One of the most distinct changes in dating patterns in the last fifty years is the sharp increase in assortative mating – that is, marriage between very similar individuals. As that trend has increased, divorce has decreased, an apparent confirmation that while opposites attract they don’t stay together. Successful relationships happen when couples share the same values and life priorities.
Relationship success hinges largely on compatibility, which is defined as “like-mindedness; a state in which two things are able to exist or occur together without problems or conflict.”
This occurs when two people share views, values, beliefs and priorities. Some of these are more important than others. If the big debate in your relationship is whether to vacation at the ocean or in the mountains, you can probably find a compromise solution easily. On the other hand, if it’s kids vs. no kids, compromise will be impossible.
In my experience, there are several key areas where compatible views are essential to make a relationship work.
You must be on the same page in your vision for what constitutes a moral life. In my estimation, this is one of the most important things two people can share.
Everything from your spiritual orientation to your beliefs about monogamy to your capacity for empathy and kindness towards others will play a role in determining how well matched you and your partner are.
When your moral beliefs diverge, it’s difficult – or even impossible – to maintain respect for your partner. It’s also very costly to you personally.
Disagreements over money are a common source of relationship dissolution. When two people share financial goals and priorities, life runs more smoothly and that’s good for relationships. Our feelings about money often reflect our own experiences growing up, so it’s important to understand this trait in yourself and assess it in any potential partner.
- Are you a spender or a saver?
- Would you rather acquire things or experiences, like travel?
- What material things do you require for a comfortable life? E.g. Your own home? The most sophisticated technology?
- What material things are important to your identity? E.g. A certain class of car? The latest fashions?
- Do you want to start saving for retirement at 25? 30? 40?
- Do you hope to leave a financial legacy for kids someday?
- Does financial success equal life success?
People differ a great deal in their orientation towards family. Of course, the question of whether to have children is the most important. But there’s also the question of closeness to one’s birth family. Do you enjoy frequent family gatherings and close contact? If so, it’s important to have a partner who shares your enthusiasm. I’ve known couples where one person consistently “passes” on family gatherings, forcing their partner to explain and excuse their absence. That places a great deal of stress on the relationship.
Two workaholics who don’t want kids can be very happy together. So can parents who never miss a Saturday morning soccer game. Across the spectrum, the most important thing is that you share the same ethic and values around work.
- Do you live to work or work to live?
- How ambitious are you? What sacrifices will that require from others in your life?
- Do you go off the grid during leisure time or do you prefer to be available 24/7?
Life has a way of throwing us curve balls, and many times we can’t fully control our work schedules. But it helps if you’re both on the same page about what’s ideal when it comes to your careers.
Relaxation and Play
When you’re not busy working, do you enjoy doing things together?
- How active are you? Would you rather climb a mountain or read a good book under a shady tree?
- Do you have many interests or a couple of all-consuming specific ones?
- Do you tend to go solo or pursue group activities?
When couples separate for both work and play, that doesn’t leave much time for the relationship.
Other Important Considerations
There are other areas where compatibility helps a lot, but where compromise is often possible. No two people are perfectly matched – there are likely to be some areas where your partner’s positive qualities outweigh differences.
Personality traits, e.g. Introversion vs. Extroversion
I’m an ENFJ and my husband is an INTJ. Our personalities complement one another nicely but we do have different views around socializing and different ways of recharging. This is an area where we compromise, and over time I’ve come to appreciate quiet time more, while my husband has learned to enjoy social gatherings more, especially with family or good friends.
Health: Fitness and Diet
I know several carnivore/vegan couples. Somehow they work it out. One couple eats quinoa tacos every night for dinner. I also know couples where the guy is into extreme sports and the woman either has to climb a mountain or stay home.
It helps if both parties share the priority of healthy living, but there is lots of room to maneuver around the specifics.
Couples frequently meet in locations where neither of them grew up. It’s not unusual for one to want to return to Palo Alto while the other wants to settle in Akron. People mostly figure this out, though – I can’t think of a single instance where geography alone led to the breakup of an established, serious relationship.
This may seem like a lot of boxes to check, but people tend to socialize in groups with similar values. We naturally filter for these traits among our friends and acquaintances, so it’s often natural for us to apply these same filters to dating.
In addition, online dating makes it easy to do a lot of this upfront before meeting. Serious red flags, like total incompatibility around money, usually become apparent quickly.
Compatibility around values, beliefs and priorities will affect your relationship every single day. It’s worth selecting for these traits carefully.
This is the eleventh post in a series. Previous posts include: