Compatibility is supposed to describe how one thing fits another thing. In marriage and relationships, it’s supposed to predict your happiness together.
I wear a size 10 1/2 shoe. That is a measurable fact. A size nine would be too small. A size 12 would be too big. They don’t fit; they’re not compatible.
When I was in the Marines, the shoes that I wore depended on the uniform. The uniform that I wore depended on the occasion. When it was time to exercise, I wore running shoes with my PT uniform. When it was time to work, I wore combat boots with my utility uniform. For formal occasions, I wore “chloroframs” with my dress blues and service uniforms. (super shiny, super uncomfortable dress shoes).
If ever any marine wore the wrong shoes with the wrong uniform, he or she would get an earful.
I can tell you that running shoes are “incompatible” with dress blues. I can tell you that chloroframs are “incompatible” with utilities. I can tell you that, but I cannot measure it. The shoes might “fit,” but they don’t “work” with the wrong uniform.
The same thing is true about this idea of “compatibility” applied to marriage.
Someone might “fit” with you based on any number of measurable facts or ideas. But just because they “fit” with you does not mean they will “work” with you. Or to be brutally honest, just because you “fit” them does not mean that you “work” with them.
Bonus: I’ve created a free worksheet to help you focus on building character instead of compatibility. Click Here to download it.
“Compatibility” is not about values or lifestyle
If there is any true compatibility, I suppose it would be about values and lifestyle. But that is not the way that people talk about it, or that advertisers sell it.
Mark Manson said this:
Compatibility is a natural alignment of lifestyle choices and values between two people. A priest and a stripper have a major incompatibility and I doubt many end up dating each other. – Mark Manson | Compatibility and Chemistry in Relationships
Sorry Mark, that’s not compatibility, that’s common sense.
Match.com’s money maker is not telling a single preacher not to date a stripper. It’s their personality test that is supposedly an indicator of compatibility.
Compatibility relies on faulty premises
It doesn’t hurt us to have some measurable idea of how a person “fits” us. Factors like age, health, intelligence, or temperament are all helpful. These factors can tell us how people “fit” together. The problem is if we stop there, or if we assume that none of those factors ever change.
We get older. Health goes up and down throughout life, on a downward trajectory. Intelligence in any given moment depends partly on health. Temperament in any given moment depends partly on health. On top of that, none of us are perfect.
Trying to measure compatibility is like asking how long water is. It assumes that we are only one-dimensional, and bases “fit” on that one dimension.
Compatibility assumes that finding a mate is as simple as shoe shopping. Just as there is a right size shoe for you, there must be a right personality-typed partner for you.
The reality is that we are not one-dimensional. People are complicated. The best and worst things about people are things that are immeasurable.
If you are a person of faith (and I am), you know that we are also sinners. Not only do we fail to make right choices, we often make wrong choices – knowing that they’re wrong at the time. Even if compatibility were at much as it’s cracked up to be – sin ruins it.
Compatibility does not deliver
Even without sin, which type of “compatibility” do we want?
If we want “parallel compatibility,” then we want someone with almost the same personality. Think “birds of a feather, flock together.” If we want “complementary compatibility,” then we want someone with the opposite personality. Think “opposites attract.”
There are pros and cons either way.
Parallel couples run the risk of sharing weaknesses and stalling hard when problems arise. Complementary couples run the risk of “falling deeper into their differences.”
This extends to the workplace as well. Parallel teams get stalled by group-think. Complementary teams get stalled by conflict.
Compatibility claims that there is a perfect match for you out there somewhere. That claim relies on the mood you were in when you took a personality test.
The alternative to compatibility is character
Not to confuse the issue, there is an idea in Christianity called “complementarianism.” It stands in contrast to patriarchal or egalitarian relationships. It holds that God created men and women with equal value and different strengths. The “equal value” part is where it contrasts with patriarchal relationships. The “different strengths” part is where it contrasts with egalitarian relationships.
Complementarian does not mean “complementary compatibility.” It means three things:
- God created men and women with complementary strengths and purposes. (Past)
- To seek complementarity is to seek to develop character. (Present)
- Our created nature and our process of character development hint at what God is like, and what Heaven will be like. (Future)
In [compatibility based] relationships, cracks will show, and soon the “compatibility foundation” falls apart. So people rip up their marriages and start over again. [They believe] they married a person they weren’t compatible with.
How tragic! The real issue before every couple is this: none of us is compatible. We’re sinners. That’s why we need something much better and sturdier as the ground of our marriages.
We need complementarity, not compatibility. – Owen Strachan | Pursue Complementarity, Not Compatibility
Character is complicated too
But here’s a start…
These will take you much farther toward a happy, healthy marriage than any personality test.
Humility. You need to be able to admit when you’re wrong.
Commitment. You need to be able to stick around.
Authentic listening. You need to be able to hear the other person’s heart, not just their words. No defensiveness or stonewalling.
Clear communication. You need to be able to speak your heart without tearing the other person down. No criticism or contempt.
Overall, if you want a happy, long-lasting marriage, cultivate your character. Don’t rely on compatibility.
The same goes for your career. Don’t fall for the lie that there’s a perfect fit job for you. If you believe that you will change jobs like you change socks. Cultivate your character and work hard.
Here’s the ironic part. If there is any truth about compatibility, it would rely on values. Your character illustrates your values. Thus, building your character increases your compatibility.
Bonus: I’ve created a free worksheet to help you focus on building character for greater compatibility. Click Here to download it.
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