Why we tend to fall in love with our polar opposites, according to the Muppet Theory.
Have you ever wondered why people tend to attract their polar opposite in relationships? Various interpretations of the zodiac, Myers-Briggs personality test, and other compatibility assessments tend to pair the extroverted with the introverted, the adventure-seeking with the homebody, and the logic-based with the emotional-driven.
If you think about it, so many of the timeless couples in film demonstrate completely opposite traits and behavioral patterns: Rose Dewitt Bukater and Jack Dawson from Titanic, Rhett Butler and Scarlett O’Hara from Gone with the Wind, and Harry Burns and Sally Allbright from When Harry Met Sally are a few who come to mind. In no media context, however, is the “opposites attract” phenomenon more apparent than in Jim Henson’s Muppet universe, where virtually all of the characters represent an extreme end of the personality spectrum.
What is the Muppet Theory?
In 2012, news writer Dahlia Lithwick developed the Muppet Theory, which suggests that there are two major Muppet types: Chaos Muppets and Order Muppets. Depending on which Muppet you most resemble, you may demonstrate a similar set of patterns in the face of conflict.
Chaos Muppets tend to display the following characteristics or behaviors in their relationships:
- They may act distressed, nervous, or clingy
- They tend to have poor self-esteem, contingent on others’ approval
- They may feel indignant when others don’t give them the validation they need
- They may wreck their relationships to avoid rejection
- They tend to act as the “pursuer” in relationships
- They tend to believe that unless they outwardly express their anger or anxiety, others will be unlikely to respond
- If they have kids, they may not set appropriate boundaries, seeming more like a pal than a parent
- They may suppress their anger until they eventually have an outburst
- Their excessive demands and codependency often precipitate the abandonment they fear
Order Muppets have just as many insecurities as Chaos Muppets, but they show them in very different ways:
- They may have an inner critic whose negative influence filters how they view the world
- Their self-esteem comes from autonomy predicated on the belief that they don’t need anything from anyone else
- They tend to be vulnerable to perceived snubs or rejections
- It is challenging to read their emotions because they are often distant or aloof
- They have difficulty being vulnerable, and may insist on boundaries that keep others from getting too close
- When they seek support, they typically use passive-aggressive strategies like hinting, complaining, sighing, and brooding
- If they have kids, they may have reject or disapprove of physical displays of affection, emotion, and vulnerability
- When faced with challenges, they tend to disassociate, withdraw, or shut down
How does your chaos/order status affect your relationship?
Muppet Theory likely has its origins in the “Imago” concept, developed by Harville Hendrix, who asserts that we unconsciously seek a romantic partner who is an amalgamation of the people in life who emotionally (or physically) injured us the most. We know, deep down, that the people who hurt us are not going to return later in life and heal our wounds, so we unconsciously assign that obligation to our romantic partner once we become attached. The problem is, our partner is completely oblivious to our agenda, and so are we!
Our unconscious expectations can often lead to conflict in relationships, where one partner tends to resort to tumultuous patterns of getting their needs met, and the other follows more rigid, inflexible patterns.
While we may demonstrate chaotic patterns in one relationship, it is completely possible for us to show up as order-driven in other relationships. Our patterns typically correlate to the attachment style that we have with our parents. Those with an insecure anxious or disorganized attachment style may be more likely to fall into the chaotic category, while those with an insecure avoidant attachment style may be prone to the order end of the Muppet spectrum. Even if we had a secure attachment style with our parents, we may have adopted chaotic or rigid patterns in our earlier adult relationships.
Which Muppet are you?
|“Express your feelings all the time unless you’re trying to hide something.”
Miss Piggy has no problem holding back her emotions from the world. Other Muppets often feel on edge in her presence because they never know when she is going to have a meltdown. This type of behavior may lead a partner to walk on eggshells to avoid conflict, when a calm discussion is more suitable.
|“Chocolate chip important to me… It mean whole lot to me… Om nom nom nom.”
Cookie Monster becomes reactive anytime a cookie is mentioned. He may sabotage situations or relationships in order to get his cookie fix. When we are prone to vices (particularly damaging ones), our partners may not trust our ability to make sound decisions.
“Na na na na, na na na na, Elmo’s world!”
It’s Elmo’s world, and we’re all just living in it. Though Elmo has an endearing positive attitude, he is often unpredictable and can leave a path of destruction in his wake when he gets over-excited. Partners like Elmo often bring a lot of fun into a relationship but have trouble drawing the line, which can overwhelm a more rigid partner.
|“Would you still like me if I wore fruit on my head?”
While Ernie may seem like the lead in his friendship with Bert, if you think about it, he is regularly seeking validation. Chaos Muppets tend to rely on others for their self-esteem. When a more rigid partner senses this kind of dependency, it could possibly push them away.
|“Tonight, ladies and gentlemen, I will eat this rubber tire to the music of “Flight of the Bumblebee”
Gonzo’s quote says it all — he is constantly seeking attention through dangerous or questionable stunts. While his antics often elicit laughter, they don’t strengthen his relationships with other Muppets. Partners like Gonzo often crave validation but go about it in all the wrong ways.
If Animal isn’t chaos embodied, then we don’t know what is. He is loud, rambunctious, unpredictable, and unconcerned with how his actions affect other people in his environment. Obviously this kind of behavior can turn off a partner who is hoping for more compromise and balance in a relationship.
|“It’s not easy being green.”
Kermit’s insights and ability to tolerate the chaotic characters in his midst make him one of the most lovable Muppets; however, if he was more open about his needs instead of just “sucking it up,” he would probably be less neurotic. Partners like Kermit tend to benefit from having a more spontaneous partner to balance them out.
|“Never refer to me as an item. I’m a bird.”
