Are You Compatible?

The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast with Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

Music Credits: Galapaghost, “The Science of Lovers”

How do you know if you’re with the right person? If your relationship is good but not perfect, is that okay?  How do you know if you’re compatible with someone?

As a dating coach, I find that these questions bedevil many people, especially today, when a brand new potential relationship is always just a swipe away. Are you truly compatible with your partner? Is this a good relationship, even if you have points of conflict? How good is good enough? How will I know when I find “the one”?

These questions not only come up when you’re dating, but even when you’re in a committed relationship. Should you stay with this person, and invest in the relationship for the long-term — go to couples counseling, work on your communication, etc. — or should you cut your losses and move on?  So. Many. Questions.

No Relationship is Perfect.

Relationship FOMO is a Thing.  It’s easy to compare the good, the bad, and the ugly aspects of our own relationship to what people choose to share about their own on social media. Even though we all know, rationally, that there’s more to the story of every relationship than the gigantic flower bouquets and honeymoon vacation moments that people choose to share on social media, it’s still normal to feel a twinge of jealousy when you get a peek into what other people are doing.

In reality, all relationships are a mixed bag: just like no one is perfect, no relationship is perfect, either. We partner with other imperfect human beings who have quirky personalities, annoying traits, and who are never going to meet all of our needs perfectly (although there are things you can do to increase the odds: check out “How to Get Your Needs Met in a Relationship.”)  Compatibility issues in relationships are a perfectly normal, although sometimes frustrating, part of the process. Remember that all those sunshine-and-roses social media relationships had to stumble through the dating do’s and don’ts just like the rest of us.

At the same time, it can be hard to figure out what is good enough when it comes to relationship compatibility. How do you know if this is as good as it’s going to get–if it’s true love? Or if you’re settling for less than you could have if you kept looking for the right partner? Even worse, how much time do you want to spend in this relationship, and on this person, if you’re only going to break up or divorce in the end?

Fear of Commitment

This uncertainty about a relationship becomes especially fraught when people start to think about marriage. We toss around the term “fear of commitment,” but after years of talking to commitment-phobic people as a life coach and therapist, I’ve found that at the root of their anxiety are the same questions: Is this it? Is there a better relationship for me? How do I know if I’m settling?

When people begin considering marriage, these relationship questions become a siren in their mind to the point that it can cause a great deal of anxiety. And for good reason! There are very few choices that will impact the trajectory of your life as the choice of a life-partner.

This angst was captured perfectly by a recent question that someone asked on our Growing Self Facebook page:

“Hello! I have been listening to your podcast for years and it’s helped me so much. For the first time I’ve built a healthy, long-term relationship with a guy and I’m so happy. I had a question I’d love you to answer in a podcast or blog: how do you know if you should marry the guy?

I’m in my mid twenties and loads of my friends are facing this question, as am I. You’ve been with them a couple years, it’s good but not perfect … Do you break up and look for more or is he the one?”

– A Podcast Listener

Are You Compatible?

There are so many different aspects of emotional compatibility: personality, values, communication, wants, needs, dreams, and more. Furthermore, we know from the work of Dr. John Gottman that the bulk of relationship issues couples face are not things that are “solvable problems.” They are issues of compatibility — based on traits that are intrinsic to yourself, which will likely never change.  

There are other aspects of relationships that can be changed, through excellent premarital counseling, couples therapy, and relationship coaching. In my experience, all of us have room to improve in our personal relationships. People can learn and grow. Communication can improve. Clarity can be achieved. Priorities can change. People mature. Most importantly, people often learn how to show each other love, respect, kindness and generosity over time. These are all skills, and they’re coachable — particularly when you’re motivated to have a great relationship.

However, it’s also true that there is not a human being alive who you will be in perfect alignment with all the time. So a big piece of figuring out compatibility in a relationship is identifying your own rules and boundaries: what you can accept, what you can appreciate, and what is a deal-breaker for you.  Once you set those boundaries, then you can set out on the journey to find your “soulmate”.

A Relationship Expert’s Take on Compatibility

Because the subject of relationship compatibility is so complex, I decided to ask my colleague Dr. Georgiana, a licensed marriage and family therapist, to share her insight on the subject. Listen to our interview for Dr. Georgiana’s surprising advice on how to recognize:

  1. If you and your partner are compatible
  2. The most important compatibility factors for a successful relationship
  3. The least important factors for determining relationship compatibility (which many people mistakenly fall for)
  4.  What your “deal breakers” are
  5. Signs that your normal, imperfect relationship is worth working on (or letting go of)
  6. How much change is possible for each person in a long-term relationship
  7. Things to consider if you’re thinking about breaking up or staying together
  8. When to focus on acceptance and appreciation for the person your partner is (vs. when to push for growth and change)

Dr. Georgiana and I both have years of experience as dating coaches, premarital counselors and marriage counselors, and we’re tackling all these questions for you on this episode of the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast.

All the best,
Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

Listen & Subscribe to the Podcast

Are You Compatible?

The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast with Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

Music Credits: Galapaghost, “The Science of Lovers”

Free, Expert Advice — For You.

Subscribe To The Love, Happiness, and Success Podcast

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: This is Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby and you’re listening to the Love, Happiness, and Success podcast. 

[ Intro Song: Galapaghost – “The Science of Lovers” ]

That is Galapaghost with “The Science of Lovers.” Kind of a dreamy introspective song, and I think a great prelude to our subject today, which is wrestling with this idea of compatibility. How do you know if you’re compatible? All relationships are kind of a mixed bag, you know, some parts might be great and other parts aren’t perfect. And people can start to wonder, what does this mean that they’re not perfect? Does this mean that it’s okay? Are we truly compatible? What does that even mean? Should I continue investing in this relationship to make it as great as possible? Or if it’s really not meant to be, should I cut my losses and move on? 

