How does all of this affect our choice of a partner? The best bet when deciding on a partner is to choose someone with a birth order unlike our own so that we can benefit from the strengths of someone who has learned a different set of strategies for dealing with life. While we may initially be attracted to someone with our own characteristics, true adaptive strength over the long run lies in having a partner who can complement our own dispositions. (There are, however, many exceptions to this rule, and some of the best relationships can occur between partners of the same birth order.)

When we have a partner within the same birth order, we often experience frustration that this person does not have attributes we ourselves lack. Many people come into relationship therapy expressing aggravation toward a partner, complaining, “Why can’t John (or Mary) be more responsible (or outgoing…or emotionally open)?” Ironically, these are likely the same qualities lacking in the one doing the complaining! At a certain level we often look to our partner to make up for the things we don’t do well, so we resort to the scheme of trying to change our partner. A word to the wise, however – we cannot change another person. It is difficult enough to change ourselves.

We cannot change another person. It is difficult enough to change ourselves.

You can, on the other hand, change many things about yourself and your behavior with the help of a therapist, and your partner may decide voluntarily to do the same. If you have a partner with complementary attributes, there will be less need for him or her to change within your relationship. You can value each other for your own special qualities, and this leads to a strong and healthy bond.

Two first-borns or two only children may find themselves in a volatile and competitive relationship, especially when both have tendencies to be perfectionists. They hold high standards for themselves and may find it difficult to back down. First-borns, unlike second-borns, often failed to learn the art of compromise.

While two middle children in a relationship may be good mediators, seemingly a wonderful skill to bring to a partnership, they may avoid talking through the problems that come up in any relationship. Middle children want things to be smooth and are generally loyal to a fault. They learned how to avoid conflict growing up, which meant keeping things to themselves. Their relationships, therefore, may be characterized by a lack of communication.

Two last-borns together can make for a wonderfully playful relationship, but eventually each partner may look to the other to take control of things – and nobody wants to take the control! Last-borns grew up with older siblings who took responsibility for decisions and chores, so they may still expect in adulthood that someone else will take care of things. Last born partners sometimes have money problems.

So, which birth order makes the ideal partner? It depends on you. There are no hard and fast rules. Some people say that a first-born with a last-born provides for a good mixture of responsibility and playfulness. Others say that a first or only-born with few friends can benefit from a relationship with a socially-oriented middle child. Tempered by a good dose of common sense, the answer lies in your heart.

Dr. Baya Mebarek, Psy.D., LMFT

San Diego Couples and Family Therapy serves the surrounding areas of Sorrento Valley Road as La Jolla, UTC San Diego, Del Mar, Rancho Santa Fe, Rancho Bernardo, Rancho Penasquitos, Poway, University City and Escondido.