This Is What People Get Wrong About Compatibility, From A Marriage Therapist
Whether you're an astrology girlie who knows exactly which signs you're compatible with and which to avoid, or you're just that person absent-mindedly taking internet quizzes to see if you and George Clooney would make a great couple (guilty), compatibility is a buzzy topic these days.
While the word gets thrown around pretty loosely, compatibility in relationships generally refers to how well two people's personalities, lifestyles, beliefs, and other characteristics align and can yield a functional, healthy relationship.
But according to one marriage therapist we recently spoke with, people can sometimes over-index on certain aspects of "compatibility" in a way that may actually be preventing them from finding solid relationships.
The biggest myth around compatibility.
People can sometimes confuse compatibility with similarity. They look for similarities in personality, lifestyle, political beliefs, and other such factors to determine whether they're compatible with a potential romantic partner.
But according to licensed marriage therapist Racine Henry, Ph.D., LMFT, having these areas in common doesn't guarantee compatibility—or harmony, for that matter.
"Personally, I don't believe a couple has to agree on anything," she recently told mbg. "These can be starting points for a bond or help establish those initial feelings of interest, but when there's tension or a lack of positivity, being from the same hometown won't matter."
There are times when differences can cause tensions in a relationship—for example, if you love spending your downtime as a couple while your partner generally likes a lot of solo time, or if you love weekends in and they love weekends out. These issues can be worked through, but you might have an easier time in relationships where you were naturally aligned in these areas. As well, having different political beliefs or religions (as another example) truly is a deal-breaker for some people.
However, if you're simply looking for someone who's as similar to you as possible and using that as a proxy for romantic compatibility, you may be overlooking the factors that actually matter most when it comes to finding a relationship that works long term.
What really matters for making a relationship work.
"Compatibility is a natural, effortless way of relating to another person and feeling a connection," Henry explains. "It can also be the ability to work together well and compromise around tough issues."
That piece about compromise is key. The truth is, no two people are going to be perfectly aligned in every single part of their life, and every couple will encounter areas of disagreement eventually. What matters most is how they're able to move through those disagreements and how well they're able to accommodate each other's unique qualities and needs.
"You have to be able to compromise repeatedly and have a mechanism for solving problems," Henry says.
In that sense, one part of compatibility can be thought of as conflict compatibility—that is, the two of you have styles of getting through conflict that work well together.
While compatibility does matter when it comes to finding a solid relationship, it's important to recognize that compatibility means more than just being really similar to each other. Having certain things in common can add a lot of ease and joy to a relationship, but every couple will still need to be able to accept each other's quirks and be able to work through the inevitable areas of conflict.
Put simply: Similarities might be what draw two people to each other, but being able to manage differences is what keeps them together.
Kelly Gonsalves is a multi-certified sex educator and relationship coach helping people figure out how to create dating and sex lives that actually feel good — more open, more optimistic, and more pleasurable. In addition to working with individuals in her private practice, Kelly serves as the Sex & Relationships Editor at mindbodygreen. She has a degree in journalism from Northwestern University, and she’s been trained and certified by leading sex and relationship institutions such as The Gottman Institute and Everyone Deserves Sex Ed, among others. Her work has been featured at The Cut, Vice, Teen Vogue, Cosmopolitan, and elsewhere.
With her warm, playful approach to coaching and facilitation, Kelly creates refreshingly candid spaces for processing and healing challenges around dating, sexuality, identity, body image, and relationships. She’s particularly enthusiastic about helping softhearted women get re-energized around the dating experience and find joy in the process of connecting with others. She believes relationships should be easy—and that, with room for self-reflection and the right toolkit, they can be.
You can stay in the loop about her latest programs, gatherings, and other projects through her newsletter: kellygonsalves.com/newsletter