Understanding Compatibility Issues

love-compatibilityWhen you first start to date, you may feel that everything “fits” between you and your or boyfriend.  You notice everything that you have in common and gloss over your differences.  Because you want to please and impress your new partner, you may pretend to like or dislike things that you feel will please him or her.  For instance, a man may go cheerfully to the ballet with a woman while she watches football with him.  This is totally about their infatuation with each other and not their natural interests.

People are also careful with their behavior in the beginning.  For instance, he may not wear socks with holes in the toes because it might embarrass her.  She may agree to sex more frequently than she likes to please him.

But eventually the rose colored glasses come off and the efforts to win the other person tend to settle down.  At that point, a couple may look at each other and think, “do we really have anything in common?”

But, having put so much into the relationship, they might think they have to stick it out.

But, at some point, the issues you have been ignoring become unavoidable.  You can no longer pretend that they don’t exist.

This report will look at the basic compatibility issues.  Specifically, we will examine 12 dimensions of compatibility and how they relate to romantic relationships.

Physical Attraction

The first thing Kyle noticed about Rhonda was her long blond hair.  He liked the way it swirled around her face, framing and giving definition to it.  He went over to her in the bar based on that initial attraction alone.

Rhonda didn’t think Kyle was all that attractive at first.  After he bought her a couple of drinks though, she began to relax.  Despite having too short hair and some acne scars, she began to see some of the physically attractive things about him.  For instance, she saw just how expressive his eyes were and how his shy smile told her worlds about him.

Kyle and Rhonda have different standards for the importance of physical attractiveness in their mates.

Rhonda will probably have to work harder to keep up appearances to keep Kyle’s interest than Kyle will to keep hers.  Rhonda will look at other compatibility aspects to determine whether she is satisfied with the relationship.


People have different desires for the intellect of their partners.  Some people want to be in a relationship with someone who is their intellectual peer while others want to feel smarter than their partner.  Still others like to look up to someone who is smarter than they are.

Jaclyn had her master’s degree in Special Education and was a master teacher at a local high school.  She taught future teachers at the university part time as well.

Robert was an electrician who had a 12th grade education and an apprenticeship following high school.  While he had business and street smarts, he wasn’t particularly intellectual.

Whenever the disparity in education came up, Robert liked to point out to Jaclyn that despite her additional years at the university, he still made twice what she did.

If Robert and Jaclyn are going to succeed long term, they have to come to grips with the fact that they have different kinds of intellect and that they can value the ways in which the other is smart.


Do you put strong value on your emotions?  If you do, this may be an area of compatibility to consider.

Jon made decisions based on “gut feelings.”  He once quit a job because he knew “instinctively” that he and the new manager would not get along.  He liked spontaneous activities.  Jon’s idea of an ideal vacation would be to set out on a road trip with no destination in mind.

Then he met Donna, who was so methodical that she worked blow drying her hair into the calendar on the iPhone she carried everywhere.  When faced with a big decision, she would agonize over it for days or even weeks making lists of the “pros” and the “cons.”

Jon and Donna had a long way to go in blending their emotional personalities in their relationship.  Jon was an emoter while Donna was tighter with her feelings.  Jon could say “I love you” a lot sooner in the relationship than could Donna.

While it seems on the surface that Jon has more emotional needs, Donna may have the more significant issues.  Her emotional needs are screened behind defenses that make her less vulnerable.

Donna was able to be freer in her feelings through Jon’s love and encouragement, but she needed him to meet her part of the way.


Debbie was the classic “paycheck to paycheck” spender.  She would see a purse that she “had” to have and think nothing about pulling out a credit card and buying it, even if she didn’t know where the money was going to come from.  She loved nights out with the girls and traveled frequently.  Sometimes when things got too tight, she’d hit up her parents for a loan that somehow never got paid back.

Rick had an impoverished background and had put himself through college by working two jobs.  He was proud of the fact that he had not taken out student loans for his education.  At age 36, his only loan was a mortgage on a home where the monthly payment was under market rates for a similar rental.