Those can be very much on the minds of people, and I know they are because I’ve actually been getting questions about it from you guys. So thank you. We’re gonna jump in, and hopefully, get you some answers today on this episode. And hey, hi, I am Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby. I would love to hear from you too. I do these podcasts to be helpful to you. It’s all about helping you create love, happiness, and success in your life. Building better relationships, feeling happy and good about yourself in your life, and also feeling successful in the sense that you are able to design your own reality and feel like you are the master of your universe, moving forward and doing the things that you want to do. 

Each episode, we talk about things in one of those domains that hopefully help you create that in your life. Again, this is all about you. So if you have questions, please get in touch. You can track me down on Facebook, Dr. Lisa Bobby on Facebook, Twitter @Dr.LisaBobby, come to our website www.growingself.com. We have a vibrant community with there are so many wonderful, just discussions and questions that come up in the comment section of our blog, believe it or not. I myself jump into that fray periodically to answer your questions personally, when I’m able to and I also prowl through they’re looking for great questions, things that are on your mind that I can answer for you on the show. I think today’s question came to us from Facebook. 

You know what, let’s just jump right in, I probably have things that I could mention about updates and stuff. But let’s just not, let’s just not today, let’s just jump right into our question right into our topic, and see where this goes. So the question that came in is from a Jane, and she says, “Hello. I’ve been listening to your podcast for years, and it’s helped me so much.” Yay, I am so happy to hear that. That’s really why I make these. So thank you. And she goes on to say, “For the first time, I have built a healthy, long-term relationship with a guy, and I’m so happy. I had a question I’d love for you to answer in a podcast or blog, which is, how do you know if you should marry the guy?” 

She says, “I’m in my mid-20s, and loads of my friends are facing this question, as am I. You’ve been with someone for a couple of years. It’s good, but it’s not perfect. Do you break up and look for more, or is he the one?” Big stuff. Jane, I’m gonna call you, Jane, thank you so much for posing this question. Also just for giving a voice to the question that I think so many people in your position have. 

I would just also like to say that this is a very wise question because, you know, one of the things that we know from research is that the quality of your marriage has one of the biggest impacts on not just the quality of your life but I mean, your subjective happiness, your health, your financial success, among other things, all kind of tie back in to how’s your primary relationship going. 

As a marriage counselor, I have seen this work beautifully for people who, their relationship with their husband or wife is at the center of their lives. It is the main relationship that everything is based around, it is the ‘we’, that there’s homemaking and parenting and, and finances and jobs and that you are a team that goes forward into the next, rest of your life holding hands and together and when that is working well, it is such a strength. It is greater than the sum of its parts too. When it’s, when hurting, when it’s not good, it is, I think, bigger than just that because it takes energy out of so many other parts of your life. So I think it’s really important that you’re answering this question. 

I personally have a number of opinions on this subject, but I get tired of listening to myself talk sometimes. So to actually go there and discuss issues related to compatibility, I have actually tapped one of my colleagues here at Growing Self, we are going to be talking to Dr. Georgiana. She works with us. She’s part of our team. She does marriage counseling, relationship coaching, premarital counseling, but she also has dating, coaching, and a lot of it. And she has a very interesting take on matters of compatibility. So I thought I would toss this over to her first, and then we will come back and discuss. So Dr. Georgiana, thank you so much for joining me again, on the podcast; it’s always such a treat to talk to you. Thank you.

Dr. Georgiana S.: Thank you. I’m glad to be here. 

Dr. Lisa: Yeah, it was always such a treat to talk with you. So I invited you on the show today to talk about a very specific issue that we get a lot of questions about, and you have a lot of insight into.

Let’s talk today about what makes people compatible versus what makes people incompatible? I know that’s a big question, but where should we start?

Dr. Georgiana: It’s interesting, when people hear the word compatibility, they’re usually talking about fit. Most people have a series of qualities that they’re looking for. And if they find those qualities, they tell themselves that they have found an adequate mate. 

Dr. Lisa: Qualities like what? What are we talking about right now? 

Dr. Georgiana: Like positive traits. Like, you know, being funny or being kind, being a strong worker, or having certain values. So people are looking for qualities, and the way in which I work though, it’s only half of the task of finding a partner, finding qualities. So if you Google the word compatibility, you’re going to find the following definition. It says, “a state in which two things are able to exist or occur together without problems or conflict.”

Dr. Lisa: Okay.

Dr. Georgiana: So this is an interesting definition because it suggests that while most people focus on finding someone who likes the same things as they do, like, you know, playing tennis or like to go dancing, this definition and my perspective, based on my work, suggests that the problem is not so much compatibility, as it is conflict.

Dr. Lisa: So the part of the definition of compatibility is meaning kind of getting along without issues. You’re saying that the conflictual part is a bigger deal than what you might have in common? That is what people often look at, are we compatible or not?

Dr. Georgiana: Yeah, most people say, ”If I find a compatible partner, we like the same thing, we have the same values, then we’re gonna have a good relationship.” I think this is why many couples end up separating. Because they don’t take into account the negative traits that are going to make them miserable until it’s too late, right? They’re married, they have a couple of children, they have property together, and so they’ll hang on until they can’t do it anymore, or their partner leaves. So think about it. Think about it this way. How many people do you know who separated because of their partner’s qualities? Or because of compatibility? So they separate because of their partner’s negative traits.

