Can An Optimist And Pessimist Really Make A Relationship Work?

Is the glass half full or half empty? If you're an optimist, you see a half-full glass of water waiting to be guzzled up, but if you're a pessimist, you zero in on the empty space and the water that's missing instead. Of course, optimism and pessimism impact a lot more than your perspective on drinking glasses — they determine how we view our lives and futures in general.

According to Choosing Therapy, everything from genetics to past experiences can influence how optimistic or pessimistic someone is. It's also possible to be optimistic about some things and pessimistic about others. For example, data from the European Union's Eurobarometer surveys (via Our World in Data) reveals that people tend to be more optimistic about their personal lives and more pessimistic about social and country-wide issues.

These attitudes paint how we view the world around us which is why an optimist and a pessimist may struggle to see eye to eye. So what if you and your significant other fall on opposite ends of the positivity spectrum? Here's what that could mean for your relationship.

Why optimists and pessimists are attracted to each other

You're the first to notice problems, while your partner is known to wear rose-colored glasses. Or maybe you're the one with a sunny mindset, but your S.O. always expects things to take a turn for the worse. You couldn't be any more different — so how did you end up together in the first place?

Opposites don't always attract, according to BetterHelp. In most cases, people choose to cozy up with those they relate to on some level. That means that even if one of you is an optimist and the other is a brooding pessimist, you likely have similar ideas when it comes to religion, lifestyle, and other factors. Still, people can sometimes be attracted to partners with different perspectives or personality traits. "The actual attraction is over a quality you would like to develop or build up in yourself," Dr. John Mayer, a clinical psychologist, explained to Women's Health. Pessimists might admire optimists' hopefulness, while optimists may feel protected and cared for by cautious pessimists. These differences can spark initial chemistry, though they might lead to disagreements down the line.

Is one attitude better than the other?

Whether you're more of a Pollyanna or Negative Nancy, you may believe that your outlook is "right" and that your significant other should be more like you. However, neither attitude is better than the other.

It's not surprising that being negative can have, well, negative consequences. Constantly catastrophizing has been linked to stress, depression, inflammation, and weakened immunity, per GoodTherapy. Yet optimism isn't always the answer. BBC Worklife points out that overly optimistic types may make riskier decisions that can put them in danger. And when it comes to relationships, people who have positive expectations may be less likely to solve problems or discuss issues in a constructive way, according to a 2013 study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

In other words, optimism and pessimism, especially when not balanced with realism and healthy behaviors, both have their shortcomings. Rather than trying to convince your partner to see the world the way you do, it might be better to notice your own biases and how they affect you and your love life.

Common pitfalls of optimist-pessimist relationships

How optimistic or pessimistic you are can influence your decisions, values, and how you experience life in general. So if you and your other half are on different ends of the spectrum, it makes sense that you'll run into arguments and hurt feelings at times.

"Whenever someone's pessimism or optimism feels like a dismissal of the other person, that's where it can feel toxic or draining," Lyndsey Murray, a couples counselor and coach, told Well+Good. An optimistic partner may, unintentionally, employ toxic positivity to pressure the other person into looking on the bright side. "The message is that you shouldn't feel bad, that you need to get over it. If that's always the dynamic, the person who's more pessimistic is eventually going to stop coming to you." Issues can run in the other direction, too. "Let's say an optimist is really excited for something, and a pessimist doesn't share that excitement, like at all," Murray said. "They come to the table with all the reasons why it's a bad idea, why it's not gonna work. That can feel very dismissive."

Sometimes, couples can also have different attitudes about the relationship itself. An optimistic partner may trust that relationship troubles will always work themselves out, while pessimistic types might cling to their doubts. These differences can sometimes go beyond simple optimism and pessimism and may instead relate to attachment styles and past relationship traumas.

The silver lining (that even pessimists can understand)

Even if a relationship between an optimist and a pessimist may be hard, it's not impossible. In fact, these opposites can make a pretty strong duo. Domonique Bertolucci, a best-selling author who writes about happiness and personal development, shared with Success, "Most couples have one person who is a spender and one who is the saver. Or one is a homebody and the other a party animal. The same thing goes with overall attitude ... There is usually one who sees the world more darkly than the other." According to Bertolucci, "These pairings can make a great team!"

Lyndsey Murray agrees, telling Well+Good, "They can bring out the best in each other in a unique way. [...] Sometimes optimists can be overly optimistic, and maybe aren't noticing the pitfalls of their plan. This is where a pessimist can bring them back down to reality a bit."

This balance can be useful in everyday life, as well as within the partnership. The Washington Post notes that married couples tend to assume their relationship will last, despite the fact that over 40% of marriages end in divorce. A union where one partner is hopeful and the other scans for potential threats may be stronger in the end, compared to two optimistically complacent people or two partners who both lack faith in their shared future.

How to make the relationship work

Having different perspectives can be a gift in relationships, but only if you know how to make the most of your differences. Dr. Heidi Grant, an expert on the psychology of motivation, wrote on Psychology Today that couples should understand what motivates each person's decisions. Optimists tend to be motivated by what they can gain, while pessimists are driven by loss prevention. Dr. Grant suggests appreciating both viewpoints and communicating using the other person's motivational language. For example, an optimist can validate their pessimistic partner's concerns over what could be at stake, rather than trying to talk them out of their worries.

You can also discuss past experiences that may have led to the attitudes you and your partner have now. A rough childhood or an upbringing where gratitude was the norm could be the reason behind your different approaches.

Finally, don't be afraid to ask your partner what kind of support they prefer. A pessimist may not always want a cheerleader — instead, they might want a partner who will simply listen to their fears. Similarly, an optimist may prefer a partner who will rally behind them, not poke holes in their plans. It may take time to learn how to offer the type of care your S.O. craves, but it can make all the difference for the future of your relationship.