Nevertheless, Debbie and Rick met at a speed dating event.  He was drawn to her openness and she liked the fact that he seemed so well put together.

At first, Debbie liked everything about him except that he didn’t seem to want to spend money on her.  It made Rick nervous that Debbie seemed to spend money on everything.

Finally, they had a talk about finances.  Debbie freely admitted that when one credit card was maxed out, the sensible thing to do was to apply for another.  She was stunned to find out that Rick thought a car should be bought with cash, even if it meant waiting six years for a new one.

After “the talk” Rick and Debbie started growing apart.  They started noticing other things that they didn’t like in their relationship.  The fact was that their spending habits were too different to make a strong relationship work.


How much independence do you need and desire in a relationship?  If you are in your 30s and never been married, you probably have developed a strong social network outside of a romantic relationship and will be reluctant to give that up just because you’ve fallen in love.

Jake was a computer programmer and spent long hours in front of his terminal.  He was naturally a shy, quiet type and didn’t require a lot of social interaction to make him happy.  When he did get away from his computer, he liked to go hiking alone or work out at the gym.  Basically, he was an independent type.

Then he met Terri who was far more social than he was.  She was a computer sales representative and her job involved making social connections in order to make sales.  She thrived on contact with people.

Terri and Jake met when she came to his office to sell a complicated hardware system.  The purchasing manager had called Jake in to get his opinion about the system.  Jake said he needed more information just so he could go out with drinks with Terri.

After the initial bloom of the relationship, Jake started retreating back into his solitary world.  He still wanted to spend time with Terri, but he had no desire to meet her friends or enter into her social world.  Terri was hurt by this because she was so interdependent on her social network and felt this was a rejection of her.

Terri and Jake finally went into couple’s counseling.  The therapist was able to help them see that they had different needs for independence.  Jake had to compromise by being more social occasionally while Terri had to respect his need for solitude a greater amount of time.


Many parents express to their children that they would be disappointed if the child married someone outside of their religious faith.  Most of the time when we think of spirituality in terms of romantic compatibility we talk about specific religions.  But, there is more to spirituality than that.

It is true that if you hold true to a specific faith, it may be hard to become close to someone who doesn’t hold those tenants.  If you believe that anyone who doesn’t accept Jesus Christ as their personal Savior is doomed to Hell, then dating a Buddhist or a Muslim presents significant obstacles.

Maria was a devout Catholic and always assumed she would marry a Catholic man.  She met Jim who was a lapsed Lutheran and fell in love with him.  As they started talking about their wedding, they began to see obstacles that could plague them for the rest of their lives.

For instance, Maria wanted to be married by a priest in a Catholic church.  That made Jim uncomfortable because he had no familiarity with the Catholic church.  When the priest told Jim he wouldn’t be permitted to take Communion at his own wedding, he balked.

That lead Jim and Maria to talk about other issues that they would face as a married couple.  For instance, Jim wanted to raise his kids to be exposed to a variety of faith traditions and think critically about religion in general.  Maria wanted to raise good Catholics.

As Jim and Maria began to discuss these issues, they realized that their initial attraction for each other was being dragged down by the issue of spiritual compatibility.  Maria began to see a priest for counseling and ultimately realized that she would be happier with a man who shared her faith and Catholic values.


Pamela had worked hard to break through every glass ceiling in her career.  She had been the only female Ph.D. candidate in physics in her class.  She had initially found it difficult to land a tenure track position because many faculty members believed that scientific research was incompatible with the “mommy track.”

Eventually, she proved her ilk as a science professor and became head of the department at a major research university.  From there, she had become dean of the School of Natural Science.

A promotion to Vice President of Academic Affairs at a university across the country followed.  That’s where she met Tim.

Tim was a psychologist.  He had given a presentation at the university on stress management that Pamela attended.  Intrigued by his ideas, she invited him to lunch.

