Is compatibility really that important? Pt. 2

Chris Grace - July 12, 2016

In Part 2 of this blog series, I explore three types of compatibility that many experts agree are the most important when it comes to determining relationship health and success: Personality, Conflict and Faith Compatibility. Read Part 1 of Is compatibility really that important?.

Personality and Conflict Compatibility

You may both be slightly introverted, kind and friendly, or are outgoing, organized and trustworthy— and so feel well matched. And while this type of compatibility is important, no one has yet figured out how to best match-up personalities. Is a shy person better off with another shy person, or an outgoing extrovert? Is a careful, organized and moody person more compatible with someone just like them, or should they find someone who is their opposite? People are sometimes attracted to similar personalities and sometimes to different ones. This is why experts who study relationships often say that such compatibility is overrated, and that measures of personality don't predict much.

One question to ask is “How well do I know myself, my strengths and weaknesses, and my areas of growth?” Take the Big Five Personality Inventory. It is one of the most scientifically valid personality inventories.

Do you know the personality dimensions shared by the top 10% of the happiest couples? They score high in being “secure, calm, confident”;  “agreeable, pleasing and friendly”; and “conscientious, organized and thoughtful.”

The question of what or who has shaped each of us— the personal and family dynamics that make us unique—is both intriguing to explore and complex to understand. Fortunately we don't need a specialized degree to “know thyself,” just a willingness to explore and learn. Relationship experts agree that there are no “completely” compatible couples. All couples have been found to disagree to one degree or anther about money, sex, kids or time. The key is really about how you manage your differences. Be careful of the myth that “Conflict = Broken,” that a truly compatible relationship we will have harmony and no problems or conflict. This is problematic as the inevitable conflicts lead people to believe they didn't find their true love, have made a mistake, and must search anew to find their “REAL” soul mate. NO relationship is free from problems or conflict. Why? Because as the wise King David says in Psalm 139 “because I am fearfully and wonderfully made...”, i.e., uniquely designed, specially built, with passions and desires and interests and hopes and dreams that make us each unique. No one else has our emotional, mental, physical make-up.  We’re just different!! The healthiest, happiest couples in the top scientific studies ALL showed that they encountered conflict—every one of them.

Remember: It’s not about the presence of conflict or disagreements: It’s about how you manage and process the disagreement. Do I know how to manage my emotions well during conflict? Is it easy or difficult for me to express my desires or views? Can I express my expectations and opinions without becoming critical or showing contempt? Do we start disagreements softly, without a harsh start-up or do we get negative very quickly?

Spiritual Compatibility

Of all the compatibilities, spiritual compatibility may be the most critical for couples. Larson and Olson (2005) did a national survey of almost 24,671 couples—50% Protestant, 15% Catholic, 35% various denominations. They found that the greater the compatibility/agreement between couples on their spiritual beliefs, the more satisfied they were as a couple.

  • Fully 82% of spiritually incompatible couples were unhappy compared to 9% of spiritually compatible couples.
  • 36% of high agreement couples were VERY happy compared to 5% of low agreement couples.

Do you know your spiritual temperament? Where you feel most in God’s presence? Do you have similar vocational or ministry callings, with a passion or calling to a similar mission field? Regarding spirituality, on a scale of 1 to 10 how important is my relationship with God? How important is regular church attendance? Is prayer important to me? Do I know when I feel closest to God?  Does my partner have similar views? Are our faith values the same? A specific question to ask during a conversation should be, “How strong or important is your faith?” When do you feel God’s presence? Then follow up with, “It sounds like you feel really passionate about _____?”

Summary: You Don't Have Compatibility, You Create Compatibility

In the deepest types of core compatibilities humans are clearly designed to connect, primed from day one for intimacy, friendships, and falling in love. “Birds of feather” really do seem to flock together, and being compatible with someone can...

  • Increase our attraction and intimacy, helping us feel connected
  • Form the basis for deep and abiding friendships
  • Make for happy couples and lower our risk for divorce

Growing up most of us believed that we would find an intimate other, that special someone to share joy and laughter with, who would listen to our doubts and celebrate our triumphs, a best friend and a lover. Most of us assumed it would be with someone with whom we were compatible, who shares that critical mix of traits that really matter—if only we could figure out which traits they are.

More and more, experts are finding that we don't have compatible relationships; we create, nurture and maintain them. As relationships come and go we learn that compatibility is more of a process, something you work at. Through experience we come to realize it does not hinge on the stars, or having the same hobby, or even sharing a list of common traits. It is something you negotiate in a relationship as it develops and grows and as you grow closer together. Relationship skills can always be improved, and they'll help any two people—with any two personalities—to get along better. Some quick advice: Be curious and ask questions, constantly update your knowledge of one another.  You must work at being engaged and staying compatible. Be a dream detector—listen for and hear your partner's delight in the deep things that bring them meaning. Then you need to take this in and let it influence you. Ask yourself: How do I respond to my potential partner’s bids for attention? Do we each show an interest in the other’s inner world?

Remember, only God completes us. No other human can do that.

Compatibility is a popular but confusing term. We don't have compatible relationships; we create, nurture and maintain them with much effort and practice.

More and more, experts are finding that we don't have compatible relationships; we create, nurture and maintain them. As relationships come and go we learn that compatibility is more of a process, something you work at.

It is not so much “you complete me” but rather “we create us.” Diane Sollee, founder and director, Coalition for Marriage, Family and Couples Education put it this way: “You create compatibility. And then, eventually, maybe in 25 years, you will become soul mates.”


Chris Grace

Christopher Grace serves as the director of the Biola University Center for Marriage and Relationships and teaches psychology at Rosemead School of Psychology. He and his wife, Alisa, speak regularly to married couples, churches, singles and college students on the topic of relationships, dating and marriage. Grace earned his M.S. and Ph.D. in experimental social psychology from Colorado State University.


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