Dr. Lisa: Okay. So give us an example. Alright, so you’re saying qualities are like, you know, good work ethic, they like the same kind of music, they make me laugh, those are sort of positive qualities. But you’re saying that it’s actually more important to look at negative traits or character traits. What would some examples of those be?

Dr. Georgiana: Well, okay, so, um, so the complete assessment will have to focus on both of them. And so the absence of negative traits, right, okay. Things that are negotiable, either you don’t like that are negotiable, and things that are non-negotiable for you. So you have to set aside emotions; that’s the important thing. I know it’s hard for people to understand that because we are, we’re brought up to focus on positive traits, and we’re brought up to focus on emotions and emotions are great. It’s a difficult concept to accept. But, you know, without emotions, life is boring and unappealing. 

I’m not suggesting to cut up feelings. But I’m proposing that you put them aside momentarily, in order to see the reality of things. And so by doing that, you’ll be able to be safe, and more confident, you can make the right choice, right. Examples are, would be, let’s say, things that are non-negotiable, like impulse control issues, you know. 

Dr. Lisa: So when you say negotiable versus non-negotiable, what do you mean? Like, things that are negotiable to you versus non-negotiable to you? Or what do you mean by that?

Dr. Georgiana: Well, negotiables are things that you don’t like necessarily, but you’re willing to compromise on to a certain degree or, to a certain extent. So maybe you’re saying to your partner, it’s okay if you’re messy, as long as when I walk into the bathroom, you’ve picked up the towels off the floor. So you negotiate, you know, “If you do this, then I’m willing to accept that.” There are a lot of things you meet halfway right, on things that you’re not crazy about. Those are the negotiables. And then there are the things that are completely non-negotiable. 

Dr. Lisa: Like the impulse control problems that you mentioned. So what would be some other examples of things? And well then I guess this is a very individual thing because what one person could live with, another person couldn’t live with. So maybe a better question would be, how might one get clear about what is actually a non-negotiable or a deal-breaker versus something that they might not love, but that they could live with?

Dr. Georgiana: Well, I mean, you know, yourself, you have to start with self-awareness, right? Understanding what is going to make you miserable, and what is going to make you feel resentful, and want to leave the relationship. People know what that is. But sometimes they negotiate those things. They tell themselves that because all these other qualities are there in the partner that they’re, it’s okay for them to have a few things that are going to drive them crazy. 

Sure, if those things are in the negotiable category, that means that you can tolerate them to some extent. It’s not going to make you resentful and distance yourself from the person, then it’s fine. But as soon as this is something that crosses a line for you, that is against your values that you can’t, really can’t live with, and put yourself in danger or your children in danger, then we are talking about non-negotiables. 

It is personal, but at the same time, there are some things that are universal. You know, like nobody wants someone who’s immature or someone who has an addiction, or I mean, a lot of people have addictions, and it depends on what kind of addiction, too, and the impact of the addiction, to some extent. People have delusions or harmful beliefs, inability to care or bond with others. Someone who has a really negative outlook on life, on themselves and they, you know, they can’t enjoy life, who has no coping strategy. 

There are a bunch of things that fall into that category, and everyone has to sit down and decide what those non-negotiables are. Then when you go out there and look for a partner, you have to have that and those things in the forefront of your mind and look to see if that person has these traits or not. Because you know that that’s what’s gonna make you miserable. So that’s the evaluation.

Dr. Lisa: Okay, and so what you’re saying then is that a lot of people reverse that. They go out looking for the positive, shiny, sparkly parts and get all enamored with that piece, but in doing so, maybe they overlook or minimize other aspects of somebody’s personality that are actually not okay, long-term. Is that it?

Dr. Georgiana: Yeah, exactly. Because we tend to want to be happy. We want to be happy. We want to find— qualities are loaded in a way, I mean, looking for qualities, because we tend to idolize. Let’s say that you had a great father. So you’re going to be looking for a partner who has similar qualities, as your father did. You really want to find someone who has those qualities. Maybe you’ll find part of it, and you say, “Oh, my God, I found someone who’s as good as my dad, I’m going to be happy,” right? This is unconscious a little bit. 

You’re going to be with that person, marry that person, possibly overlooking some of the traits that they have that are going to make you miserable. Because you want that so much. Or someone who really wanted to have a baby and there, you know, a woman was reaching a certain age where they said, “I need to have a baby because I’m 39.” That person is going to be motivated to find a partner, and so they find someone who has this great quality that maybe they already have a child, and they’re a great father, and all they really want to have a child with them. So that’s the motivation for marrying or for staying with that person is that one trait, that one quality.

Dr. Lisa: Got it, that kind of eclipses the other maybe more negative traits, at least, you know, in the beginning. Well, and there’s a physiological component to this too. I mean, early-stage, romantic love does have an intoxicating kind of quality to it. Everything is funnier when you’re drinking or something is that when you are romantically sizzling for an irreplaceable other, it actually does alter your state of consciousness and make you view them much more positively than you might if you didn’t have your love goggles on, that’s a thing. 

You’re saying that it’s really important to get clear about the things that are just non-starters for you, as well as the things that you’re looking for. But also, what I think you’re saying in here is that there’s also a wide range of things that might not be what you love, love, love, and yet, in order to have a good relationship, you do need to negotiate or be tolerant and that really ties into what we know from Dr. John Gottman’s research, that most of the ‘issues’ people have with each other are unsolvable problems. They really are related to personality traits, values, really kind of hardwired permanent things. Being able to be flexible, open, and accommodating, even though somebody isn’t perfect, is another important part of this.

How would one kind of figure out, you know, can I live with this or not? How do people start drawing that line between “Is this something that I just need to accept?” versus “Is this really a deal-breaker for me?” Because that can be hard to know, especially if you really want things to work, right?

