5 Pillars of Compatibility (& Incompatibility)
by Kathy Batesel
Are we compatible? Are we incompatible?
“But it was such great sex!” “We had so much fun in the beginning, but then….” Unfortunately, we often don’t recognize incompatibility until it’s too late. We’ve invested ourselves in the relationship only to see it collapse months or years later. Learning how to evaluate whether we’re compatible with our partner could save us many thousands of dollars in divorce settlements (not to mention the emotional angst we endure when we separate from our once-beloved mate.)
A word of caution is necessary before we start measuring our relationship’s lasting power, though. In new relationships, our brains undergo phenomenal chemical highs that are similar to using illicit drugs. We literally cannot see incompatibility until our thought processes break free of these deceitful little toxins. When does that happen? Scientists usually report that the romantic stage of love lasts from 3-24 months, and then we enter a stage of love that is commitment-minded and settled, less exciting for sure, but far more enduring than that exciting first blush of love.
Getting married while in the throes of passionate love is a dire mistake that many couples come to regret. By waiting a bit longer to make it legal, we can allow ourselves to reach the companionate love stage and evaluate whether the relationship is truly compatible by examining each of the five pillars of compatibility.
Our sex lives are often the easiest to evaluate early on – at least to some degree. We have great sex or we don’t. Our libidos are similar or we discover that one person likes getting frisky often and the other would like a little less frisson. We determine that we have similar kinks or very different ones.
Over time, twice a day may become twice a month or worse, twice a year. One or both partners may feel unfulfilled and look elsewhere if there is an incompatibility in the things they like to do.
To determine if you’re sexually compatible or not, consider whether you’d be satisfied having the sex life your partner thinks is ideal, and vice versa. If he craves oral sex and she performs it regularly but admits that it’s not her favorite thing, there may be smoke on the horizon. When the relationship becomes settled and comfortable, his preferences won’t have changed, but her willingness to indulge him in something she doesn’t care for will.
Does your partner have preferences you could live without? How would he or she respond to a life that didn’t include them?
Do either of you have strong expectations of how frequently a couple should be intimate? How will each of you react if your partner’s expectations are met, but not yours? If he thinks sex once a week is fine and she thinks anything less than daily intercourse is neglectful, there’s going to be a problem eventually.
These yellow flags aren’t problematic early on, but will become glaring issues over time.
A Few Questions to Help You Check Sexual Compatibility
Questions to ask:
Do you think affairs are ever acceptable?
Both people agree with conditions or say no.
One thinks affairs are ok sometimes and one doesn't.
Ideally, how often should a couple have sex?
Answers are very close.
Answers aren't very close.
How much sexual experimentation would you like to see?
Both people feel similarly.
There is even one important difference.
Have you ever had an affair? What prompted it?
There is no discomfort with either answer.
Either person feels uncomfortable/mistrustful.
What does sex mean to you?
Both parties assign similar meaning.
One feels it's important and the other doesn't.
What are your favorite sex acts?
Both of you like the same things.
One likes something the other has strong feelings against.
We should consider both our general natures and how we behave under stress to determine emotional compatibility. Two people who both work day shifts and enjoy the same after-work routines will have fewer problems in this area than say, a man who wants to cuddle with his girlfriend at night and a woman who prefers to sleep in separate beds.
Enjoying similar routines and pastimes is just one element of emotional compatibility. If he likes to doze off after work, at precisely the time when she’s champing at the bit to tell him about her day, a couple may not be emotionally compatible.
Warning signs of emotional incompatibility can be seen when couples find themselves verbally negotiating what, when, and how to do things instead of simply finding themselves in agreement.
What happens when couples disagree is another indication that shouldn’t be ignored. If he typically withdraws from talking and she has a strong need to hash things out verbally, this couple is not emotionally compatible. Ironically, two people who want to discuss issues may have more arguments yet be compatible, just as two people who avoid conflict can be. The important factor to consider is whether a couple’s natural responses to anger promote each of them feeling soothed or whether it increases agitation in either partner.
