10 Do's And Don'ts To Survive Incompatibility


What to do when he can't sit still, but you just want to chill.

Ken and Mary have been married only a few years, and both work hard all week at demanding jobs. When the weekend rolls around, Ken loves to get up early, go for a long bike ride, and hit the chore list. Mary wants to sleep late, linger in bed, make love, and hang around having leisurely coffee and breakfast. On a good day, Ken gets his early start and arrives home with Starbucks as Mary, the sleepyhead, is just rousing. On a bad day, Ken arrives after Mary has eaten and teases her about her inactivity, and Mary accuses Ken of being mean and selfish. Mary feels lonely and hurt, and Ken feels judgmental and resentful of Mary's habits, and their disconnection grows.

What do you do if you and your partner prefer different activities, have different biorhythms, or divergent approaches to completing chores and housework? These differences may have been stimulating, endearing, or merely a little irritating early in your relationship, but can grow into significant stressors that threaten your connection with each other. But, they don't have to.

Influential marriage researcher John Gottman points out that nearly every marriage contains fundamental differences of lifestyle, personality, or values. However, interestingly, his research shows that the quantity of these differences do not predict relationship failure. What DOES matter is how the couple negotiates the differences that exist. Do they consistently fight, engage in sarcasm, and bear resentment about these issues?  Or does the couple try to make room for each other's differences? Or, when that's not possible, can they cope with humor or a quick makeup after a conflict? A couple's methods for co-existing with incompatibility are the best predictors of relationship satisfaction.  

Here are a few do's and don'ts to help you navigate your relationship differences in a positive manner:


  • Appreciate that you don't have to be the same to be happy together.
  • Remember that the differences that divide you and your partner also make each of you who you are. You can't cherry pick your favorite qualities, leave the rest, and still have the person you fell in love with.
  • Remember that we are wired differently from each other. Your partner may not just be trying to annoy you. He or she may in fact have different neurological programming that directs his or her behavior in different ways than yours.
  • Look for the positive intention in what your partner is doing or saying, either for their own well being or for your relationship. 
  • Speak up for what bothers you, but in a kind and considerate way.


  • Take your differences personally. If you are comfortable with your own choices, you are less likely to feel threatened by your partner's.
  • Stop communicating, which would allow disconnection to grow.
  • Forget to be creative in finding solutions that could meet both of your needs.
  • Settle into a negative tone or story about your relationship that overlooks or minimizes your positive points of connection.
  • Struggle alone if your relationship is becoming distant, critical, or shut down.

Seek help from a qualified relationship therapist who can help you and your partner get back on track.