Complementary Needs: Definition & Theory

Instructor: Karin Gonzalez

Karin has taught middle and high school Health and has a master's degree in social work.

It is interesting how people are attracted to mates with opposite traits and characteristics. In this lesson, we will learn the definitions of complimentary needs and complementary needs theory with many examples to illustrate these concepts.

What Are Complementary Needs?

Tim and Marie are from the same city, of the same race, educational background, and religion. They meet at a college alumni event. Although they have very similar backgrounds, there is one large difference in personality. Marie is the life of the party and Tim is a bookworm who enjoys staying at home. Tim is attracted to Marie's confidence and liveliness, and Marie is attracted to Tim's low-key personality. After dating for a couple years, Tim and Marie get married.

Romantic partners tend to have many similar traits that create a foundation for the relationship. In fact, couples marvel in learning about the similarities that they share in the first couple of dates. For example, when Tim and Marie first met, Tim was tickled with the fact that Marie was from the same small town where he grew up. Similarly, Marie was delighted when Tim said he was also Baptist Christian.

After establishing enough similarities to create the bedrock of the relationship, couples gravitate towards traits of the other that are opposite or complementary to theirs. It is because these characteristics complement or complete their needs.

Something that is complementary makes another thing better or more whole, according to Merriam-Webster dictionary. Complementary needs are opposing needs of two individuals that, when combined, compliment each other and create harmony in a relationship. Marie's confidence and sociability complemented Tim's introversion when they went out together; he just let her take the lead in making friends or scheduling social events. Tim's ability to sit at home with a book by the fireplace complemented Marie's needs for rest and relaxation.

Complementary Needs Theory

Complementary needs theory, a concept defined and developed by Robert Winch in the mid 1950s, is when a person selects a mate whose opposing traits compliment their traits in order to receive the highest satisfaction of needs possible. A person usually chooses a partner whose strengths compensate for their lacks, as to fill in the gaps of their own weaknesses. Needs can be complimentary in two different ways, according to Winch. Either the needs are complimentary because 1. they are different from each other or 2. they vary in intensity.

Examples of Complementary Needs Theory

The submissive one and the dominant one

Paul, who is submissive, is attracted to Stacey, a dominant woman, because she makes the decisions for him so he doesn't have to. Stacey is attracted to Paul because he allows for her need to control and make the decisions in the relationship.

The saver and the spender

Emily grew up learning to save every penny that she had, and to only buy things that she absolutely needed. When she met Mark, she was refreshed with his financial adventurousness, especially when it came to travel. Mark would spend almost all of his variable income for a month on a weekend trip to a different city within the United States. Emily was attracted to Mark's spontaneity and daringness. Mark was attracted to Emily's financial security and suaveness. Emily inspired Mark to cut down his travel a bit so he could put some money into savings for a home.

The doer and the dreamer

Sean would think of an idea and immediately take the steps to act on that idea. Sean's wife, Lynn, was a dreamer. She would think up ideas and had a running list of things that she wanted to do, such as entrepreneurial pursuits. Sean loved and admired his wife's creativity, and acted on some of her ideas. Lynn loved Sean's drive and motivation to accomplish things and this inspired her to be more of a doer.

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