Don’t Confuse Similarity With Compatibility.  We’ve all heard new lovers exclaim, “We’re soul-mates.  She likes everything that I liked”!  Indeed, similarity or sameness is a powerful driver. Across all spectrums, people seek others who come from the same country of origin, who are the same race or religion, who share political perspectives or professional aspirations.  We look for others who are like us financially, religiously, emotionally, and even aesthetically.  Difference is new, is other, and for complicated reasons, is discomforting.  

Sameness or Similarity is Not Compatibility.  Certainly not when considering a life-partner.  It plays a part, but is not the whole picture!  You and your partner can share the same basic perspective on finances, agreeing where to spend and where to save.  But this alone doesn’t mean you’re compatible.

Compatibility is Specific.  Compatibility refers to an attitude, a tone, a perspective on relationship and mutuality that speaks to how the couple works together, over time, through difficulty and conflict, and through the changing landscape of the marriage or relationship.  The fact that both partners agree about how to handle the finances won’t cut it in an argument about a lack of intimacy. But the compatible couple will handle the problem quite differently than the couple who is essentially incompatible, in spite of some “similarities.”


  1. The compatible couple keeps mutual respect and affection close at hand during conflict.  The compatible couple does not loose sight of the loving relationship during conflict.  
  2. The compatible couple practices curiosity and interest in the other’s feelings.  When talking together, the compatible couple is able to balance listening and speaking.  There’s a minimum of interruption.  Listening is active, with the listener paying close attention not only to the explicit content, but also paying attention to what might be present beneath the surface.  The listener looks for clues about the cause of the distress, and helps to figure it out.  
  3. The speaking partner refrains from assigning blame, exclusively, to the other.  The speaking partner considers that he or she has most certainly participated in bringing about some of the difficulty, and speaks about that.  The speaking partner recognizes his or her role in the conflict and spells it out so that the listening partner doesn’t feel the narrative has become one-sided or off-balance.
  4. The listening partner does not feel blamed.  He or she is not obliterated by the sadness or anger of the other.  He or she does not suddenly feel like throwing in the towel, that the marriage is falling apart, or that the two of you are incompatible.  
  5. Rather, the listening partner considers what is being said, is curious about it, feels compassion when his or her partner is in pain, and offers comfort and acknowledgment of that pain.  The listening partner recognizes that he or she may have played a part in bringing about that pain and when it becomes time to speak, acknowledges that.  
  6. The listening partner responds with expressions of compassion and understanding for the pain, and also with clear recognition of where he or she may have participated in causing that pain.  
  7. When the partners share their painful feelings and explore them together without threat, they each feel affirmed and consolidated.  They are ready to move on to the next step—finding a solution.  The partners look for a solution that will honor the needs of both people.  There is willingness to compromise without loosing sight of personal limitations.  The compatible couple works hard to achieve a solution that feels appropriate, keeping in mind that in the long-term, their ability to compromise makes the partnership or marriage stronger, more reliable, and deeply satisfying.


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