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What makes a couple compatible is a complicated question. Many people confuse it with attraction, but compatibility is actually a very different thing. It’s the stuff that makes a couple last; the secret of those who are happily married for life. That’s why compatibility is the million dollar question.

When I sat down for coffee with Caitlin Cooper and Devyn Simone of Three Day Rule matchmaking, I learned a lot about what makes a successful match. Cooper and Simone explain that, contrary to popular belief, getting dates isn’t the challenge for their clients. “The issue with most of my clients is not how many dates they’re going on,” Simone told me. “It’s that they’re going on dead-end dates where they’re unhappy. Often, they lack clarity on the kind of person they actually want to be with.” Sound familiar?

In short, matchmakers like Simone and Cooper are compatibility experts. It’s their job to understand how lasting love is established, and to help their clients find it. Throughout the course of our conversation, I learned a lot about the secret sauce to the perfect match and what to do and look for to determine compatibility. This is what they said.

01. Establish your core values, and advertise them well.

When Simone meets with a client initially, the first thing they do together is talk out (and write down!) the client’s core values and the five key qualities they’re looking for in a partner. This prompt gets them to consider big picture questions like: What do you want for your life and your family? What kind of relationship do you truly want? Is marriage important to you or would you be happy with a long-term partnership?

“Recognize what those five key qualities are, so when you’re on a date and you’re seeing examples of their personality and what they do, you have something to measure them against,” Simone says. She also recommends writing down these key qualities when you’re working on an online dating profile. Once you have them, let those important elements influence how you present yourself.

Cooper added that there’s a little bit of marketing involved in dating, too. “The people who are the most successful in dating brand themselves the best. They sell themselves in the most accurate way, according to who they really are. If you put up a photo of yourself climbing Machu Picchu because you think it looks cool but you don’t actually like hiking that much, you’re going to attract the wrong type of person for you.”

Simone noted that figuring out if you want someone who is generous with their time or has a great sense of humor or loves the outdoors or is culturally curious is particularly important for singles who know they have a lot to offer. But when your time becomes valuable—say in your late twenties and thirties— and you want to be protective of that, so it’s important to know your target audience.”

02. Don’t date potential.

When Simone made this simple statement, “Don’t date potential,” I think I actually felt the earth move under my feet. While being a relatively intuitive idea, so many of us get lost in what could be when we’re dating. Both Cooper and Simone agree, if you’re not willing to accept the person as they are, you shouldn’t be dating them. Simple enough, right? Well, maybe not.

“He’s smart, he’s charismatic, he makes money. We’re attracted to the needs he meets on paper, but he isn’t actually doing anything!,” Simone explains. “Then we overlook everything else especially the key thing—how he treats you and how he pursues you. When he checks those boxes it’s easy to skip the steps of evaluating what he’s really bringing to the table. You just decide you’re going to make it work. He could be the greatest guy on paper, but if he’s not putting in the effort towards you now, that’s going to translate into the relationship later on.”

It’s easy to be dazzled by people’s qualities—the things that make them an attractive partner. You become enamored by the idea of what your relationship might look like if only he would just do X, Y, or Z. This leads to setting expectations that can’t or won’t be met, which often leads either to heartbreak or a deeply unfulfilling relationship.

03. State your needs early and often.

While paraphrasing something she learned from Jada Pinkett Smith, Simone dropped another monumental truth bomb: “You have to teach people how to love you.” Whoa.

Cooper hammered the point home. “Another thing that really confuses guys is when a woman pretends she’s one thing in the beginning, when really she’s another,” she began. “She won’t speak up for what she really wants just for the sake of being agreeable. All the sudden your guy is lost in the field of just trying to make you happy, but you’re not giving him any information. We often tell ourselves, ‘Oh he should just know!’ But actually, no. Not every knows. If you don’t dictate your needs, he won’t know how to meet them.”

She emphasized that we often self-sabotage relationships by punishing guys for things they didn’t even know they were doing. Blaming a guy for not doing, being or saying something you never explained that you wanted isn’t fair.

“Everyone’s dictionary of what things mean is shaped by their past experiences,” Simone added. “And everyone’s past is different. You cannot anticipate that someone is just going to know or figure something out on their own. You need to communicate your needs, recognize what they are and maybe even write them down for yourself.”

Cooper agreed. “If you don’t get comfortable stating your needs, every relationship you have is going to fail. It’s not just in the beginning either—it’s all the time! As you go deeper and deeper—five years in, seven years in—and you’re not communicating your needs, that’s when it can become really bad. When big life things happen—someone loses their job, or gets sick, or needs help—but you haven’t made clear what your needs are, how will your partner know how to support you? He’s thinking one thing and you have different expectations and then nobody's happy.”

04. Know how you both handle conflict resolution.

There’s an episode of Friends when Chandler and Monica first get together. They get in a fight, and Chandler assumes the relationship is over. Monica laughs and explains that this is what couples do—they fight and then they make up and move on. Monica learned that Chandler is someone who shuts down around conflict, while she confronts it head-on to find a resolution.

Understanding how people handle difficulties and conflicts is key to maintaining a healthy relationship, as well as for establishing a connection early on. “A lot of times, if people have never been in a long-term relationship, it can be because they’re often focusing on the superficial elements of compatibility,” Cooper says. “What they’ve never really understood is conflict management style and how people manage stress. If you never get a chance to see how someone manages stress, it’s hard to know if you’ll ever be able to coordinate on the big stuff. You need to find out if there’s a balance—not if you like to ski and he likes to ski, for example.”

Cooper added that conflict resolution isn’t just about fights—it’s about how you handle your differing viewpoints on life, your goals, and your values. “You don’t have to agree on every single thing, but if you view the world in vastly different ways, every day becomes more and more difficult. Same goes for someone who’s very independent dating someone who’s more dependent. It’s going to be really tough to make each other happy.”

Photo Credit: Map & Compass Photography