The Compatibility Myth – Part 1

It happens every day – people fall in love with someone , gushing over how this is the perfect person. They are so compatible – so this relationship is just meant to be. The assumption is that this present compatibility will always continue as it is now, and things will always be wonderful. Promises are made, sincere to be sure, about how he will always love her, and vice versa.

Online dating services promote the idea of compatibility as the basis for a long-term relationship or marriage. You sign on to their website and complete an extensive personality traits test. Then your data is matched up with others who have compatible interests or temperament.  Supposedly this is the guarantee, or at least a high indicator,  of future happiness.

The Hard Reality About Compatibility

I heard of one man who told a crowd, “My wife has been married to seven different men, all of them me.” For those who have been on this earth for a while this certainly rings true. People go through substantial changes in their temperament and personality as they age. Research on the changing nature of people confirms this as well. Plus, the American way of dating tends to lead us into a situation which makes it totally unlikely that we will discover what someone is actually like – until it is too late.

A Few Age Related Changes

One change that occurs early on relates to brain maturity. Although an 18 year old young man or lady may appear to be fully mature, in some important ways they are not. 

When it comes to relationships, a vital  area in which someone in their late teens and even early twenties is not mature yet is in the area of emotional stability and critical decision making. Given that a long-term intimate relationship is one of the more serious decisions we make relating to our well-being, this needs special attention.

The area of the brain called the pre-frontal cortex does not mature until somewhere around 21 to 25 years of age. For those who meet their “one true love” below this age range, you are not yet relating to the mature version of this individual. Substantial changes are about to occur. So if your compatibility was based on your beloved’s carefree spirit and adventurous risk-taking, those characteristics may change dramatically as the person’s brain becomes more fully mature.

What was once a compatibility point suddenly changes. If you met in the teens/early twenties, you may find someone suddenly not-so-agreeable as they go through this time. Of course, they may feel the same about you. Does this mean that the relationship was not meant to be? No. The fact is, people change, and being successful in relationships means we have to learn to love someone who is changing. Does this mean that you shouldn’t have  a significant relationship during this time? Not necessarily, but you do need to realize that the person you seem to be so agreeable with in personality has some major changes to go through – as do you. 

Compatibility Changes beyond the Cortex

Even once the brain is fully adult, certain life events can change a person. Childbearing does some interesting things to women in particular.

In other posts we have discussed the amazing chemicals and their effect on the brain and relationships – some of these same chemicals flow during childbirth, nursing, and the general “cuddling” that occurs in caring for a newborn. Oxytocin flows during each of these events – plus understand that this unique substance is called the bonding chemical. So for the guy, their is suddenly another person in his lady’s life to whom she is intimately bonded.

Whereas she once seemed so devoted only to him, now she has divided loyalties. This is as it should be, although mother’s need to make sure that they remember to always be an affectionate and dedicated wife as well. But for the man who took his beloved’s constant affection as a sign of compatibility – the relationship may suddenly seem not so great.

This bonding occurs in men as well – although to a lesser extent. Hugging/cuddling the newborn produces oxytocin, but the mother has far higher levels – especially due to the breastfeeding.

The Mid-life crisis Compatibility Challenge

That change can seem pretty mild compared to what happens between the ages of 40 to 57 – what has come to be known as mid-life crisis. This may seem a long way off for some of you. But believe me, you need to understand and be ready for this very difficult phase of life. This crisis is that it seems to catch just about everyone off-guard – even though it is pretty much a universal human condition.

But here is what you must remember if you are to maintain a healthy relationship through these years. The hormones which have largely defined you (primarily estrogen for women, testosterone for men) begin their most serious decline during these years. This causes men and women to, well, kind of go crazy! The changing hormone levels can cause depression, anxiety, and bring on some serious doubts about the relationship that may have been great for up to 30 years at this point.

But of course if compatibility is the basis for continuing the relationship, this is certainly a time when some strong incompatibilities will emerge. If you watch some couples you know in this phase, it is a very distressing thing to watch.

The men suddenly start acting immature – buying motorcycles, convertibles, and getting their hair and wardrobe updated. The ladies frequently become emotional basket-cases, going on mood controlling drugs and doing irrational things. Both men and women have a tendency to start looking away from their lifelong partners to try and rekindle the old good feelings and excitement that seem harder to feel due to the changing hormones.

Disaster frequently ensues – but it doesn’t have to. A little foreknowledge, or shall we say understanding, of what we humans go through in life help us to adapt to and even thrive during these challenging times of change. But once again, if you think compatibility is necessary for a good and lasting relationship – you are set up to fail.

What You Need to do – Now

Reject the silly notion of compatibility as the sole basis of a long-term relationship. While some level of being able to “get along” with each other is certainly helpful – we need far more than just pleasant times together and the appearance of common likes and interests to make a serious go at being a couple. You may (and probably will be) compatible at the beginning – but just understand that over time things will change! That change is inevitable – how wisely you handle the change is what is truly most important.

Get some training on relationships now. Do our dating course as a starting point, and look for our upcoming online Marriage Prep course to be posted soon (Target date for the first session: June 2014).

Great relationships are not made possible by mere compatibility – because people, and thus the basis for compatibility, change. Long-term romantic and loving relationships are made possible by wisdom. Wisdom is attained by study and reflection on truth. There is a truth relating to intimate relationships – and if you live in harmony with the truth, you have the greatest opportunity for a loving, joy-filled life-long relationship.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of The Compatibility Myth. We will talk about how the American way of dating also hinders our perception of compatibility – to our harm.

Question: What aspects of the American traditional way of dating do you find frustrating or harmful?


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