As a therapist I often hear people complain about their partners. They say things like, “We just don’t have anything in common. We are basically incompatible”. Many of us will have had similar thoughts at some point in our lives. But is there any such thing as a compatible couple?
Although sharing some basic interests may be helpful, in fact, a lot of psychology research would suggest that compatibility is a bit of a red herring. People often use the ‘lack of compatibility’ to justify their reasoning for when they aren’t happy or getting their needs met. But how important is it? Sometimes, differences can complement one another. An outgoing person coupled with a more socially reserved person can make a good team and they can learn from one another!
At the beginning of the relationship we tend not to worry that our partner is different from us. In fact, we are more likely to see these differences as being ‘quirky’ or ‘interesting’. And this is the main thing. The main needs for couples are respect, closeness and affection. When those needs are being met and the underlying mood is good then differences are not perceived to be an obstacle. When there is no closeness and the mood is negative then people see these differences as evidence of ‘incompatibility.’
All couples encounter situations where one wants to do one thing, and the other wants to do something different. But it is how they co-operate or settle on a conclusion that is important. Is it warm and respectful, or are tempers raised and harsh words spoken, leading to withdrawal? This is the nub of it. It isn’t the differences between couples that drive a wedge between them; it is how they resolve these differences.
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