Compatibility comes up for discussion with couples, particularly when they are struggling. Their differences in personality and attitude appear to be so great that they begin to question the viability of their relationship. They begin to fear that they are “too different” to make it work.
Research on divorce found that divorcing couples complained about the very qualities they used to love in each other. The differences that had always been there, and that each had once admired in the other, were now seen as troublesome and unforgivable. These couples had now become polarized and resentful.
Most couples I have met over the years have similar levels of strength and weakness (although in varying areas). Their values are often similar and it is common for them to share a sense of humour.
Most couples I have met over the years have many differences as well. It isn’t unusual for a morning person to be married to a night person, a strict parent to an easy going parent and an openly expressive individual to a more repressed and secretive communicator.
I refer to these numerous differences as “balance.” A couple with good balance has a potential for future growth and happiness…. but there is a catch. Both spouses have to be willing to “do business” with each other and a willingness to “make deals.”
Everyone has blind spots with regard to their personalities. A man who was just in my office was challenged by his wife to be less irritable with his children. He was surprised by this feedback as he “had no idea” that he was acting in such a negative way towards his kids. He appreciated the feedback so that he could now be mindful of his behavior as a father when stressed about work issues.
A young couple had a debate about “bad cop versus good cop.” The husband thought he had to be the tough parent to offset his wife’s easygoing approach and she thought that she had to be more relaxed to offset his firmness. They decided to collaborate more and both improved in their parenting approach.
Compromise has the feel of yielding and losing. Collaboration on the other hand is about co-creation. It is enriching for a marriage rather than demeaning.
A couple needs to be committed to the goal of blending or else power struggles ensue. These can lead to conflict and distancing rather than cooperation and improved intimacy. Balance calls for consultation and collaboration, resulting in mutual growth and some great decision-making.