Shortly after Gwen Stefani’s song Cool came out, I couldn’t get it out of my head. Back in the era of teenagers expressing their angst via AIM profile status (you know you did), my 16-year-old self shared what I thought was as super deep way to describe incompatibility: "And I’ll be happy for you, If you’ll be happy for me. Circles and triangles."
“That’s a stupid quote,” my online non-boyfriend abruptly wrote, clearly not understanding that my AIM profile is where I hid veiled messages about the status of our non-relationship. “What does it even mean?”
“It means some people just don’t fit together,” I typed back. “Some personalities just don’t mix.” Bam.
Since those days of online yore, I’ve occasionally found myself trying to fit circles into triangles, but mostly I’ve learned that it’s not all so clear cut. Pardon the continued metaphor, but there’s a crazy amount of shapes out there, and no shape fits another one (nor, completes another one) perfectly.
Dr. Gary Chapman, the bestselling author of The 5 Love Languages, has spent his professional life uncovering ways people can avoid such relationship friction, by identifying the main ways people feel or receive love (words of affirmation, physical touch, receiving gifts, acts of service, and quality time). He has quite the following. His book is the ninth most sold book on Amazon (ever), and with five stars and 11K+ reviews to boot, it’s clear that his methods are working, rejuvenating relationships across the globe. Even then, as Chapman shares with us, it’s clear certain personalities are more innately compatible, while others might be “an uphill battle.”
I asked Dr. Chapman some questions regarding natural compatibility in relationships; here’s what I learned.
01. Compatibility and chemistry aren’t the same thing.
Especially at first, it can be tricky to differentiate between compatibility and chemistry. Sexual attraction is a seriously powerful emotion—and can knock out our normal senses cold, like we’re on drugs. It can trick us into thinking that we mesh well, when in reality, we don’t at all.
Dr. Chapman explains that compatibility is much more complicated than chemistry and is far less immediately conclusive. “Compatibility involves personal desires and preferences,” Chapman shares with us. “Chemistry is related to our physiology and can dramatically affect our feelings and the way that we respond to people and situations.” So, to find if you’re compatible—it often takes time to confirm it, after the initial chemistry wanes.
02. Incompatibility stems from differing #relationshipgoals.
Some of us find ourselves in love with someone we’re naturally compatible with—but for the rest of us, it usually takes a little bit of effort. “Couples who are not naturally compatible have a much harder time finding common ground, and many of their desires and plans for the relationship...are opposite from each other,” shares Chapman. He explains that the signs are disharmony and routine conflicts, because they see things from a different perspective. “They struggle to find a starting point where they can agree and then work towards a solution.” But that is not to say incompatibility can’t be overcome. Chapman says that keeping communication lines open is the cornerstone to surmounting incompatibility. If we don’t communicate, the relationship can seem like a struggle for even the simplest issues. But, this kind of communication typically doesn’t just happen. It’s a habit. Speaking of...
03. Bad habits can be changed to encourage compatibility.
“What I’ve learned in over forty years of counseling is bad habits can be changed, and when that happens, compatibility will flourish,” Chapman explains. He then outlined certain traits that can be changed, including these big offenders:
- Breaking promises
- Assuming the worst
He believes that compatibility can evolve with a willingness to change bad relationship habits. “The best place to start is to have a willingness to be flexible, and an openness to accept the fact that your preferences may not work in all situations,” Chapman explains. Compatibility requires us to be malleable enough to adapt to another person’s needs, but also realistic, such as recognizing core personality traits (like being an introvert/extrovert) and compromising on other issues where change is a real possibility.
04. A telling sign you’re compatible? Conflict is not the centerpiece of the relationship.
When you’ve found someone you’re naturally compatible with—or if you’ve been working hard on achieving compatibility with someone—ask yourself if being with with this person is mostly easy. “There are definite signs that indicate when two people are naturally compatible,” says Chapman. “For instance, many of their likes and dislikes are the same or close to being the same, both partners choose to think the best of the other person and not assume the worst, and they can communicate with each other in all areas of their relationship with little or no conflict.” Chapman also points out that, when conflicts do arise (and they inevitably do), tensions easily dissipate. The relationship isn’t on edge just because of one tiny scuffle.
05. Another telling sign you’re compatible? You laugh a lot.
There’s a reason why a similar sense of humor can make a relationship work. “Humor is a great way to relieve stress, and having a similar or compatible sense of humor can serve to help in many ways,” explains Chapman. “It can create a playful atmosphere that allows couples to enjoy each other and escape from the daily grind.” Moreover, it can break down doors for talking about issues that are otherwise bolted shut.
While relationship compatibility might seem something we fall into, that’s really only part of the story. As Chapman explains compatibility often boils down to a willingness to understand each other; it’s a daily exercise we must practice and incorporate into our routine. For instance: I’m certainly not the same person I was when I communicated my feelings via Gwen Stefani quotes; I’ve stretched my brain, time has passed, my routine has changed. I might even be a slightly different shape.
Being loved and loving has helped mold me and, overtime, I’ve discovered that if we love each other well—even if it might sometimes feel like an uphill battle—we find ways to remain compatible and a better fit than we ever were before.
Photo Credit: Local Embers