This article reveals three important aspects of the compatibility factor, which work together to result in happy or unhappy relationships
HAPPY VS. UNHAPPY RELATIONSHIPS: THE COMPATIBILITY FACTOR
Mary and Bob are quite equal and compatible in most ways. They are both good- looking, well-educated, like the same hobbies, go to the same church and are in sync with important values. But they are headed for divorce court. Sally and Bill are exact opposites. One is intellectual and the other emotional, they don’t look like a good fit physically, one meditates and the other drinks, they go on separate vacations, and they disagree on how to spend their time and money just about every day. However, they have been married for over 25-years and are really very happy.
Many other couples have a mixture of differences and compatibilities in their relationships but the survival rate is quickly heading south. What is wrong with this picture? The answer is in understanding the compatibility factor.
We all have active internal thermometers that judge and record all our relationship experiences in regards to which are perceived as positive and which are interpreted as negative. And, this thermometer can reach the bursting point when the scales tip too far past the point of no return in the wrong direction (too many negative experiences over the positive ones). This scale-tipping point involves three different aspects of the compatibility factor.
Factor 1: Similarity and compatibility between two people.
Generally speaking, the more similarities and compatibilities two people have, the happier they are enjoying each other’s company. That is what normally attracts two people to one another in the first place—being together in the most important things they like about each other, without serious differences getting in the way. People who are equally attracted to each other physically, emotionally, intellectually, vocationally and spiritually have less to be unhappy about. They are not plagued by the inevitable frustration—that the get-no-where, catch-22 desire to redo the person into what they want—typically results in.
Although opposites may attract initially, those incompatibilities and differences can be either mitigated or aggravated further by Factors 2 and 3 below. This is where it gets complicated and the level in the relationship at which most people get lost. It is usually more desirable to gradually progress into an intimate relationship with an abundance of deal-makers and absence of deal-breakers. Too bad many people usually don’t figure that reality out until it is too late in the learning curve. The worse the initial mate selection is, the harder these two other factors play out, making it an uphill battle.
Factor 2: Tolerance for incompatibilities or differences.
In our opening scenario, Sally and Bill are very incompatible and their differences are more the norm than the exception. However, they are compatible in the most important area of their relationship. They both have a high degree of tolerance in accepting their many differences and compatibilities. And more then likely, they use factor 3 below to their advantage too, in both using the same, compatible approach to deal with their differences and conflicts, when they do surface. In other words, they are compatible in how they deal with their incompatibility.
Unfortunately, the bottom line here is that if you are in a relationship that has some serious compatibility issues and there is a lack of tolerance for these differences—and especially when you are not in sync with Factor 3 below—the glass in the thermometer is probably getting ready to shatter. Beware of ingesting broken glass!
Factor 3: Compatibility of approaches to dealing with incompatibilities, differences and conflicts.
There are basically four different ways for us to deal with conflicts, incompatibilities and differences. These are:
a. Passivity—The person just lays down like a doormat and accepts whatever comes his or her way, even when being right and the other person wrong. This will usually go to the point where the pot boils over, a spontaneous explosion occurs and then other things start to happen.
b. Aggression—The person bullies his or her way to win arguments by force, willfully imposing his or her preferences on the other person with whatever means are available. Obviously, this is the approach that most often results in violence.
c. Passive-Aggressive Approach—The person takes the crap he or she doesn’t like on the surface and then goes underground to get back at the other person in subtly aggressive ways. Of course, this approach can also result in violence, especially when used against an aggressive person.
d. Assertiveness—The person stands up for his or her rights in a diplomatic right without resorting to the typical defensive stuff that results in wrong reactions and further miscommunication by wrong words—harsh judgments or criticisms, smug superiority, over-control, poor listening, over-certainness, dishonesty and lack of empathy.
This is where our compatible couple above, Mary and Bob, fell down behind the scenes. Although they were very compatible on most things, differences do eventually arise—in their case it was an emerging difference in sexual desires—and the compatibility in the approach to resolving differences like this one is the key to success or failure.
Mary put Bob on the back burner after the birth of their first child, which her biological clock had just about run out on. Bob complained frequently, but not in the needed assertive or understanding way. Naturally Mary started the preverbal freeze-out to insulate herself from the emotional turmoil. His passive-aggressive reaction was to start an illicit affair. Mary’s passive reaction to finding out about the affair was to just deny her role in bringing the problem on and then asking for a divorce when he wouldn’t end it.
This passive vs. aggressive approach to this conflict was the criss-cross that led to the uproar of a very unpleasant divorce that permanently changed the landscape for half a dozen people. Not a happy ending at all, even after things had actually started well.
Obviously the happiest relationships are ones in which the partners are mutually compatible on the most important things to each of them, both have a reasonable degree of patience and tolerance in accepting inevitable differences, and both have agreement on and compatibility of skills in choosing an assertive approach to resolving the conflicts that do occur. But in reality most of us are not there, so what is the best advice in the meantime?
1. Always start by forcing yourself to focus on what is right and good and making you happy, rather than what is wrong and bad and making you unhappy (no matter how difficult that may appear to be). That particular perspective has a lot to do with the feedback your internal thermometer is giving you, even when it may already feel like it has shattered.
2. When you having nothing good and right to focus on, sadly it is already over. Realize when you have none of the above compatibility factors, make other plans and start running.
3. If you have mixed compatibilities, but are in agreement with the value of assertiveness, increase your tolerance of accepting differences in the other person by being assertive in growing and improving past these lesser incompatibilities. This helps restore needed balance in your thermometer, and then the less the differences annoy you. And that change opens the door to accumulating more positive experiences to make you happier.
4. Regardless of any of this, if you aren’t in agreement with what approach to use to resolve differences and conflicts, get in agreement because your success and happiness will depend upon that agreement. You can’t succeed without it no matter how compatible you are, like Mary and Bob. Hopefully you will also see that the assertive approach results in more happiness than the other three approaches.
Bill Cottringer is president of Puget Sound Security in Belleview, WA. He is also author of several books including You Can Have Your Cheese & Eat It Too, Passwords To The Prosperity Zone, The Bow-Wow Secrets, and Do What Matters Most. Bill can be reached for comments and questions at (425) 454-5011 or bcottrigner.pssp.net