There is a myth that couples talk about all of the time in my office. They tell me that they are living together to see if they are compatible. I am sure they are sincere in their effort to make sure they can tolerate one another, but living together is not going to reveal that. According to the literature, couples who are happily married aren’t always compatible. In fact, there is no correlation between being happily married and how compatible you are. In truth, compatibility is rarely spoken of until one person begins bringing it up, and then it becomes a big issue. It usually means the couple is not getting along, which happens in happy marriages and unhappy marriages. Couples are not compatible all of the time; they fight about sex, kids, money and an extensive list of other things.
Dr. Ted Huston runs the PAIR project, which is a longitudinal study of married couples. His research has shown that the telltale sign of an unhappy relationship is when one spouse begins to worry about not being compatible or begins to overstate the importance of compatibility for a good marriage. The word compatibility covers a wide spectrum of areas. If a husband or wife tells his or her spouse, “We aren’t compatible anymore,” the spouse would be wise to sit down and ask him or her directly, “In what area specifically are we no longer compatible?” This would help narrow the real issue, and the couple could actually begin to make changes.
Many times couples begin fighting in my office; they cannot trace where the fighting originated, but they are able to say they haven’t been happy for a long time. Worn out, tired and stressed, they look for a way out of the marriage, believing it is the marriage. This makes sense, because if you project your unhappiness onto your partner and your union, then the only solution is to break that union. Unfortunately, due to the lack of healthy marriage mentors, couples don’t understand that it is normal to go up and down. They don’t see the arguments, discord, and the process of negotiating and making up watching movies and TV. They see one person leaving and shouting, “We are no longer compatible.” If I used compatibility as a measure of success in my own marriage, I would be in big trouble. I married a man very different from me, thinking that since we both had the same vision together we could negotiate anything. So far, so good, but no one is exempt from challenging times. Those challenging times in the marriage should be anticipated and embraced for further growth. When we walk away from those times, saying something such as, “We aren’t compatible,” we lose an opportunity for growth not only in our marriage but within ourselves.
There are things I can recommend if you have come up against a wall in your marriage and want to walk away. These suggestions will help, but be sure you both share the same vision or outcome for your marriage prior to undertaking them:
1. When you feel incompatible with your spouse, write down what areas in your personal life are bothering you before mentioning it to him or her. These issues are yours, not your spouse’s.
2. Take your spouse out on a date or walk and talk about your marital vision. Ask him or her if they feel the same. Listen to what they say.