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Compatibility Matters Less Than You Think

You can't stop fighting. You don't see eye to eye. Simple decisions somehow create conflict. Why can't you agree? Are you just incompatible?

Couples often worry about compatibility when their relationship starts to suffer. This is perhaps because compatibility is one thing you can't change. You are who you are. If your partner is just not the right person for you, there's little to be done, right?

On one hand, if you're not compatible, there can be a sense of hopelessness. But on the other hand, couples feel a bit of relief too - "we tried, we're too different, we can stop trying."

Here's my take as a high conflict couples therapist.

Compatibility matters. But it also doesn't.

First, here's why compatibility matters.

Compatibility is usually a combination of preferences, personality, temperament, flexibility, and history. Some people are more generally easy going while others are more rigid. Some people crave stimulation and excitement while others need ample recharge time. Some people deeply desire regular sex, and others could go without for long stretches.

Naturally, there are certain areas where being similar or complementary can be very helpful. Although differences in libido can certainly be healthily addressed, there's no doubt that it's easier if your partner generally wants sex just about as much as you do. Similarly, if you love getting out and about, trying new restaurants and seeing the sights while your partner prefers to relax at home, you'll probably need to manage this difference to avoid it becoming a pain point.

Note - compatibility does not always mean similarity. For example, relationships with two very structured, goal oriented people can become tricky when their goals don't match up. Two very warm, empathic people can struggle with boundaries because there is no one in the relationship who feels confident holding a line.

So yes, any two people are likely more or less suited to each other. Some highly compatible couples have it easier than those with more areas of friction.

But also, compatibility may matter less than you think.

Here are a few reasons why.

  1. People change. You might believe you are highly compatible with your partner. Life happens, and you no longer feel so compatible. Although there are certain combinations of personality and preference that tend to go well together, context matters, and no couple has the same context for a lifetime.

  2. Compatibility doesn't exist in a vacuum. The choices you make matter. You'll feel more compatible when you see your differences as natural, expected, and even exciting. You'll feel less compatible when you see your partner as wrong, disordered, or problematic.

  3. Perfect compatibility doesn't exist. Any couple will have areas where they are less compatible. You might wonder if you would have better compatibility with someone else, and it's possible, but it's also possible you'd find less elsewhere.

How To Effectively Manage "Incompatibilities"

If you feel like you and your partner are just not a fit anymore, here are some places to start exploring.

  • What are the upsides of your "incompatibility?" How do your lives benefit from this place of friction?

  • When you were most in love, what did you think of your partner's personality? Why were you drawn to them? How did the "incompatibility" play into what you loved most about them?

  • Have you started believing that the ways your partner is different from you are an unfixable problem? Or have you developed theories or labels to explain your differences? If so, are those helping or hurting you?

Ultimately, compatibility is just one component of a healthy relationship. If you are committed to your partner, you have made the decision that you want to be with them, the actual person they are. Focus on your commitment, your love, and your desire for a strong, connected life together instead of on your imperfect compatibility.

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