As a couples therapist, I see a lot of couples in my practice experiencing relational challenges due to a variety of internal and external factors. I have noticed through my work with them, there seems to be a protective factor that differentiates couples that tend to become more resilient together from those that tend to break up or go on to continue therapy for years with limited results. This protective factor is personality compatibility.
Though therapy can help couples improve the quality of their relationships, the presence of compatibility as a protective factor can predict the likelihood of a relationship’s survival and levels of mutual satisfaction in the long run. One of the reasons for this is that core personality traits, as assessed by valid and reliable measures, tend to stay stable and consistent over time. Realistically speaking, the lack of compatibility means the relationship may unfortunately be doomed. This is why I encourage individuals to focus on compatibility more so than any other factor when searching for a partner.
Compatible couples tend to experience less frequent and escalated conflict patterns as compared to their incompatible counterparts. They are typically more similar in their thought processes, interests, fundamental values, lifestyle choices, information gathering, and decision making styles, resulting in a lack of misunderstandings, and miscommunications. They tend to experience a deeper sense of inner peace derived from the relationship, an organic and seamless fluidity in communication, and day to day tasks. It is true that all relationships require a certain level of effort, but compatible partners do not have to work too hard to make their relationship work. Additionally, high relationship compatibility reduces the number of compromises that need to be made on a day to day basis. There tends to be a deeper sense of an effortless, mutual satisfaction.
The opposite is true for incompatible partners. The differences in personalities tends to make mutual understanding difficult from the outset. These partners consistently find themselves feeling as though they are on different pages. They tend to have regular misunderstandings and miscommunications, leading to feelings of frustration, resentment, anger, and over time, a sense of loneliness within the relationship. As the initial honeymoon period comes to a conclusion, the emotional highs give way to an increase in dissatisfaction, conflict, control, and ultimately, power struggles. Making this relationship work in the long run will require a lot more hard work, effort, and frequent compromises. As conflicts and tensions rise, it tends to become more and more difficult to sustain the high level of effort, eventually leading to burn out, with one or more partners checking out, or ending the relationship altogether.
This is the point where most couples tend to consider therapy. They see counselling as their “last chance to fix it” before calling it quits. Emotions seem to run high. There seems to be regular escalation of conflict. The story is often the same. Relationships started off with intense emotional highs, their brains receiving huge hits of dopamine, reducing their overall objectivity. The decision to form a relationship, or making a lifelong commitment was made while ignoring all red flags, and getting carried away in emotions, or following their “guts” alone. Whether the decision was made impulsively, or after a reasonable period of dating, there seems to be a common theme – overall compatibility was not factored into the decision. In the absence of this protective factor, therapy may or may not help. Sometimes couples continue to attend therapy for years with limited results. In contrast, compatible partners may only need to attend therapy briefly as a means to return to the strong foundation they have already built together.
If you are currently considering a partner, it may be helpful to explore the following:
- Length of time you have known each other
- Overall health of the relationship over this time period
- Overall consistency of feelings towards the partner and their feelings towards you over this time period
- Most importantly, overall compatibility
Ergo, if there is one recommendation I’d want you to take away today, it would be to pay close attention to compatibility. This will be the difference in what makes or breaks your relationship as you go through life’s inevitable adversities.