Dr. Georgiana: Well, I guess the more experience you have in relationships, the more you’re going to know what is a non-negotiable for you. I mean, at the beginning it is a little hard, you know, it’s trial and error, but in each relationship, it’s going to be different. You’re going to find someone for example, an example I used earlier, that you can’t take a shower because you know their stuff is everywhere. That will be the issue to negotiate. The important thing is to find a partner who is willing and able, and I mean able as well, to negotiate. 

Dr. Lisa: I see.

Dr. Georgiana: If that thing is non-negotiable for them, then it’s a problem. So, for example, someone, “I don’t want someone telling me what to do. And if I want to be messy, I want to be messy. And I want to leave things where I want to leave things.” If that’s the other person’s attitude, and they’re not negotiating that thing, then instead of being a negotiable, it becomes a non-negotiable. 

Dr. Lisa: I get it. Well because it’s not about being messy or not, it’s about somebody’s willingness to accommodate your preferences. 

Dr. Georgiana: Yeah, to meet you halfway. In a relationship, it is about the middle ground; it’s about the middle line of finding a place in between your needs and the other person’s needs. 

Dr. Lisa: Right. 

Dr. Georgiana: If someone is not willing to negotiate a particular thing, then that means it’s non-negotiable for them for x reason. And at that time, you have to ask yourself, can I really live with that or not? Can I accept this non-negotiable with my partner? Like, for example, you marry someone, and one of their non-negotiables is that they want to live in another country for a certain amount of years, and you have your whole family living where you live currently. That may be a non-negotiable for your partner, they want to go and live 10 years in Europe. 

You have to ask yourself, can I negotiate this? Am I willing to meet this person halfway or even the whole way? If you can’t negotiate this issue, then this is a non-negotiable for both of you. And in my view, this ends the relationship. 

Dr. Lisa: Wow. Okay, so I mean, very important to get as much clarity as you can, going into these things, particularly on hearing the big stuff: values, hopes and dreams, the way people give and receive love. 

Let me ask you this, though, what do you do with sleepers? So you know, I mean, if somebody is in a long-term relationship, they evolve. And I talk with people all the time, who, goodness, my own marriage, I mean, been together over 20 years, I am not the same person that I was when we first got together, and neither is my husband. Both of us have changed both in our personalities, and some of our values, and all kinds of things. 

What about when, over time, perhaps things become a big deal or even, like become known. Because even in the early stages of a relationship, there might be a lot more, to use your language, negative personality traits. I don’t want to use the word hidden, but that things don’t really come out sometimes until you’re a few years in. So there’s the part about how people change, but also just like getting, takes a long time to get to know people. What do you do with those?

Dr. Georgiana: Well, I mean, I guess if you are young, people will evolve and change a lot. And also depends on life circumstances. I mean, if you get traumatized halfway through, obviously, that’s going to change you. You have huge life experiences that come up. But by a certain age, your personality traits are pretty fixed, more or less. The older you are, the easier it is to actually evaluate partners. Because if it’s not circumstantial, if it’s circumstantial, it’s not that ingrained. You can work with that. 

You’re talking about the deeper issues. Of course, there are things that people could have been traumatized, and they don’t even remember and then all of a sudden, the trauma comes back up. But if someone has an addiction, and they could get addicted halfway through, for example. But there are certain things that make it more likely that these things are going to come up, like, for example, an addiction, or abuse. 

Let’s take abuse for a second. How do you know if someone is going to be abusive if they have never been abusive with you? So when you meet someone, you fall in love, and they seem to be very kind, they’re very focused on you, and all of a sudden, three years after you marry them, they become abusive. So how could you have known? There are certain traits and behaviors that make it more likely that this person will be abusive. When you’re looking for negative traits, that then will end up being behaviors. 

For example, in abuse, you’re looking for certain things: inability to control impulses and ability to control emotions, impulse control, I mean, controlling behavior, possible immaturity, narcissism. So these are traits that are there that will facilitate the abuse. You start looking for traits that will then manifest in different behaviors. Like control issues, maybe the person is impulsive, well it’s more likely that down the line, they will be addicted. It’s more likely down the line that they’ll be gambling because they already have these traits that are already pretty ingrained. You don’t really necessarily look at behavior as much, or you do look at behavior, but you also look at traits.

Dr. Lisa: Okay, and so, what you’re saying is, I think what I’m hearing is even though, maybe none of this is getting directed towards you in the early stages of a relationship, it’s wise to consider that if somebody is throwing chairs out the window, and drinking too much, and doing things that you’re like, “Wow,” to pay attention to those. Because that could suggest that there is trouble down the road, to take it seriously and think about how it might evolve if some of that starts getting directed towards you, or if your life gets more entangled with a person who has those kinds of ways of being. Is that it?

Dr. Georgiana: Yeah, and you know, it doesn’t necessarily have to be directed towards you at the beginning. Sometimes you just have to evaluate, for example, the quality of the relationship a potential partner has with other people, and that you will see it there more rarely, I mean, faster than you will see it with you. Because people are on their best behavior at the beginning, right? You’re dating and they want to show you their best side. But then, you go to their office meeting, and then you talk to someone and you start finding out there’s conflict with one particular person. 

It’s important for you to find out what kind of conflict they have. What is the issue? What happened? Let’s say that they, you know, got into a physical fight outside of the office one time. This is important behavior; it may not manifest with you, but it will manifest somewhere if you’re paying attention. If you’re saying, “Oh, yeah, but the person is great with me that they treat me like—”

Dr. Lisa: I’m different. 

