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Prof Jordan Peterson says, “Don’t make the mistake of getting into a stupid relationship in the first place.” So, how to avoid those mistakes, and how to choose a compatible partner? Furthermore, if you are already in a relationship that is in trouble, can you use compatibility criteria to identify the areas that most need work? These areas are likely to be the areas of avoidance or delusion.
I am in my consulting room with a couple. Kerry is sitting as far away from Bob as possible on the sofa. “We’re just not compatible!” she moans.
“We have nothing in common,” Bob agrees, “Perhaps we should just get a divorce.”
“Well”, I say, “it’s clear that you have lost whatever closeness you once had.” I point to the way they are sitting on the sofa, so far apart. “I’m curious”, I say, “when did you start wondering about your compatibility?”
Bob and Kerry look at each other quizzically. “Maybe a year ago?” ventures Bob. “No, two years, at least”, counters Kerry.
“Not in the beginning of your relationship, though?”
“No”, they agree.
I suggest to this couple that we do some investigating. So we start with a very rational list of suitable qualities that relate to relationship compatibility.
(Do you need a reminder of why good relationships are good for you?)
Who would be a candidate for a compatible partner?
How to choose a compatible partner is not guess-work. David Richo, in his excellent book, “How to be an adult in relationships”, starts with some essential abilities:
- First of all, love yourself – that way, people who are not good for you will not be appealing.
- Then assess if you are truly able and willing to give and receive love.
- Ask yourself if you can handle feelings, both your own and the others.
- Next, you are able to make a commitment.
- And furthermore, you are able to keep agreements.
- Able to tell the truth, and not invest in coverups – about your emotions or your behaviour. (OK, I added that one myself.)
Then Dave gives a longer list of attributes as guidelines on how to choose a compatible partner. Thank you Dave. Here is his list of qualifiers, from page 85/86.
How do we know we are pulling in the same direction, rather than apart?
List to choose a compatible partner
- lives reasonably close by
- no distracting ties that would make a true commitment impossible, or very fraught. For example, is she already in a relationship, or is his divorce pending
- has no active addictions, whether it be alcohol or drugs, work…
- no overpowering political or religious obsessions
- wants children if you do, or doesn’t if you don’t
- has the sexual capacity, accessibility and interest to satisfy you or is willing to work on it
- has no financial disability, namely, he/she can earn, spend, share, save, lend, contribute, receive. Do you have similar attitudes around money?
- Is she your real friend, as well as sex-partner?
- you are interested in similar things
- you are on a fairly close intellectual par, so you don’t feel either superior or out of your depth
- is not looking for the ideal man or woman – if she is looking for the ideal she is not looking for you!
- does not appear to be ideal to you, or “perfect”: you see the shadow side and can live with it
- has done at least half the work it takes to be healthy in life and relationships
- will contribute to, rather than thwart, your deepest ideals, needs, values and wishes
- loves to focus on you in an engaged and lasting way
- Is able to stay present with you.
- meets with approval from your heart, your head – and your gut
And the final quality of compatibility- are you willing and able to process conflicts?
Dave Richo gives a final quality, which I believe is the most important of all. Are you willing and able to process the inevitable conflicts? Do you have the necessary emotional and physical stamina? Dave concludes, and once again I totally agree…
“The commitment to work through problems as they arise is the only sign that we truly want full intimacy.”
Thus, in my view, the most important sign of compatibility with your partner is how you process conflicts.
“So”, I say to Kerry and Bob, “How did you go looking at your relationship through these qualifications? The areas you identify will be the areas we work on in couples therapy”, I explain. “It’s not about beating up on yourself or your partner.”
How compatible are you?
Bob ventures first. “That is one hard-hitting list”, he says, “It’s like putting our relationship under a microscope. I wish I’d had that at the beginning.” He pauses. “The stand-out for me is that we had an affair.”
“Yes”, adds Kerry, “and I left my husband so Bob and I could be together. It seemed OK at the time. We were so much in love. But I’ve really suffered over the heartbreak we caused.”
“Another thing is clear”, adds Bob, “that I didn’t know myself half well enough. Some of what Kerry and I now think of as incompatibility is actually that we both now know ourselves much better. And I no longer imagine that she’s just like me.”
“And I brought debt into our relationship, partly because of my divorce, and this had us starting on a handicap.” Kerry looks pained at this memory. “We spent years paying it off, together. I’m pretty sure you still resent me for that.” Kerry cast a quick glance at Bob.
“And the debt was one of the reasons I went off to work in the mines and worked FIFO. Being apart so much was really hard on us. Something died in our relationship then.” Bob is close to tears.
“Oh gosh”, says Kerry, “And one conflict led to more conflicts. Like I wanted children, but Bob was away so much and I knew I couldn’t parent on my own. And I was cranky most of the time.”
“And all I wanted when I was home was peace and quiet, and I had to contend with Kerry’s outbursts. I didn’t do it very well, either.”
“‘Can’t we just talk about happy things’, he would say, ‘but I just wanted to solve just one of our conflicts, says Kerry”.
Use discrimination when choosing a partner
Bob and Kerry are good candidates for couples therapy. They truly seek to understand themselves, rather than blame the other and excuse themselves. They want to stop the pain and make deep repairs. But that isn’t actually the point of this post. The point of this post is to use discrimination when choosing a partner. When you read Bob and Kerry’s dialogue, look down the compatibility list and see the correlation between the compatibilities they overlooked and their later conflicts.
Happy relationships are not just blind chance, they are also a wise choice.
Do you agree with this assessment of compatibility? Would you choose other attributes? Why are these qualities important to you?
Copyright Kaye Gersch 2019