Relationship Compatibility: Finding Your Soulmate

Relationship Compatibility: Finding Your Soulmate

Relationship Compatibility

Is your relationship compatible? Am I in the “right” relationship? How do I find my soulmate?

Many people show up for Denver dating coaching and online dating coaching or even marriage counseling with a lot of angst around these unanswered questions.

People in every stage of dating life wonder if their relationship is compatible. 

People going on their first few dates wonder if they’ve found “the one.” 

Premarital couples sometimes worry whether they’re compatible enough to get married. 

And even married couples and people who have been partnered for a long time wonder if their “perpetual problems” keep coming up because they don’t have relationship compatibility.

I’m simply glad that people are asking these kinds of relationship questions. After all, who you choose to marry is going to have a greater impact on the quality of your life and your long-term happiness than just about anything else. So you should want to know if you’re really relationship compatible with them.

But it’s not always easy to guess compatibility at a glance. Everyone is a mixed bag, with qualities that are both delightful and frustrating as all get out (sometimes one quality can be both!). So how do you determine which qualities are red flags, or signs that you’re fundamentally incompatible? How do you figure out which differences are okay, and which are signals that it won’t be a good relationship? When do opposites not just attract, but actually make a partnership stronger?

On today’s episode of the Love, Happiness and Success podcast, I’m going to talk through all these questions with you. But to do this, I need to wear three hats.

Relationship Compatibility in Marriage

First, I’m going to put on my marriage counselor detective cap and talk about the most common culprits that make married couples wonder if they are compatible or not.

Listen and learn what (frustrating!) differences might actually be strengths for your relationship, and what differences are harder to overcome.

I’ll also give you tips on how to build bridges across the gaps in your relationship, and appreciate each other for who you are. 

Want to see an example of this in action? Check out my post: “How Jenny and Greg Fixed Their Relationship.” 

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Relationship Compatibility for Finding Your Soulmate

Next, I’m putting on my dating coach wizard hat to talk about the serious business of finding your soul mate and what relationship compatibility in dating looks like.

Dating is all about “auditioning” people and getting to know them over time. I’ll share the secret of the biggest mistake I see dating people make (but keep it on the down low), and how it can impair their ability to find a true soul mate.

If you are on the dating market, I’ll help you understand what’s important to look for in a potential partner, and what is NOT as important when you’re looking for love. I’m also sharing some practical steps you can take to make sure that you’re finding a good match in terms of both character vs chemistry

Relationship Compatibility for Premarital Couples

Lastly, I’m donning my premarital counselor top hat to talk about some potential premarital pitfalls, and how to avoid them.

If you’re planning a wedding with some lingering questions on your mind, you’ll want to check out the case example I shared about what it looks like when someone is NOT asking the right questions leading up to marriage.

The best time to prevent potential pitfalls is before the wedding. It’s essential to have serious conversations about your personality types, hopes and dreams, and expectations prior to the “I Do’s” if you want true relationship compatibility.

Why? First of all, it’s enormously helpful to get on the same page and identify potential problems before you’re married. But an even bigger reason? Because one of the most serious red flags for a romantic relationship is not being able to talk through important things respectfully. 

If you are literally not able to have “Who are we, what do we each want, and how are we going to get on the same page?” conversations together, you might want to slow down – relationship compatibility might not actually be there.

Relationship Compatibility Test

One of the resources I talked through on the show is Dr. Helen Fisher’s personality test. If you would like to take it for yourself (and/or ask your partner to), you can find it here: https://bit.ly/2cOmEX6. For more information about the ideas behind Dr. Fisher’s compatibility quiz and how they impact people in relationships, I highly recommend her book, “Why Him, Why Her.”

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Relationship Compatibility: Finding Your Soulmate

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

[Intro Song: Pedestrian At Best by Courtney Barnett]

Dr. Lisa: All right, that’s Courtney Barnett with her song, Pedestrian At Best, from her album, Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit. Love her. Worth checking out. If you want to learn more about Courtney Barnett and her music, of course, as always, there is a link about Courtney Barnett and her music to her stuff on iTunes in the show notes of this episode of The Love, Happiness, and Success podcast. You can find this episode on my website, growingself.com if you want to learn more about her and her awesomeness. 

So hi, everyone! I’m excited to be talking to you today, because today, we are going to tackle a big, vexing question that I know a lot of people have, which is trying to figure out if you are with the right person or not. This is very true for people who are dating: online dating, and meeting a lot of different people. Or even sometimes, people that have been partnered for a while can still wonder, “Is this good? Are we compatible? Should I be with this person? Should I be with a different kind of person?” Believe it or not, sometimes people that are already in the pool of marriage can struggle with this question. 

So today I am going to be talking about this and giving you some tips and ideas to help you sort through, “Are you fundamentally compatible with this person? Or is this partnership going to be more difficult than some others?” If you’re dating, maybe you should cut your losses and see about finding somebody who has a temperament or values that are more in line with yours. So I am going to be giving you some pointers to figure that stuff out. But first, a couple of announcements and introductions. 