Dr. Georgiana: Yeah, “I’m different. He or she loves me,” and these are things you tell yourself, but at the same time, if they just had a fistfight in the office with a coworker, you know that there’s a potential for problems. So you have to look in different areas of the person’s life. And you have to assume that whatever they manifest on the outside will manifest with you. 

Dr. Lisa: Yeah. Okay. So then, we talked about certainly one cluster of things to look at, which are anger issues, impulse control problems, substance abuse issues. What are some other things that could suggest possible problems down the road?

Dr. Georgiana: Well, I mean, anything that you’re going to be unhappy about. So one thing is about fit. So if we talked about fit at the beginning. Some things don’t fit. Like, let’s say that you are from a certain religion. You, really, that’s a non-negotiable for you, you want to raise your children to be from a certain religion. So these things you have to evaluate. Obviously, this is something most people will evaluate, but there are other things. Or you want someone who is positive. So there are personal non-negotiables, things that relate to a fit that you have to look at. 

Can I really be happy not having these things in my life? So it’s personal. Basically, some things are standard, and other things are very personal depending on who you are and what you would like, and what you don’t like. 

Dr. Lisa: Yeah. I felt, I don’t know, I mean, maybe, I don’t know if you see it the same way. But I have also found it to be true that if the good parts are good enough in a relationship, it can really smooth over a lot of things that aren’t as good. You know that there, if you really, genuinely cultivating an appreciation for the positive characteristics of your partner, it makes the negative one seem less impactful somehow. Have you found that? Or do you not see that as so? 

Dr. Georgiana: I don’t agree with that. I mean, because when you’re talking about non-negotiables, there are deal-breakers. There some things are, if there are non-negotiables, we’re talking about, it doesn’t matter if the person has certain characteristics that are— it just doesn’t matter. If you’re talking about negotiables, yes. Some things that you’re not crazy about, you give people leeway, because they have all these qualities, and it doesn’t matter so much. 

That means that it doesn’t matter so much to you. It’s not in the category of a deal-breaker. I don’t think that you can negotiate non-negotiables, and that’s the point. It’s that the person can have a long list. I mean, I’ve had people come into my office who have been abused by their partner. When you ask them “Why are you with this person?” They said, “Well, they, he loves me,” or “She loves me,” or “He’s such a great dad,” or “She’s such a great dad,” or, you know, “He listens to me,” or “She listens to me.” But he beat you up. 

Dr. Lisa: Yeah, got it. Okay, I hear what you’re saying that these things are so big and egregious that it’s like the house is on fire, and you just got to go.

Dr. Georgiana: Or the person is, you know, is gambling and you will end up without a house. I mean, it doesn’t matter whether they are great or not. And that’s the— I mean, it is an extreme position to take.

Dr. Lisa: Well, but you’ve been doing this a long time, and you’ve seen a lot of things, and you’ve seen the end of the road. What I think I’m hearing in you today is almost a cautionary tale of, don’t overlook these warning flags, and get yourself into a situation like some of the people that I see 5, 10, 15, 20 years down the road who prioritized the fun parts and overlooked these really negative traits and paid for that decision in some way or another.

Dr. Georgiana: Yeah. I mean, I think people can benefit from having more training and evaluating partners, and assessing and understanding what is it that they’re looking for. What is it that they’re looking to avoid in general? And how to see it. What does that mean that someone just threw a cup because they were upset? What does that mean in the context of a whole life? Does that mean that is a momentary thing, that is a circumstance? 

There’s some things that are circumstantial. For example, if you have a loss in your life, obviously, you’re going to be, your behavior is going to be affected. When you look at that person, you’re going to say, “Well, they’re grieving. And so they’re shorter, they have less patience. They’re upset, they’re angry.” But that’s different. Circumstantial things are different than personality traits. You learn how to evaluate whether this is something that is permanent or is something that is circumstantial.

Dr. Lisa: That’s hard to figure out, though, because, and especially if you’re excited and in love, it’s easy to excuse other people’s behaviors. “Well, he had a hard day.” “He had a headache.” That kind of thing. Versus what is a personality trait? Perhaps one clue is, does it keep happening? Is it just like a one-time thing? Or are you seeing it in different circumstances over time? Is he also doing road rage? Is he also yelling at a waiter? Is he also kicking your dog? Like, you know, I mean, that these, all of these things can start to add up. Were you about to say something?

Dr. Georgiana: No. I was just trying to think about giving people more, a better idea of how to evaluate this, but this is something you just need to observe and listen; talk to people around you in that person’s life. If you have a chance, a lot of people when they date, they just spend a lot of time by themselves. I mean, at the beginning, you just want to be together, especially when sexuality kicks in. You just spent a lot of time in bed, or you just, and you don’t go out, and you’re not exposed to their friends, their family, their co-workers. 

I say to people, every opportunity you have of seeing that person in context in their lives is an opportunity for you to see how they function, and see the good and the bad, and see how they manage relationships, how they are with other people, whether they listen to other people, what kind of relationship they have with their siblings, and what kind of relationship they have with their parents, and how patient are they with others? 

You start creating a picture of a person’s functionality in context because you’re going to have to deal with this person not only relating to you, but relating to the neighbor, relating to your siblings, your own siblings, relating to their own family— 

Dr. Lisa: Your kids, should you have them together. 

Dr. Georgiana: Your kids together. So it’s not just about how that person acts with you. It’s about how that person functions in the world and is able to relate to the world in general. 

Dr. Lisa: I would just like to add here, to piggyback on what you’re saying, that to be able to see, observe people in different contexts and see how they handle themselves. I think that it is often a good idea, and I don’t know about you, but I think a lot of times what I find myself doing as a dating coach is, people will ask me things like, “Is this normal?” Or, “This happened. What do you think about that?” And getting some feedback, either from a coach or a group can be a great way, and even if it’s just your guy friends, your girlfriends, like, “Hey, what do you think about this?” 

