How do you know you and your partner are compatible? Do you share similar worldviews, have the same spiritual views, vote for the same party? Do you have similar sex drives, like the same sports and hobbies?
It turns out that what really makes relationships work cannot be answered by these questions. A subtle interaction which takes effort and awareness is the best predictor of relationship success.
Researcher Ted Hudson (University of Texas) found that unhappy couples focus on compatibility as the cause of their troubles, yet happy couples in successful relationships do not: “There is no difference in the objective compatibility of those couples who are unhappy and those who are happy.” Couples who report being happy describe the reason as being mutual respect and working hard at their relationship. Unhappy couples, on the other hand, blame their relationship troubles on incompatibility. The real gauge of success in a relationship is effort to connect rather than external measures of similarity.
Phrases like, “We are just too different” and “We are not compatible” sum up the feelings of unhappy couples. The problem with focusing on compatibility is couples may miss the everyday interactions required to make relationships work. Individuals who feel they are not compatible develop a negative script about their relationship. In essence, unhappy individuals rewrite their memories. Telling themselves they never were compatible. This rescripting is one of the biggest predictors of the ending of a relationship (Gottman).
What does this mean?
For one, using compatibility as a gauge of whether your partner is the right person for you or not is the wrong focus (Valadez). Instead, a better question is: “Are we both invested enough to work hard at this relationship?”
One of the most damaging relationship maxims is that good relationships do not require work: “You work hard all day; who wants to come home and work at your relationships?” Studies show just the opposite—good relationships are all about commitment to working hard at being connected, sharing emotions (and in doing so regulating them), responding positively to opportunities for connection, managing conflict, and filling up each other’s tanks.
These are not overwhelming tasks to accomplish, by the way; they begin at a micro level in brief interactions and can be part of daily routine.
Below Are 8 Areas to Focus on in Order to Make Your Relationship Successful:
1. Turn Towards
Trust & intimacy are built in the small, everyday moments when you or you turn to your partner with a comment, thought, view, or feeling; and are acknowledged, or even better, receive a positive response. Ignoring or negative responses lead to rejection.
2. Go Gently Into Issues
Avoid using blame and defensiveness—“you” statements and criticizing your partner. Also, avoid telling your partner how they are feeling –making assumptions about their character or feelings.
State your own feelings and describe what you need. In heterosexual relationships, one of the best gifts a woman can give her husband is saying, “You know, I have a part to play in this too;” and a male partner can make an equal gift by hearing his wife without becoming defensive (Gottman).
3. Make Positive Requests
Ask for what you do need from your partner (rather than what you don’t need). Often when we tell our partner what we do not want it turns into blame and criticizing. Instead, shift the focus to what you do want.
When listening to your partner put aside your own agenda and listen to understand. Avoid saying “I disagree with you there.” Hear and validate what your partner feels even if you disagree: “I see that you feel strongly about this.”
5. Acknowledge Back Channels
When your partner says, “You’ve got a point there” take time to acknowledge that. Often, when individuals start speaking about something that bothers them they can steamroll even positive responses; the result is a rant. Your partner may feel rejected and may react to feeling discounted. Positive back channels during a conversation can help prevent arguments that go off the rails.
6. Practice Compromise
Find the areas around issues where you can both agree on something and move forward from there. This helps manage turn conflict into opportunity to reconnect.
7. Have a Fire Escape Plan
Create a plan for how to deal with conflict that escalates. This may mean taking a break for 30 minutes then getting together for a cup of coffee to reconnect (not to restart the fight).
8. Consciously Build Your Friendship
Work at common goals in your life, talk about your dreams and life goals, and support each other’s goals. Show and verbalize appreciation and affection every day. Pencil dates into your weekly schedule and make it a priority to keep these dates, just as you would not break an important meeting with a boss or client.
When you are searching for a partner, you will not just pick anyone. You pick someone with a certain set of criteria. This is chemistry—the feeling that your partner is unique and that you are compatible. But unless you also work at the above areas, you may later start to ask, “Are we really compatible after all?”
Compatibility really means, “Are we both committed to supporting each other, working through issues to find compromise, and make an effort to connect through the day, every day? Will we work hard to sustain and enjoy our relationship?” The answer begins before the question is asked, in everyday exchanges.
Luis Valadez, August 12, 2015, http://www.gottmanblog.com/
John Gottman: http://www.gottman.com/top-7-ways-to-improve-your-marriage/