A Confession from a Believer in Relationship Compatibility by Dr. Joel Block
This is a post written by Couple and Sex therapist Dr. Joel Block.
Maybe it was around the time my mother’s third marriage ended that I became interested in the nature of love relationships, what made them prosper and what made them sink like the Titanic, taking down all but a very few survivors. At the time, in an immigrant section of Brooklyn, no one got divorced; the word had barely made it into the everyday lexicon.
Years later, with relationship issues practically making the headlines daily, figuring out what makes them work and what contributes to their demise is still a big assignment. It is no surprise that a few decades later, as a psychologist specializing in relationship compatibility, I still have questions and I continue to be intrigued by the intricacies and complexities of this thing called love.
One of the observations that has become obvious to me is that a love relationship is not about making the other person into the image you imagine him or her to be. That sounds simple, but barely a day passes in my office without this issue coming to the forefront with a couple pointing at each other in disappointment.
The “He’ll (She’ll) Change” Trap
By the time we are adults most of our relationship preferences are well established and are not easily changed. Besides, each of us longs to be loved and accepted for the person we truly are.
Thinking that you are going to shape your partner into your vision is a formula for relationship failure. What seems like a little problem early on often becomes an irritating, insurmountable problem that erodes the foundation of the relationship. Indeed, many relationships fail because the people involved think that they can adjust to incompatible characteristics of the other person or that they can change the other person.
This is not to say that annoying habits, such as leaving the toilet seat up or toothpaste in the sink, can’t be changed.
Those issues are not usually relationship breakers.
What is being referred to are complex behaviors involving long held beliefs, values and inherent dispositions to act in certain ways. If your temperament is more dominant, for example, it isn’t likely (unless you have a very specific brain accident!) that you are going to become submissive.
Considering that attempting to shape one’s partner into our ideal is a recipe for divorce, or at best, prolonged misery, that brings up the challenge I began a few years ago. After treating many couples that were locked in early passion who found, once the relationship cooled, that their differences were too big to bridge, I wondered:
Could I create a compatibility instrument that is engaging, clinically valid and brief—and would it help couples find a closer match so that the conflicts and disappointments occurring when passion wanes would be avoided?
Two years later, the research was complete and the compatibility instrument was ready to rock. It works. Couples who score high on compatibility also score high on a well-established relationship satisfaction instrument.
But here is the confession: Is it all about compatibility? No, it is not.
Compatibility assessment does not assure, nor is it meant to assure couples that they will live happily ever after. Even well-made matches take work. Compatible matches do offer a distinct advantage; there is less work to do, the basics are in place. In fact, even if you choose a partner that is not a close match, sharing your results is likely to be helpful. You will have a map pinpointing areas that are likely to cause conflict and an opportunity to plan preventive tactics.
But is relationship compatibility that critical, especially if the chemistry is smoking?
First, if compatibility is out-of-sync I have found in clinical practice that the smoking attraction will eventually be reduced to ashes. In fact, lack of compatibility remains the strongest factor contributing to breakups. Psychologists have discovered that incompatible relationships are high risk.
In addition to all the other stresses of modern life, these relationships require a great deal of maintenance and most of us don’t put that kind of energy into our home-life. Think of it this way, compatibility is the ultimate protector of attraction; it is like taking out good sex insurance!
Considering the high separation and divorce risk of love relationships, not only is submitting to a credible relationship compatibility assessment a smart move, buying extra protection is wise as well. Long term thinking beyond butterflies in each other’s presence should be able to assist you in answering some of these questions:
Will I be happy in the future with my spouse the way he/she is now?
Do we have common preferences about starting a family?
Do we have a shared vision regarding our life together?
Do we want to raise our children the same way? With the same values and beliefs?
Are we able to laugh together?
Do we respect each other as individuals?
A healthy and harmonious relationship should consist of love and respect.
When taking a closer look it is apparent that there is more to a relationship than love. Indeed, while serious relationships require serious attention, the combination that offers the best odds for lasting love is strong attraction combined with a compatible match.
I am in total agreement with Dr. Joel Block. Many thanks for his helpful insight.