partner—has the power to show us who we truly are and can become.

Completion in Marriage

There are two types of completion in marriage: personal balance and teamwork/synergy.

Completion Type 1: Personal Balance

We can become more balanced, developed people through marriage, specifically due to our spouses’ opposite personality traits. Ancient Judaic sources explain that a couple’s personality differences go way beyond being OK; they are the major benefit of the marriage. A renowned Jewish sage, the Chatam Sofer, clarifies that personality differences are the key to a balanced marriage because our personality differences encourage (and sometimes, nudge) us to become more balanced individuals.

For example, Lenny wanted to become more centered and grounded, and he ultimately succeeded in this because Carla’s seriousness brought out this potential in him. It definitely takes some effort to achieve personal balance, but the rewards far exceed the effort.

Completion Type 2: Teamwork/Synergy

Let’s take a look at the second type of completion in marriage.

Because of our complementary differences, our team potential is exponentially greater than our solo potential.

If you want to open up a business, you start small. Typically, you don’t have theWhen you go big, you usually have to collaborate with others resources or capital to do otherwise. You work hard to develop your one-person business. But when you want to go big, if you want to be a thriving enterprise, you usually have to collaborate with others. If you’re smart, then you look for people who have the skills and abilities that you don’t have.

So, too, in marriage. If you want to go far in life, partner with someone who shares your vision, and whose skills and abilities will complement yours. Marriage is the ultimate team, the ultimate synergy. If you complement and complete each other in this way, you can become much more than the sum of your parts. This truth is best expressed by an African proverb: “If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.”