Compatibility Problems Are Common
Many of the relationship problems people have asked me for advice about on this site over the years have had to do with compatibility issues. Sometimes people don’t suspect that their problems are due to incompatibility, while others suspect that incompatibility is to blame when it really isn’t.
In this article and video I’m going to clear the air about what compatibility is and isn’t, including how it is actually defined by psychologists, what the main factors are for measuring compatibility, what causes incompatibility, and how to determine if you and your partner are compatible using my free Are We Compatible? test.
According to research, there are three main factors that are closely linked to compatibility. The first is Homogamy, or similarity, the second is Relationship Enhancing Communications, and the third is strong Couple Identity.
Let’s start with Homogamy. Research proves that homogamy, or similarity, is a master key that unlocks the mystery of compatibility. The notion of opposites attracting is a common relationship myth when, in fact, couples who are too dissimilar find themselves fighting over every issue big and small. The truth is, the more similar you and your partner are, the more compatible you will be.
Research proving the link between homogamy and long-term relationship satisfaction first began in the 1970s, continuing through the late 90s, culminating in the research of both Duck and Rhoades who proved that we like others who are similar to ourselves, and we tend to stay with those who carry the same personalities, interests, and ideals for the future. This is why a couple with a substantial degree of homophily (the tendency for people to form ties with people who are similar to themselves in socially significant ways) find themselves in a positive, nurturing relationship for a long time to come.
At the same time, when it comes to mate choice, mates who carry opposites in gender roles, and division of gender and sex characteristics tend to have longer, happier unions.
The word homogamy was created in the early 19th century. The origin of the word is from the Greek words “homo,” as in same or homogenous and “gamy,” as in marriage or monogamy. Homogamy is marriage between individuals who are, in some important way, similar to each other. Homogamy may be based on socio-economic status, values, class, gender, ethnicity, personality, intelligence, appearance or religion. All things considered, homogamy is an unsurprising phenomenon of interpersonal relationships regarding the liking and nurturing of others who are like us, may look like us, and act like ourselves.
It is important to understand that not all similarities are created equal resulting in people thinking they’re compatible with someone based on the wrong similarities, or on a shallow sampling of similarities: for example, you like the same song and you’re both vegetarian – only to find out later there are huge differences in areas that matter more: i.e. when a couple shares a love of tennis, but differs in all other areas, they are not likely to be compatible.
There are also what I call “dysfunctional” compatibilities, or a sense of fitting together that is the wrong kind of compatibility. Some examples include: codependence; feeding each other’s Old Scars; and Fighting Junkies, which are couples whose maladaptive fighting tactics dovetail, etc. In other words, dysfunctions working in concert is not compatibility.
To further complicate matters, couples can be non-homogamous in certain areas and still be quite compatible. For example, if a couple shares different political attitudes, values or beliefs, it is very possible for the pair to agree to disagree and simply steer clear of the discordant topic entirely. On the other hand, if one of the partners is a politician, political value clashes cannot be easily avoided and may well lead to incompatibility.
Ultimately, what values are most important will vary from person to person and relationship to relationship. So, for example, for people who are politically active, political differences may matter more, while other areas may not rock the boat and can be overlooked.
I should also point out that partners can never expect to be the same in every regard, yet they must have enough compatibility in areas that matter in order to reduce the chances of chronic fighting. Therefore, the question of compatibility must be assessed on a case-by-case basis in which the partners evaluate their areas of difference and determine whether their differences can be accepted or will prove problematic.
It should also be noted that some differences are actually healthy and can invite both partners to grow.
Regarding the question of why people fall in love with those they’re not compatible with…It is unfinished childhood business, more than any other factor, that unconsciously fuels human mate selection, drawing us to partners who are emotionally similar to the parents who wounded us in childhood. We recreate our most damaging childhood relationships in the hopes of healing our early wounds, which I called Old Scars.Unfortunately, since the partners we choose are precisely damaged and limited as our parents were, we end up perpetuating the pain and suffering of childhood (which causes chronic fighting) rather than achieving what I call our Happy Ending, which is a healing of the original wound.
Relationship Enhancing Communications
Now to turn to the second key factor in determining compatibility: Relationship Enhancing Communications.
