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24 Measures of Compatibility in Long-Term Relationships

Starting with similar views on hot-button issues and parenting.

Nathan McBride / Unsplash
Source: Nathan McBride / Unsplash

A new study published in Personality and Individual Differences explains how compatibility might be what holds a relationship together, no matter how much we would like to indulge in the widespread "opposites attract" fantasy.

However, having a similar partner does not mean that you have to end up with a carbon copy of yourself. In fact, researchers Zsófia Csajbók and Peter Jonason explain that compatibility, like love, is a many-splendored thing.

“It has been known for a long time that couples tend to be more similar than dissimilar on most traits,” explains Csajbók. “However, what the most important features are along which couples can be similar/compatible has not yet received much attention in research.”

To fill the gap, the authors recruited 274 Italian adults to take part in a short online survey. In the survey, participants ranked which of 153 characteristics (e.g., morals, humor, intelligence, etc.) were the ones they’d most like to share similarities with their romantic partner. This question was asked in the context of both long-term and short-term relationships.

“Typically, when we ask people what kind of partner they want, we receive from two to a maximum of fourteen factors depending on the research methods used,” Csajbók explained. “But this time it was a different question. We did not ask what kind of partner they wanted. The questioning focused on their relationship compatibility and how well they would function as a couple.”

The results produced a list of 24 compatibility dimensions that were ranked higher than others. They are:

  • Lifestyle
  • Opinions
  • Emotions
  • Origins
  • Sociality
  • Romanticism
  • Morals
  • Family
  • Food
  • Sensation
  • Class
  • Religion
  • Conformity
  • Leisure
  • Appearance
  • Job
  • Conflict
  • Empathy
  • Humor
  • Residence
  • Speech
  • Intellect
  • Enthusiasm
  • Activity

The researchers uncovered other insights, such as:

  1. The most important compatibility characteristic was having similar viewpoints on important issues such as sexism, abortion, the death penalty, and gender roles.
  2. Generally speaking, participants wanted increased similarity in characteristics important for raising children.
  3. While people in long-term relationships expected similarities in characteristics like lifestyle, morals, and food preferences, similar intellect and appearance emerged as essential only in short-term relationships.
  4. Men preferred having similar activities and emotions whereas women were inclined towards partners with similar lifestyles, opinions, morals, levels of conformity, appearance, and empathy.

If you feel inspired to look for a partner compatible with your list of priorities, Csajbók gives a simple but effective piece of advice: seek out and do the things you like.

“You will more likely meet similar and compatible people around activities you do anyway,” she explains. “This is also more beneficial in the long-term because you don’t have to force yourself to do something you don’t like to do.”

Frequenting places that indulge your interests (like the gym, a book club, concerts, etc.) and finding people that match your wavelength is a smart strategy. To drive this point home, Csajbók gives an example of two types of daters:

  1. Sara. Sara doesn’t particularly care for hiking but she signed up for a hiking club to meet someone. She meets Tim during one of these hiking trips. Tim rightfully thinks Sara loves hiking because they met in a hiking group, but Sara is unhappy with their hiking dates since she didn't like hiking in the first place.
  2. Rob. Rob loves to cook and signed up for an advanced cooking class. Rob meets Lisa in the cooking class and they soon realize there might be more to their friendship. They have a head start at the beginning of their relationship when they don't know each other that well yet because they have an activity they can bond over and that gives them fond memories to hold on to. Cooking turns into a long-term shared passion that serves them well even when their relationship goes through rough patches.

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