In the table below, determine which answer you would select and which one your partner prefers. If they're not in the same row, you may have compatibility problems later on.
How We Handle Disagreements Provides Clues about Emotional Compatibility
We both avoid discomfort.
Yes, but can create loneliness.
Yes, if avoidance creates hostility
We both are assertive, but compromise well.
We fight for our individual choices.
Yes, but can result in loneliness.
Yes, if avoidance creates hostility.
One fights, the other keeps the peace.
Yes, but can result in unhappiness.
Deep discussions aren’t necessarily an indicator of intellectual compatibility (though they can be for people who enjoy them). Intellectual compatibility pertains to whether a couple has similar education levels and interests. Does this couple understand each other easily? Is each of them genuinely interested in the kinds of things their partner enjoys? (Hint: strong political leanings can have a major impact on intellectual compatibility.)
Even atheists have a spiritual position – that God does not exist. Other people are firmly convinced that their higher power is very important in their lives, and they want a partner who feels the same. Others may feel strongly about their own relationships with God, yet have no problem with those who don’t share their opinions.
To evaluate this, couples should consider not only their own spiritual leanings (or lack of them), but also consider how their families could influence this aspect of their lives. Will having children bring out views that weren’t discussed before? If a couple doesn’t consider each other’s views on such matters, it can cause friction later.
Since money troubles tops the list of marital woes, couples should ensure that they’re involved with people who are financially compatible. If both are frugal, they’re likely to be compatible, but if one is a spender and one’s a saver, conflicts can arise. Similarly, if both are spenders, they could find themselves in financial hot water at some point but they’ll probably have a lot of fun getting there. What kinds of problems are likely to arise financially if your spending habits (and your partner’s) remain unchanged? How will each of you feel about those difficulties?
Even the happiest couples have conflicting values here or there. A couple that’s compatible in at least four of these areas has plenty of compatibility to endure any hardships the future holds, unless the problem area is one that is a deal-breaker for one of the parties. A gent who simply cannot be happy if his sex life is suffering will become disenchanted with a relationship that is nearly sexless. A woman who requires financial security will be miserable if she weds a spendthrift, even if they are compatible in every other way. So the final point to consider is how important these areas are to each person in the relationship.
If signs of incompatibility exists in two or more areas, the people involved in the relationship would do well to pay heed to those warnings. Their relationship may survive for months, years, or even a decade or two, but it’s likely to bring them unhappiness or ultimately, separation.
People who plan to spend their lives together can afford to let a relationship blossom fully before jumping into shared bank accounts, co-parenting, and joint property ownership. By taking those extra months and evaluating these critical areas of compatibility, men and women alike can ensure a more peaceful existence for themselves and their loved ones.
Compatibility Is Not About Similarity
While similarities can create compatibility in some areas, there are times when being opposites is more helpful. For instance, when one person is quick to anger and their partner isn't, they may find themselves having fewer arguments than they would with another reactive person.
If you happen to have incompatible goals, then very high compatibility can help you overcome them, but if the relationship has any areas of incompatibility - even one! - it can make it impossible to come to a happy medium. Whether or not to have children, where to live, and what kind of career to have are all examples of goals that can be incompatible.
How Compatible Are You With Your Partner?
Do you have any areas of incompatibility?
Still Not Sure if You're Compatible?
- Compatibility Test
The link takes you to compatibility tests you can complete with or without your partner's partcipation. It's not based on the Pillars of Compatibility discussed here, but can highlight other important characteristics of relationships.
Questions & Answers
What should I do if we are not intellectually compatible?
Having one area of incompatibility won't automatically be a dealbreaker, but it will strain a relationship. Add a second incompatible area, and the relationship is likely to split eventually. If you know you have one major incompatibility, be on the lookout for another and if you see one, run. Life's too short to spend years in a relationship that's not compatible!