Even if you aren’t bogged down by Old Scars, and even if you are similar in all the areas that matter most, you and your partner may still be arguing. When couples find themselves trapped in ongoing and intractable fighting cycles, they will naturally question their level of compatibility. While fighting may, indeed, be a sign of incompatibility, it can also be indicative of various communication skills deficits that lead to fighting and not a symptom of incompatibility at all. And, for these couples, when vital communication skills are acquired, they discover that they always were and will continue to be quite compatible.
It’s important to note that partners can never be emotional clones or identical twins. This means that conflict will inevitably arise even in the most homogamous relationships. And if you don’t know how to manage your conflicts and the angry feelings that go with it; if you don’t have good conflict resolution skills, your compatibility is going to tank. So to be compatible, a couple needs to have strong Relationship Enhancing Communication skills.
The third aspect of compatibility is what’s called Couple Identity. This term refers to how strongly a couple sees itself as a “we” instead of each partner remaining an individual “I.” Interestingly, UC Berkeley researcher, Robert Levenson, found that couples who emphasized their “separateness” by using pronouns such as “I,” “me” and “you” were found to be less satisfied in their marriages. This was especially true for older couples. Their use of separateness pronouns was most strongly linked to unhappy marriages, according to the study. To have a happy marriage, being part of a “we” is well worth giving up a bit of “me.” Levenson’s research is published in The Journal of Psychology and Aging.
We can therefore conclude that couples who embrace a healthy balance between separateness and interdependence are more successful in resolving conflicts and ultimately experience less psychological stress in their intimate relationships.
Maintaining one’s individual sense of identity in an interdependent relationship is complicated but not impossible to achieve. People in successful relationships have their own identity as a couple. There is a feeling of both togetherness and independence in the relationship. If you have developed an identity as a couple, the following things are most likely true:
- You feel loyal toward each other.
- You listen carefully to each other.
- You know each other’s histories.
- You pay attention to each other’s moods and body language.
- You share your thoughts and feelings.
- You allow each other a private space and do not intrude on it.
- You respect each other as separate, autonomous people.
- Pronouns “We,” “Our,” and “Us” are used with more frequency.
- Promoting a fundamental perspective of togetherness is more important than separateness.
If you have not fully developed your sense of identity as a couple, you will recognize signs like these:
- You are sometimes disloyal toward each other.
- You do not listen carefully to each other.
- You do not know very much about each other’s pasts.
- You ignore each other’s moods and body language.
- You keep your thoughts and feelings to yourselves.
- You sometimes invade each other’s private space.
- Even though you may live in the same house, it sometimes seems like you are living parallel lives.
In response to the common question: why should we need to take a test; don’t we just “know when it’s right?” Of course, ultimately love is a feeling, not a science! But we must beware of certain romantic fallacies of love that can be dangerous and lead to all kinds of bad relationships that fall apart (look at the statistics today). For example, the notion that couples should strive to be “one” being commonly leads to false expectations, disappointments and fighting.
Other problems that incompatibility and poorly handled differences can lead to include cheating, deteriorated health, shortened lifespan, depression and other mood disturbances, as well as domestic violence.
In conclusion, if you are seeking an in-depth way to assess your level of compatibility by examining your Relationship Enhancing Communications, your Couple Identity and your degree of Homogamy in the all the areas that matter, such as values, tastes, interests, intelligence, personality, ethnicity and religious and spiritual orientation and values, use my free Are We Compatible? test
This test is to be taken by both partners separately. It contains more than 100 questions that target all the areas of homogamy that count most. Even if your partner doesn’t take the test in tandem with you, you will still be able to obtain an accurate assessment of your level of compatibility. It will take you about 20 minutes to answer all the questions.
When you complete all the answers, I will instruct you on how to score the test and also provide you with a guide for evaluating your results. Benefits of taking the test are not just the immediate results; the test will also guide you to pinpoint what questions really matter most in assessing compatibility and it will get you thinking differently about the relationship you’re in as well as any future relationships you get into, including all other kinds of relationships in your life.
To get your free Are We Compatible? Dr. Love’s 118 Factors for Measuring Compatibility With Your Partner test, all you have to do is subscribe to my weekly newsletter. Click here to find out more about what you get with my newsletter. All my mailing lists strictly follow CAN-SPAM laws to ensure that you can unsubscribe at any time and your information is confidential.
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