Compatibility. Sounds so good. It’s a dream we all have, to find that one special person who will mesh with every part of our lives. Someone who will be there when we need them, laugh at our jokes, understand when we need space, and will seem to be able to do all of this and more, effortlessly. After all, a true soul mate is pre-destined. It is determined by the Fates, a match made in heaven…or so we think.
Success in marriage does not come merely through finding the right mate, but through being the right mate. – Barnett R. Brickner
Compatibility in Marriage
Well, wouldn’t it be nice if compatibility in marriage really was automatic? But if you have reached adulthood, you probably know by now that nothing in life is that simple. That anything worth having takes work; and that if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
As a long time passionate observer of human behavior in general, and relationships in particular, I find it sadly fascinating how often we read or hear of some celebrity who falls madly in love claiming to have found his or her one and only soul mate…only to hear about the very nasty break up just a short time later.
Compatibility Must Be Maintained
The same phenomenon happens with the rest of us lesser mortals (or perhaps simply lesser paid) in a more quiet sense day in and day out. We fall in love, believing it to be perfect and timeless, only to discover that the person who once seemed to fit every part of our life and our dreams has opinions and habits and desires all their own. And that those things don’t fit in with our scheme of how life is supposed to look. We go from being soul mates to being incompatible almost overnight it seems.
People change. We change. Even if we could find a partner who would remain the same, meeting our needs and fitting in with the life we had when we met, such an arrangement still would not guarantee long term compatibility. The things we ourselves need change with the course of time. And that is compounded by the fact that our partner most certainly would not stay the same. His or her needs and goals would be changing, just as our own would.
Unless we want to spend our lives trading in one partner for another every six months or so, a la Julia Roberts and others, there needs to be a more realistic view of what compatibility in the long term is all about.
Compatibility Must Be Built and Rebuilt
Compatibility is not something you have, like your height or eye color. Compatibility is something you build, one decision and one choice at a time. Couples who want to remain each other’s best friend and intimate partner for life need to understand how their choices effect their mate, and to be able to work together to create compatibility.
Every time we make a decision or behave in a certain way, we are either creating or destroying compatibility in our marriages. Choices that take into account how our spouse feels, and are made only with his or her wholehearted support, build compatibility. Choices that are made independently, or without consideration of how our mate feels, destroy compatibility.
I can see the look of horror on your faces already. That means that your spouse can veto things that you might want to do, and that there are things you will need to give up or forego because he or she isn’t thrilled with the idea. Yes, it does. Everything worth having requires us to give up something else. Buying that great vehicle or those Italian leather shoes means that you will give up something else you might have spent your money on. Life is about setting priorities and making choices consistent with those. Having a joyous and fulfilling marriage is no different.
But before I lose you entirely, there’s another side to this issue. You don’t just pass up the things your spouse might find offensive or objectionable and then sit at home miserable and cranky. You replace those things with something you both can be excited about. You create a lifestyle that makes you both happy at the same time.
Perhaps bowling is your passion, and your husband can’t stand the sight of a bowling alley. Then, in the interest of creating a compatible marriage, you would replace bowling with something you would enjoy doing together. Finding that activity might take some trail and error. You may have to try two or more alternatives before you find something you can agree on. Keep in mind that new patterns of behavior take time to feel comfortable. Be willing to be a good sport about trying different things.
Does this mean that you must do everything together? I don’t believe so. I have interests that my husband is not as passionate about and vice versa. But before we spend our time on those activities, we do a couple of things. First we make sure that we are putting the time we spend together as a priority; we schedule that ahead of other activities. Next, we ask how the other would feel if we engaged in our own activity. And we work together to find ways that we can both be happy with the final outcome. If we can’t find a way to do that, then the activity is not scheduled. Finally, we catch each other up afterward, taking the time to have an enjoyable conversation that wraps the other into that part of our life. We stay connected and involved in what the other is doing.
Compatibility in Marriage Takes Work
As you can see, building compatibility in marriage is challenging work. Challenging, and highly rewarding. Be forewarned, if you have spent years making decisions independently of how your mate feels and vice versa, then creating a new pattern of behavior will take time and effort. But I think I can guarantee that the effort you make will pay off over and over again when you have created a marriage that is joyous and fulfilling.
© Penny R. Tupy 2002