The perspective of others, I think can add, like, even though you might be intoxicated by love, somebody else could have a more realistic perspective of, “No, I think that’s actually not normal,” or that “This could be problematic.” To have another set of eyes on it almost.

Dr. Georgiana: Yeah, that’s a good point: to listen to other people’s perspectives and views. Often children are very good at that. A little bit older children when they say, “I don’t like your potential partner,” or your new boyfriend, or new girlfriend. Listen to that. Don’t assume that it’s because they’re jealous or because they don’t want you to be, they want you to be with their parents. So listen to what their perspective is; children are very perceptive. Because they can spot emotion, negative emotions really well, and danger. Children are very aware of what makes them safe when not. So if a child says, “I don’t like that person,” have a conversation.

Dr. Lisa: Yeah. This is making me think of a conversation I once had, when I was doing my doctoral internship. And my supervisor at the time was a very seasoned marriage and family therapist, Dr. Smith, and he was like a 70s style, you know, family therapist, but we were talking about a case one time, and it was a family and I was trying to get my head around what was going on, and there was a young child. 

He said, if you ever want to know the truth about what’s going on in a family, ask the 5-year old. They will always spill the beans. Just what you’re saying right now reminds me of that. There’s a lot of wisdom around that. I think that the bigger takeaway here is that you know, to be mindful if you are minimizing what other people are saying: your friends, family, kids, and making excuses, and to let some of that in, is what I’m hearing from you. 

Dr. Georgiana: Yeah. So evaluate it. You may decide that you don’t agree, and that’s totally fine. If you find that, you know, you may find the child reacted to something that was circumstantial, like we just said, maybe the, your partner just had a loss and is a little bit shorter, right? Impatient. So you may know something that the other people don’t know. 

At the same time, I think you have to take on information, and that’s the most important thing. Watch, and evaluate and take on as much information as you can. Because you are evaluating your husband, or wife, or someone who’s going to be in your life for the next forty years. That’s a long, long stretch.

Dr. Lisa: It really is. What I also see people do, and I think that people are not doing this consciously a lot of the time. But I think that people will often tell themselves that their person can change, and grow, and learn, and be different. So, “After we’re married.” Or, “After we’re out of school.” Or, “After we move out of New Jersey.” Or, “After we have a kid.” Like there’s always this, some hope that things are going to change or be different. 

What I have found to be an interesting question to ask is, “What would be different for you, if this as it is now, is the way that it always actually will be?” Sometimes, that can, I mean, I’ve talked to people before, and they’re sort of like, you know, just not that I intended to do this, but kind of just deflated, like I just knocked the wind out of them or something. Because, to arrive at that, “Oh, no, this is actually how it is, and how it always will be,” can shift something. I think that people are like, “No, I don’t actually want to keep doing this for the next 40 years.”

Dr. Georgiana: Women tend to do that more. Because, you know, women are nurturers and so they believe that they can influence, that they can change others. But if you have an important point: that you have to assume that whatever you see, besides the circumstances you already know about, it is the way it’s going to be. And so the question is, “Can I live with this for the next 40 years, or 50 years, or 30 years, or whatever amount of time?”

Dr. Lisa: Oh, I’m sorry. Go ahead, finish your thought. 

Dr. Georgiana: Go ahead. 

Dr. Lisa: Well, I was also just going to say here that now, as we’re talking about this, there’s this other part of like, I can almost hear this voice in my head, “But, but!” I think it’s because, you know, you and I are both in the personal growth business, right? I mean, and I think that that is what we both believe that people are capable of changing, and growing, and learning, and maturing. Thinking back on my own life, there have probably been some junctures in my own marriage, where if I was like, “I cannot live with us one more day,” we probably could have gotten divorced. 

Instead, kind of riding it through, and we both grew and changed. I think that one of the things that I love about you is that I think, you know, I’m like this kind of optimist, and you’re very, like a realist, just because you’ve seen so many things. 

What, from your realistic perspective, is a sign that okay, yes, you have determined that there is something that is not negotiable happening that it cannot go on? And what is a sign that growth and change could be possible? That even though your partner is not currently functioning in such a way that feels promising, what are some signs that it could be salvageable? So if you get into good marriage counseling, or if they decide to do some personal growth work. I mean, what are some signs?

Dr. Georgiana: Well, obviously taking responsibility, you know. And understanding the impact that your actions have on other people, on you, in particular, and your family, your children, and all that. I think if someone is willing and able to do it, those are the two things: willing, is taking responsibility, being willing to do what it takes even you know, getting into counseling, or finding within the strength to actually change. Because sometimes it’s not easy to change. If you see that the person is doing, putting 100% in, or at least is looking for solutions and is not relying on you to do it, for example, to help them change, then you have hope. 

As long as they stick to it because sometimes people start and then they don’t, so you can give them a chance. But they have to follow through, and if you find that the person is not able to follow through because they’re too impulsive, and so, therefore, they don’t stick to it. Or they really don’t want to change, either they want to keep the relationship but in the end, they really like their addiction, or they really like to be impulsive, and go out there, and buy motorcycles, and not have enough for their mortgage. So if you see that, and for that, you need to look at some other traits, like level of maturity, things that are necessary for you to change, there are certain characteristics that are necessary for a person to actually change. 

Dr. Lisa: Got it, yeah. Yeah, and that just taking responsibility and expressing a desire and an understanding is an important part of that.