She found that he had very different perspectives about work than she did.  For instance, he put in eight or nine hours a day but didn’t work weekends ever.  While he was proud of what he had accomplished in his career, it didn’t define him.

He recognized how hard she had worked to get to where she had gotten but worried about the toll it had taken on her.  At 44, she had never been married and had had few meaningful relationships.

Tim set out to woo Pamela.  He found that many carefully planned dates were cancelled at the last minute because of pressing and unexpected work schedules.

Eventually, Tim and Pamela had to define how their relationship was going to work vis a vis their careers.  Tim told Pamela that he needed her to make at least as much of a commitment to their relationship as to her job.  Pamela told Tim that she needed him to understand how important her job was to her.

Because Tim and Pamela really wanted their relationship to work, they were willing to put real effort into it despite their basic work compatibility differences.  But this is an example of a couple who through love and communication were able to succeed despite different compatibility levels.


Tracie liked to read, sew, and do crossword puzzles.  She had a small circle of friends, most of whom she had met through church.  Aside from her job (one where she didn’t interact with people much), she saw groups of friends at church and maybe one other time a week.

Ted was new in town and joined Tracie’s church right away.  He was immediately seen as a “catch” by all of the single women.  But, he saw something in Tracie and didn’t have eyes for anyone else.

The problem was that Ted was always doing something.  He joined a softball league, started volunteering at a soup kitchen, and joined the choir.  He was always pressuring Tracie to go to his games, volunteer with him at the soup kitchen, and to join to choir too.

What Ted didn’t see at first was that Tracie enjoyed her quiet ways.  She needed space.  While Ted was energized by social contact with others, this kind of activity drained Tracie.

Eventually, they decided that Ted would continue to have an active social calendar and that Tracie could participate or not depending on her feelings.

This actually left both parties feeling that they had control of their independence.  Ted was able to be independent because he could do the activities he liked and Tracie had independence because she could choose not to do them.

Another example of the importance of independence is Robyn and Chad.  Chad was the highly independent type.  He liked to be “free as a bird” and didn’t like to “report” his whereabouts to Robyn.

Robyn was quite insecure.  She liked to know where he was and when he would be in for the evening.  Her previous marriage had dissolved when she discovered that her ex husband had had a long term affair which made her insecure about any future relationships.

Chad and Robyn had to go into counseling to deal with this independence issue.  Chad had to acknowledge Robyn’s insecurities and Robyn had to acknowledge that Chad wasn’t her ex husband.


Sarah was a talker and Paul was a doer.  Where Sarah started any number of conversations with “I want to talk to you about…” Paul would rather express his feelings for Sarah by taking her out to dinner or buying her a bouquet of flowers.

One of the big problems in their relationship was that Sarah said “you’re not listening to me” while Pau said “you don’t appreciate the things I do for you.”

This is a classic case of having different communication compatibilities.  Because they express their love differently, Sarah and Paul are in trouble.

This doesn’t mean that their relationship is doomed though.  They have to be open to the idea that they communicate differently.

Sarah may need to get her verbal communication needs met with her female friends rather than her boyfriend.  Paul needs to listen more when Sarah talks.  Sarah needs to appreciate that the way Paul communicates is to take her to dinner or fix her toilet.

Women tend to be more loquacious than men in general.  It is common for communications compatibility to be an issue in relationships.  Fortunately, this is an issue where “let’s talk” can really solve the problem.


Sex is an issue in many relationships.  Some people are more adventurous than others.  Others want sex frequently while their partners are satisfied with making love less.

You should know that mastery of technique is one of the least important facets in a satisfying sex life.  If you are able to communicate your desires to your partner, you can learn and grow together.

But, if you have fundamental differences in your approach to sex, there may be problems.

Jodi and Tom got together and at first, their passion was white hot.  Or so Tom thought.  But, after a few months, it became clear that Jodi was indulging Tom when she didn’t really want to make love every night.

