What is relationship compatibility? Compatibility is a word that gets thrown around a lot these days. It’s like an over-used excuse meant to ease the pain of breaking up with someone. I’ve been there. I’ve been the recipient. It didn’t ease the pain to hear someone I cared about say that to me. So today, I blog about it, because when I first heard it, I wondered if it could be true. Perspective is everything and trying to figure out if something is true when you’re hurting never works. Time does heal all. It doesn’t necessarily change how you feel, but it does remove the sting and allow your heart to get healthy again.
The Issue of Compatibility
I have many couples shuffle through my office doors. Inevitably, at some point someone utters the following in the middle of a heated discussion: “Maybe we are just not compatible.” I have heard this from couples who have been in a relationship for a few months and couples who have been in a marriage for many years. It’s like there is a deep seated need to explain why we used to be in love and why we aren’t anymore. For more on that subject check out my blog post about love.
Now, I’m not saying compatibility isn’t a factor. It is – when you first meet a person. I believe those partners that aren’t compatible, will be weeded out on the first or second date (possibly they make it through the first month). We are pretty sophisticated beings and we know when someone just doesn’t mesh with us. However, once you are a few months or years into the relationship, obviously, we should be past wondering if they are compatible.
So you can’t figure out why you’re facing all these struggles and challenges in your relationship? The truth is that struggles, challenges and difficulties in a relationship have nothing to do with compatibility. They are just symptoms: little signals that point to the fact that either you haven’t learned healthy skills for maneuvering through the rocky patches or you have some beliefs, ideas or habits that aren’t healthy.
Conflict Isn’t Scary
I used to see conflict and challenges as scary – I thought something must be majorly wrong. It wasn’t safe. My first instinct was “flight or fight” – usually in that order. This doesn’t work in a healthy relationship. Running away or attacking the other person isn’t helpful. It’s also not a sign of relationship compatibility or incompatibility. Let’s call it what it is. It’s just plane, unhealthy and it’s an opportunity for growth. You can run towards it or you can run away from it. Secure partners can be a huge help in these instances. A secure partner can help you run towards it, because they offer unconditional love even when you don’t know how to be secure yourself.
One of my relationships taught me that shutting down (turning off) and running away wasn’t necessary. I discovered that staying connected during conflict could be safe, even healing. That was a hard lesson. It was difficult for me to stay connected to someone I cared about during conflict. If that person tried to reach for my hand, after or during an argument, I wanted to run away or rip my hand away, because that was what seemed normal. I learned some big lessons about connection in that relationship.
The norm, in most relationships is that most couples end up escalating each other. The conflict turns into a bonding pattern that is dysfunctional. Both individuals are trying to get their needs met, but are using unhealthy strategies. Then, suddenly the two are at odds and someone throws out the “we are just not compatible card.” Whether you know it or not – this is just an excuse to go back to “fight or flight.”
I’ve been in this kind of relationship, you care about each other so much, but you keep hurting each other and the hurt makes you want to flee. Sometimes when you’re right in the middle of it and your brain is all lit up – you don’t see the truth. Sometimes you need to invite an objective third person in to give you some perspective (possibly it’s time to see a counsellor). Other times we just need some space to reflect and practice self-awareness (what is it that these issues are teaching you about yourself? What is the relationship trying to teach you?). Relationships are great teachers. Relationships are wise and they know exactly what you need to grow into a better, more well-defined human being. The problem is that sometimes we have a tendency to want to run from relationships when they become too challenging.
LOVE is A Choice
I am a strong believer that love is a choice. If you have been with someone for awhile, then compatibility is not the issue. If it was, you wouldn’t have lasted through the first month. True love isn’t easy. It also doesn’t have to be hard. People always say marriage is hard. It’s a ball and chain right? No. Wrong. The most amazing marriages I’ve seen are the ones where people learned to turn towards each other, instead of away when they were facing challenges; the relationships that decided to learn from the conflict and challenges; and the ones that were willing to listen to their relationship and learn about themselves.
Shared Goals Vs. Relationship Compatibility
There is the issue of shared goals. Maybe you’ve been together a few years and suddenly you realize you don’t have shared goals. He wants kids and you don’t. She wants to live in Canada and you want live in some other country. These are big issues. This is NOT an issue of relationship compatibility. You can be 100% compatible and just not have shared goals. Well you say, “Hannah, if we don’t have shared goals isn’t this a compatibility issue.” No I don’t see shared goals as a compatibility issue. You can be fully compatible, but moving in totally different directions. This is a separate issue. This can happen even after you’ve been together for 20 years. It’s a choice. Can you create shared goals or are you too divided?
I think this is a choice you have to make when deciding whether to commit your lives to each other. People do change and people grow and their goals shift. If you decide to marry someone and vow to love them unconditionally, the way I see it, you’re choosing that person “for better or for worse.” After marriage the issue of shared goals is no longer a determining factor. You marry a person knowing they can and are allowed to change and rediscover themselves. Your job is to love them unconditionally and support each other through those changes. Love isn’t about you – it’s about how well you love that other person. Love isn’t selfish. It is the most selfless thing that has ever existed. However, selfishness can kill love. “Me before you” is a real killer. If you find yourself in this situation – create shared goals…dream new dreams together.
The most important thing you can learn from a relationship is how to love unconditionally. Unconditional love makes for an amazing relationship. So if you’re struggling, be willing to look inwards and turn towards each other – grow together – be willing to learn from each other. Your partner is your friend – don’t be enemies. Read my article on “Unconditional Love”.
We have all been there. Don’t condemn yourself because you can remember the time you let him or her down. I look back on one of my most valuable relationships – friendships – and I cringe sometimes at how bad I was at loving (unconditionally). We are all in different stages of change…we are growing…and sometimes you don’t know what you know 6 months later. I challenge you today to remember to forgive easily (them and yourself); love deeply, don’t hold onto hurt; recognize everyone makes mistakes; don’t be afraid to say “I’m sorry” and always stay connected in the middle of a fight.
I once heard this quote, it makes me laugh, but I love it: “Find your weirdo and never let them go.” Find someone that loves the weirdo in you, and when you do, hold them close and tell them how much you love their flavour of weird!
I would love to hear from you the reader, what do you think about relationship compatibility? Leave me a comment and let me know what you think.