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Compatibility in a relationship means that the couple are well-suited to each other. The assumption is that if you and your partner’s needs, tastes and aspirations match, then you’ll get along well together.

A term of convenience

But compatibility is not a quality, like body hair or skin colour. You can’t measure its presence nor bemoan its absence. Compatibility is a concept. Think of it as a verb, rather than a noun, something you DO, not something which IS.

Compatibility isn’t denoted by a ‘spark’ when you meet someone. Any of those nice-to-have, fairy-tale reactions. True, it can happen, but just as some people say it was ‘love at first sight’ when they met their partner, there’s a whole battalion of others who say that they didn’t really like the person they eventually married, on first meeting. For them, love and admiration grew over time.

Leaving aside the small percentage of people who are incapable of forming or sustaining a relationship (and, clinically speaking, it IS a small proportion, and most of us never meet them), I guess there are some people who are genuinely incompatible because of their chosen lifestyle, habits, desires and so on. But, taking compatibility as a concept it’s easy to see that it has to be worked on.

From this perspective, one could say that, rather than two people being incompatible it is more accurate – and ultimately more helpful – to say that they are unwilling or unable to work together in constructing a relationship that works for them both.

Pop-psychology has generated a plethora of buzzwords that are really just get-out clauses.  ‘Incompatible’, ‘commitment-shy’, ‘resistant’, ‘passive aggressive’… these have seeped into our language. We use them as shorthand and as if we know what they mean, when they denote very little beyond a negative judgement and an excuse to look no further.

5 compatibility myths

  1. You need to be compatible to make a long term relationship.
    Says who? Compatibility is an abstract concept; it means different things to different people. Two people can decide that they are compatible (or not), but it doesn’t mean anything unless you let it.
  2. If you are compatible you won’t have disagreements or arguments.
    Yes you will, all couples disagree on some things. By contrast, unhealthy relationships tend to play down or hide their differences because it’s not safe to discuss them.
  3. Being compatible means you like the same things and share the same tastes.
    No it doesn’t. Thank goodness; it means my dark chocolate is safe.
  4. Compatibility can’t be created, it either happens or it doesn’t.
    This is a version of the ‘spark’ theory (as in ‘there is no spark between us’). Compatibility is like happiness. It’s something you work at and look back on. It’s not something which just ‘is’ or ‘isn’t’.
  5. If you are incompatible your relationship is a lost cause.
    Not true. This myth is an easy cop-out. If you believe you are incompatible, does it suit you to believe it? Stick with your theories and you could soon find they’re all you’ve got.

Think about it…

Rather than worrying about whether they are compatible or not, partners in a relationship would do better to wonder if they like each other enough to work at their relationship. Useful terms to consider might be ‘tolerance’, ‘patience’, ‘understanding’… In the end, it’s down to wisdom, a shared commitment, and effort.


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