Do the Right Thing

Spirit, science, and health

Compatibility: The Secret Ingredient to a Happy Relationship?

Many people are boneheaded in their choices of life partners

We likely all want our intimate relationships to be loving and long lasting. Don't we? Then why are so many people so boneheaded about their choices in partners? Many seem unaware of the obvious predictors of relationship success and longevity? Somehow, too many people have the view that sexual chemistry, physical attraction, and love at first sight is what you should look for in a long term relationship. Perhaps this is a Hollywood based fantasy and myth. What better predicts long term success and happiness in an intimate relationship is more about compassion than passion. In a nutshell, compatibility matters, and matters big time!

Think about it. Long term relationships like marriages are partnerships in living. The vast majority of the time couples are together they are not having hot sex but are sharing a practical day-to-day life together. Raising children, working, managing a home, cooking and cleaning, shopping, being with friends and family, and the rest of regular daily living is really where the rubber meets the road in relationships and relationship satisfaction. If couples are not compatible in these areas then inevitably the connection and attraction will atrophy, tensions emerge, and too often relationships fracture and fall apart.

It isn't surprising that in America almost half of first marriages end in divorce while many relationships that stay together do so with much regret. Often I see in couple's therapy partners who really just don't have a lot in common. Different interests, world views, parenting styles, goals in life are all common among distressed couples. One has to wonder how they got together in the first place. When I ask these questions in therapy often couples will say it was the hot sex and attraction or perhaps some other factor that had a short term influence without really thinking through the long term consequences of their partner selection in terms of living a shared life together for decades.

Rather than partnering with someone you consider to be hot, consider partnering with your best pal with shared world views, interests, life goals, and so forth. I would bet that in the long term you'd be glad you did!

So what do you think? How important do you think compatibility is for a long term relationship?

Thomas Plante, PhD, ABPP, is the Augustin Cardinal Bea, SJ University Professor at Santa Clara University and Adjunct Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University.

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