Dr. Georgiana: Yeah, and follow-through. And then stay with it and have a vision. That person has to have a vision of the outcome. I think what motivates people to change is to know what the end result is going to be. When you have a goal, and I teach people in my office how to achieve it, you have to have that image of the outcome. Then you can draw the steps to get there, but the result is the most important thing. 

Once you have that vision, and you’re able to keep it, because some people have an image that they want, like, for example, they want to buy a house, but then they also want to go out to dinner, they also want to buy themselves a new car, they also want to— so they lose track of the ultimate goal, which is, “I need to save for that house.” So I think that the capacity to lock into a vision, and stick to it is important in changing.

Dr. Lisa: Yeah, I completely agree. Okay, and now, I have like 87 questions I could ask you, and I know that our time together is limited, but let me ask you this: just to be difficult, if we were also to look at this from the other side. Because as you and I both know, working as dating coaches, or people in relationships that are feeling hard, you and I have both encountered people who have perhaps very high standards for themselves and for their partners, and who may have a very long list of non-negotiables that would be really hard for anybody to live up to. 

They may discard possible relationships because maybe they have almost unrealistic expectations of what other human beings are actually capable of. How do you know if, I mean, clearly, you’re bringing up things like substance abuse, physical abuse, like spending all your money, like those kinds of things are, are pretty easy. But I’m thinking more like, along the lines of things that, you know, certainly feel important, maybe they’re tied to your values, but also that it may be worth exploring. 

Where do we all need to bend sometimes in order to have good enduring relationships with others? Does that make sense?

Dr. Georgiana: Well, absolutely. I think most things should be negotiable. You should have most of your requirements in the next category, then a few in the non-negotiable category. So, if someone has most of the requirements in the non-negotiable category, then they will not find a partner, or they will find a partner, but it will end because nobody can tolerate their demands. 

So those people will not be, you know, in a relationship very long. 

On the other hand, the other person may have a non-negotiable, someone who’s flexible. They want someone who is not going to have high demands, and will be critical, and be on top of them, micromanaging all the time. And so then that person is going to leave you because their requirements or their non-negotiables are that they do not want someone who is controlling and someone who’s never satisfied with anything. 

There you go. So then that person will actually leave the relationship. And the person who ends up alone and eventually is going to say, “Why am I alone all the time?” And that’s when insight happens. You know, “Maybe my requirements, my expectations are too high.” Maybe you know, if the teacup is not placed just so, then it’s fine. Or the towels are not lined up correctly, fine, too. You know, who actually dated someone who, the partner was very upset if the towels were not hanging just so in the hanger? Can you tolerate that? I mean, so the other person is not going to stay lost in there. So it will fix itself, obviously, over time.

Dr. Lisa: Yeah, the patterns in your own life can give you an indication if there are some blind spots that maybe you have, the things that seem like they make sense, the way that you’re showing up in relationships with other people that you get feedback from that. 

Dr. Georgiana: Yeah, but you have a good point. Because, you know, we all have expectations, and sometimes they’re unrealistic. So you have to ask yourself, “How realistic are these expectations?” If you want someone– I have clients who are very religious, and so some of them want some, you know, a partner who goes to church, or to, you know, pray, you know, five times a week. So unless you are from the same religion, or maybe that person feels like that’s too much. Maybe that’s a non-negotiable for you. So you have to put these things on the table at the beginning, and let the other person know what they’re expecting, what to expect. 

Dr. Lisa: Yeah, got it. Okay. So last tips. If you’re in a situation with someone, maybe you’re a couple months into a dating relationship, and you’re thinking, in your view, as a relationship coach, as a dating coach, what is the, not just kindness, but also a healthiest, best way for both of you to end something gracefully?

Dr. Georgiana: Well, I mean, I guess you have to end relationships with kindness. But you have to do it when you’re sure. Because the worst thing that can happen is that you go back and forth, and back and forth, and back and forth. That’s not good for the other person, and it’s not good for you to do that. It happens a lot because you still love the person, and they do have their qualities. So you have to consult them, and you have to evaluate whether you can go on and live a whole life. Imagine if you can stay another 20 years with that person. If you decide you can, it’s a matter of finding the strength to actually follow through. 

It’s important to make a plan of action and set up the steps that you’re going to take. Choose the moment, choose a place to discuss it with a person. Sometimes it may not be a good thing to let the person know that you’re leaving them at home. You don’t know how the person is going to react. Maybe you should go for dinner, or you should go for a coffee or in a place where there are other people around. So it depends on the circumstances. But you need to think about it. You cannot be impulsive, like “Okay, I’m leaving you.” 

Dr. Lisa: Right. Like an angry thing. For sure. 

Dr. Georgiana: Like that angry thing. It has to be something planned and something that you’ve thought of about the impact that they have. I mean, if they just had a loss, for example, maybe you wait until they finish grieving, you know, when to leave someone in the middle of the major—? But it’s important to keep your—

Dr. Lisa: Do you think it’s worth having a conversation with somebody before that thing? “I’m really struggling with this. I know we’ve had fights about it, and those don’t go anywhere. But I really, I don’t know if I can keep doing this with you. If this, whatever it is, doesn’t change. Are you interested in doing that with me, or is this where things end for us?” Do you think it’s helpful to have that conversation?

Dr. Georgiana: Absolutely. There should be several conversations about that, where you evaluate whether the partner’s willing, again, to meet you halfway and whether they’re willing to negotiate. So if you say, “I find myself really unhappy with this situation, and I don’t feel close to you. I feel angry. I don’t want to be angry, and I want to resolve this issue.” These are the things that are the minimum requirements for this situation. “I want to know yours, and I would like to know how we can work this out, if we can work this out.” 