Tom was confused because he felt that Jodi had led him on to secure the relationship and was now changing the terms.  Jodi felt that she was settling down into a more “normal” sex life.

Through relationship counseling, Tom and Jodi were able to discuss their needs and desires.

Life Habits

So many things get ignored at the beginning of a relationship.  A woman might not care that her new boyfriend doesn’t ever wash his car because she’s swept off her feet by him.  A man might not be concerned that his new girlfriend seems to spend more time at the beauty salon than she does in her own living room.

But soon these life habits become apparent and can cause friction in a relationship.

Jim believed that “early to bed and early to rise made a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.”  On Saturday mornings, he was out of bed at 6:30 for a run in the park.  When he got back around 8:00 a.m., he wanted to have a big breakfast and start the day.

Julia, was not ready to face the weekend so early in the morning.  Saturday was the one day she could catch up on her sleep and she valued her time in bed.

Eventually, Jim joined a men’s Bible study on Saturdays so he felt that the morning wasn’t wasted and Julia agreed to be up by 10:00 when he got back so they could spend the rest of the day together.

But compromising on these life habits issues isn’t always so simple.  Sometimes, they’re deal breakers.  There’s only so much you can bend before you break.


Charlene, age 38, had two children from a previous marriage.  They were 16 and 18 and would soon be in college.  When she met Pete, she felt that she had raised her family and was now looking forward to a home without kids.

After a few dates, Pete told Charlene that he had never had kids and felt that he had missed out on a big part of life as a result.  He pointed out that she still had a few child bearing years left and inquired about whether she was willing to start over again.

This was a big issue for Charlene.  She wasn’t sure she was ready for the commitment to diapers, PTA meetings, little league games, and teen age antics all over again.

She knew that this was a big issue for Pete too.  Because her own kids had given her life shape and meaning, she couldn’t say that he shouldn’t have them.  She also knew that if she didn’t agree to have kids, Pete might leave her for a younger woman who would.

But the issue of children is not the only kind of family issue that arises.

Blake and Rebecca met on a Single’s cruise and had a wonderful 7 days together.  When they got back on land, Rebecca discovered that Blake’s mom, who was suffering from Multiple Sclerosis lived with him.  She realized that if the relationship were to progress, she would have to take on some of the caretaking responsibilities for his mom.  She also realized that they would never live alone as a couple.

When you marry someone, you marry their family as well.  Sometimes, that means you roll your eyes at the drunk uncle at Thanksgiving dinner.  But other times, it means taking on the serious issues that go along with caring for the other people in your life.

Determining your attitude toward children and toward an extended family is one of the core compatibility issues couples face.


You don’t have to be 100 percent compatible on every issue to have a healthy, happy relationship.  In fact, I would be surprised if any couple does.

What is important is that you can agree on enough of the “big” issues that the small ones work themselves out.

Here are five ways to handle compatibility roadblocks.

1.    Acknowledge that the roadblock exists.  Don’t gloss over your differences or pretend they don’t matter at the beginning of the relationship.  Deal with them early on.

2.    Learn about your partner’s life experiences including their ethnic and cultural background, religion, political ideals, and generational differences.  This can help you get rid of misconceptions based on thse differences from the beginning.

3.    Don’t think that every disagreement is a compatibility issue.  Just because you want to have Valentine’s dinner at an Italian restaurant and your partner wants to go for French does not mean that you are fundamentally incompatible.

4.    You can agree to disagree by agreeing that mutual respect overcomes a great deal of incompatibility.  Resist the urge to try to “convert” your partner to your political or religious views.

5.    Seek common ground.  Try focusing on the issues you can agree on.  Work from your strengths and strengthen those things you have in common.

Love is what you make of it.  If you have a future with someone, you will undoubtedly find that you don’t have everything in common.  That’s okay.  In fact, that’s human.  Working on the areas where you have compatibility issues will strengthen your relationship.

Author: Chase

Share This Post On