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The Psychology of Relationship Compatibility

When you think of relationship compatibility, you might recall your loving grandparents, they were each other’s missing puzzle pieces. But when you look for a similar partnership in the world of singles, are you searching for instant gratification or long term success?


Searching for The One

Ah, if only it were so easy.

Finding that match, a life partner with lasting love, can be quite elusive. Maybe you are you in or contemplating a serious relationship but wondering whether you are really compatible?

It is sometimes said that opposites attract, but is “being opposite” really a useful standard for determining compatibility in intimate, interpersonal relationships? My experience as a psychologist specializing in relationships is that opposite do attract, and then attack!

This isn’t to say that all relationships arising from opposites attracting are dysfunctional. It is saying that love relationships are difficult; the more compatible the match, the better the chances of making it work over time.

Just look at the staggering divorce statistics, 50% of first marriages end in divorce according to the National Center for Health Statistics and the statistics get even worse on the second try, 60% of those marriages end in divorce. Does it make sense to get the odds in your favor? Absolutely!


Is Hot Sex the Answer?

I often see couples who really don’t have a lot in common.

  • He’s super social and has a bunch of friends – she’s a loner who likes her own company and his.
  • She thrives on intimate talk, the more personal and revealing the better. “What are you thinking? How do you feel about…” are her favorite openers.
  • He plays it close to the vest and would rather chat about sports and business issues. Personal issues make him want to nap and dream they floated away.

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. They really didn’t think through the long term consequences of their partner selection in terms of living a shared life together for decades.

The problem is long term relationships like marriages are partnerships in living.

Sure, hot sex is a great ingredient when added to the relationship mix, but if the practical day-to-day life together, raising children, working, managing a home, cooking and cleaning, shopping, being with friends and family isn’t working, hot sex won’t be enough to carry the day, and it won’t stay hot, aggravation is as good a sex coolant as any.


Bringing the Psychology of Compatibility into the Search

Love is one of the most important emotions we experience. Human brains are naturally wired for connection with others, so much so that without it we may experience loneliness to such a degree that it can be a threat to survival.

Here, the potential of compatibility to increase the odds of a lasting love:

1. Most people have heard about relationship compatibility and have a vague idea that it’s important. But many people think it’s something indefinable. The good news for long-term relationship contentment is that relationship compatibility is not mysterious. Psychologists can now determine relationship compatibility, streamlining the trial and error process of days past.

2. There are two schools of thought about relationship compatibility. Either you’re on team “similarity rules” or you believe “opposites attract.” While there are dimensions where being opposite—like one person is more a leader, the other more a follower—similarity is the best foundation for lasting love.

3. Do couples grow into being compatible, or do they have a better chance at lasting love by choosing a compatible partner initially? On the one hand, if couples develop their compatibility over time choosing a compatible partner from the start isn’t critical. On the other hand, if the probability for lasting love is higher when compatibility is present from the start, it gains in importance—and that is what the research suggests.

The Take-Away: We all long for love in our life journey. Considering the alarming divorce rate, we need all the help we can get to keep that love alive. Beginning with a choice based on compatibility gives us a strong edge in that journey. Psychological science has come of age and can be a definite tool in the game of love.

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