If the person says, “Yes, I’m going to do these other things that I’m going to do,” then you should expect that they will change it. And if not you have another conversation and say, “Well, you know, you said you were going to do these things, you haven’t done them. Is there any particular reason why you’re not doing them?” If you start seeing that the person is just saying, “Yes, yes, yes.” Well, then at that point, you need to leave.

Dr. Lisa: Yeah. And, I will also just to set everybody’s expectations. I feel like sometimes, it’s easy for us shrinks to talk about change like it is easy. The truth is that for many people, it takes a long time, I mean, not years, not usually, but certainly, months to really make a big shift in the way you think, the way you behave, the way you feel. The process is not typically one of willpower, you know what I mean? Where somebody can just decide to be different, and then go be different. Most people need some support or ideas around, “How do I actually, not yell when I’m starting to feel angry and instead do some breathing and have a conversation instead?” 

There are really micro-skills that are certainly learnable. As opposed to it being like, yes, yes, no, I’m forever different. Do you see your partner reading some books, looking for online programs, going and talking to somebody? Looking for strategies and using them that even if it’s not perfect, and that you see them working on it. I just wanted to say that, because I would also hate for somebody to take from this conversation that people can just decide to change, and then poof, be different because that is not actually how this works.

Dr. Georgiana: No, absolutely right. It’s not easy to change. Oftentimes, you know, some of these behaviors and perspectives are ingrained from the beginning, when you’re a child. The important thing is the willingness and the resourcefulness. So if you reach out, for example, if you have a tax problem, you go find an accountant, or if you have a legal problem, you go find an attorney. So there are people in our profession that are available to help. So we have enough experience and know-how to move someone from A to B. It is important for people to understand that it may be difficult for them and to reach out. That’s part of, too, from a partner’s point of view: is this person willing to reach out?

Dr. Lisa: Yeah, exactly. Thank you so much for your time today, and for your willingness to come on the show and talk about these things. This is a wonderful conversation. So you’ll have to come back sometime, and we’ll talk about other things. Okay? 

Dr. Georgiana: Absolutely. It’s been a pleasure, Lisa. 

Dr. Lisa: So, my dear Jane, we had Dr. Georgiana weigh in on her thoughts about compatibility and the most important things to look for. So you asked, “How do I know if I should marry the guy? Is this as good as it’s gonna get? Is there something better out there for me?” I wonder what you thought about some of what you heard Dr. G and I discussing. 

She brings up some great points around how bad is bad, and if we like, X-ed out the good side of the equation, which I think is such an interesting take on this. But if we X-ed out the things that you like about this person: he’s cute, he has a good sense of humor, he does a good job, whatever it is, you like the same music, and you just looked at the parts of this relationship that are hard. How hard is hard? How bad is it? If you were to just assume for a second that the negative aspects of this relationship aren’t going to change, would you still want to do this with him? 

Now, I, of course, have a little bit of a different perspective, because I, in my experience, have also seen that people can and do change, and learn, and grow in service of their relationships. That’s what I do, is help people make positive changes. On the other side of this, is there enough here for you to put in the time, and energy, and effort to see if there are parts of this relationship that can improve? Would he be open to coming to premarital counseling with you and talking about some of these things, so that you can both make sure that you’re the best partners for each other? I see it all the time. 

Nobody teaches you how to be good at relationships. This is stuff we all have to figure out. It’s stuff that we learned from our families, heaven help us. We all come into this doing what we did or saw have happened in our families of origin in terms of the way we communicate, how we show each other love, how we care for each other, what our priorities are when it comes to relationships. These are also largely coachable skills, too. You know, we can learn how to communicate. I, over the years, have had to learn how to show my husband love in the ways that are really more meaningful for him, and vice versa. 

One last thing, I will not go into this right now for interests of time, but I will refer you back to a podcast that I did a while ago that was around finding your soulmate, aspects of compatibility, that really talks more about other types of personality factors when it comes to things like what sorts of things are most important to each of you as determined by your sort of biologically-based personality, for example. Does one of you have a very high need for order and predictability and, you know, getting up and going to work every day and cleaning your garage and getting a great deal of satisfaction and seeing the numbers in your IRA grow? Or does one of you have a very high need for novelty and adventure? Maybe you’re not that motivated by money. But really, if you don’t feel like you’re out in the world, doing new things, you feel like you’re dying inside?

I think those are also really important things when it comes to sharing a life with a person, not again, that you have to be the same as the other person. But can you love and respect that other person for who they are? And can they love and respect you for who you are? Not even just love and respect, but also be willing to support each other in being the types of people and having the types of life that would really make you happy, even if that isn’t how they would be made happy necessarily? So is there that kindness and generosity there?

I can’t imagine that you asked that question thinking that there would be a, “No, break up with him,” kind of response. But it has certainly elicited a discussion and some ideas. So as I talked about, in my last podcast around horrible therapy, no counselor or coach would ever tell you what to do when it comes to making that kind of decision. But they certainly would start asking you some of these kinds of questions, and help you come to your own authentic answer. 

Even better is if your boyfriend would do this with you, because I think that there would be no greater thing than for both of you to go into a potential marriage with your eyes open, really being prepared to give each other what it takes to make each other happy for a lifetime. Or to decide together that, “You know what? Maybe we are different people. Maybe we do need different things. Maybe the things about me that probably aren’t going to change are actually deal-breakers for you or vice versa,” and parting as friends and releasing each other back to the universe to go find a better match. That would be a blessing to both of you.

Again, I hope this podcast has given you lots of things to think about. Thank you so much for asking your question. I hope you get back in touch again. And thank you for listening to the Love, Happiness, and Success podcast.


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