Big Bird and Snuffalufagus tend to reinforce each other’s hesitancy in new situations. While Big Bird is a little more relaxed than Snuffy, he often allows the chaos of other Muppets to affect his mood. Order Muppets are experts at the protective pattern of shutting down, which may have helped them at one point, but often renders them helpless in the midst of conflict.
|Snuffalufagus is one of the shiest Muppets, and a mammoth of few words, which makes it difficult for others to know how he feels in any given situation. While not speaking up prevents Snuffy from getting embroiled in conflict, it also means that he doesn’t get his needs met. Partners like Snuffy need to feel secure in order to open up and be vulnerable.|
|“Oh, I love pigeons more than anything else in this world… besides oatmeal.”
Bert is Ernie’s practical, simple, reluctant counterpart. He likes what he likes and isn’t typically open to new experiences. While Ernie is wanting to press down on the accelerator, Bert is vigorously pushing the brakes. Partners who exhibit this kind of behavior often have difficulty letting loose and having a good time.
|“Do you know why they call me the Count? Because I love to count! Ah-hah-hah!”
The Count is an obvious Order Muppet. He is always keeping tabs on objects in any given context. You can bet he’ll be the first one to notice if something is out of place, and call you out on it! When we do this to our relationship partners, they may feel that we do not trust them to make the right decisions.
|“Mee mee mee mee mee”
Poor Beaker…he is just trying to do his job, but everyone else keeps wreaking havoc in his domain. He gets so worked up that he cannot even eke out the words to communicate his distress. This is a typical defense mechanism of an Order Muppet, and like Snuffalufagus, we don’t get our needs met if we don’t express them.
Profiles of and recommendations for your relationship based on your Muppet identities
Now that you’ve identified your “spirit Muppet,” consider which Muppet is most aligned with your patterns of behaviors, thoughts, and communication style. If you identify as a Chaos Muppet, it is very likely that you are partnered up with an Order Muppet (though this is not always the case). As we will discuss below, your muppet personality will play into how you handle the negotiations of a prenuptial agreement, too.
Different pairings require different strategies to maintain a successful and loving relationship. When it comes to negotiating a prenup, these different combinations could lead to very different outcomes. Below, we’ve detailed a profile of three possible pairings, an example from the Muppet universe, and our recommendations for going the distance.
Chaos + Chaos = Nuclear Meltdown
A relationship with two Chaos Muppets is typically filled with drama. Because both partners tend to get overly paranoid that the other will lose interest, they may engage in a constant series of “tests” to gauge their partners’ level of commitment; meaning, they may purposefully push their partner’s buttons in order to cause a reaction.
Think of Elmo and Zoe — two lively Muppets who often rile each other up to the point that they break something, cause a disturbance on Sesame Street, or accidentally hurt the other’s feelings.
Relationships with two chaotic partners may fail unless both partners can develop a secure attachment with each other, where they are able to maintain their separate identities while still growing together as a couple. When negotiating a prenup, two chaos Muppets can easily allow things to spin out of control, leading to a full-fledged argument that has very little to do with the terms of the prenup. When these partners find themselves in the middle of a conflict, we recommend a time-out before attempting to initiate a discussion. It is important for each partner to feel like the other hears and understands their concerns, when too often, the other partner may try to defend, debate, or deflect responsibility. Remembering not to take things too personally can help Chaos Muppets be better listeners and supporters for their equally spontaneous partners.
Order + Order = Disorder
A relationship with two order partners may feel like a Cold War at times…while things may seem silent on the outside, emotions are boiling on the inside. Because both partners may not be skilled in asking for help and expressing their emotions, it is often difficult to tell when they need support and how to provide it. The “tests” they issue may be more subtle and even seem manipulative.
Think of Big Bird and Snuffalufagus, whose skeptical and fearful outlook can often prevent them from trying new things that would otherwise strengthen their friendship, or Statler and Waldorf, who have something critical to say about everyone. Their type of condescending comments typically reflect inner insecurities.
Relationships with two Order Muppets may fail unless both partners can learn to be vulnerable, ask for help, and express their emotions. We recommend using sentence starters as a vehicle for initiating conversations that require openness and flexibility. Since Order Muppets tend to think their logical framework for viewing the world is infallible, they should challenge themselves to start their concerns with “I feel that you ____” instead of launching accusations like “You always _____.” That way, their partners may be more willing to express themselves.
Chaos + Order = A Potential Match Made in Muppet Heaven
As mentioned previously, most relationships include a Chaos Muppet and an Order Muppet. Most of the best-known pairings from the Muppet universe include a chaos and order partner, such as Bert and Ernie or Kermit and Miss Piggy)
Relationships with one chaotic and one rigid partner experience challenges just like the previous two counterparts. Because their attitudes and patterns may be so different, we think it is best that they strive to create ample opportunities to explore each other’s styles through asking questions and remembering not to take the others’ reactive patterns personally. These patterns were likely formed a long time ago and reinforced through other relationships.
In terms of prenups, your muppet personality may affect not only how you go about discussing a prenuptial agreement with your partner, but also how you react when you see what your partner wants in the agreement. A Chaos + Order match is most likely to be successful in negotiating their agreement, because the order muppet may lean towards more conservative terms, while the chaos muppet, on the other end of the extreme will help them land somewhere in the middle.
At the end of the day, we have to remember that relationships are not as black and white as Muppet Theory would have us believe. We can think, speak, and act differently depending on our environment, age, and relationship context. Whether you are a Chaos Muppet or an Order Muppet, you can make your relationship last by venturing outside of your comfort zone, approaching difficult conversations through a curious, versus judgmental approach, and like all Muppets are so great at — creating opportunities for joy and laughter.
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