If this is your first time listening to the show, hi, I am your host, Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby, and I am the Founder and Clinical Director of Growing Self Counseling and Coaching. We’re based in Denver, Colorado. But at this point, we see people all over the world really, we are the world’s counselors and life coaches because we see a lot of people through online video these days, which is super convenient for our clients in Denver who travel but we see clients all over the world: American ex-pats, and when we have a lot of clients in Europe, and the Middle East, believe it or not. There are a lot of people living in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Dubai, who are interested in getting involved in life-coaching, which I didn’t know before I started doing this, but I have since come to learn and welcome it because it’s super interesting and fun. 

So anyway, that’s what I’m doing here. My background, I am trained as a marriage counselor, I’m a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. I also have a Ph.D. in counseling psychology. I’ve trained as a psychologist. After I did all that graduate school, I started to get frustrated with traditional counseling. Because a lot of my clients are like, “Okay, that’s great. But I don’t want to find my own answers. I don’t just want to talk about myself on how I dropped my ice cream cone when I was four; I want solutions to my problems. And I want you to help me figure out an action plan for how I can get from here to there.” That is not something that traditional therapists are taught how to do. Rather, because lest we step on anyone’s good judgment or suggest that we have any of our clients substitute their judgment for our own. 

So therapists are very cautious about giving people specific direction on, “Well, try this.” However, life coaches, that is basically what we do. So certainly don’t tell people what to do, but do offer practical solutions like, “Okay, you’re telling me that this is your problem. And here are some suggestions, some things that you might consider that would help you achieve these goals of yours.” So of course, it’s all very collaborative, but it is more action-oriented. It is, “Okay, thank you for telling me about that problem. But let’s not talk about why you have the problem so much as what you’re going to do about it to make it better.” 

So that’s the difference between counseling and coaching, which has been on my mind because I’m in the process of writing a new article for my blog about that very subject. I’m going to include a quiz with it. So you can do a little assessment of, “Do you need counseling or coaching?” It’s not out yet. I’m going to be releasing it next week. So be sure to check back my website, growingself.com to check that out. Because in addition to this podcast, I do a lot of written articles, too. If you always want to stay up to speed on what’s happening with the podcast or the blog, I would invite you to sign up for my newsletter, which I have kind of embarrassingly entitled, The Love, Happiness, and Success Express because I’m that cheesy. So anyway, you can sign up for my newsletter, and I will not bombard you. But once a month, I’ll just send you a little update of, “Hey, this is what I published on the blog this past month so that you can not miss anything, such as the article about how to tell the difference between whether you need counseling or coaching.” Okay, that’s enough. 

The only other thing that I want to mention to you, Our Lifetime of Love Class, has been such a success that for October, we’re opening up two sections. The class right now is just in person. So if you are around the Denver area, this would be for you. But it’s a six-hour relationship class that is fantastic for premarital couples or even established couples who are not necessarily looking for marriage counseling as much as literally a class. There’s a teacher standing at the front of the room, you’re taking notes, it’s not like sharing, it’s not a group but a class. That is a six-hour class where we talk about communication skills, how to stay connected, some emotional intelligence stuff, but also problem-solving and giving you some good advice on how to get on the same page related to sexuality, finances, setting boundaries with people in your life, lots of good stuff. So anyway, if you want to learn more about that, again, on our website, growingself.com. And you’ll want to check out the relationship section to learn more about that. But we have two sections in October, one is at our Denver location, and one is at our Broomfield location. Okay, so that’s all I’m going to say about that. 

Anyway, let’s move on to our topic at hand, which is how to figure out whether or not you are fundamentally compatible with a romantic partner and whether you’re with the right person. Because, again, this causes so many people so much anxiety. It is a major life decision. Not to add more pressure to the angst, but there has been a fair amount of research around how your choice of life partner is one of the most significant variables in whether or not you’re going to live a long and happy life. If you get that wrong, it can mean a lot of not-so-great consequences down the line, either. If you are in an unhappily married situation long-term, or if you wind up getting divorced, which is not a cakewalk, and I’m not bashing people who do get divorced, I think for some situations, that is the very best thing to do. But it is not an easy path at all. 

My hope for you is that you would not have to go through that at all. So I’d rather you think about this on the front end going into it as opposed to be making some hard decisions down the line. On that note, I am going to be giving you my best advice around things to think about, things that matter, things that don’t matter, when it comes to compatibility from my perspective, as somebody who’s been doing marriage counseling, premarital counseling, also dating coaching for a long time; long enough to work with couples in premarital counseling, and then see them for a couple of touch up sessions after they’re married. Then they come in down the line now, their parents together and maybe they have some new things to talk about. So I have worked with couples at different stages of the lifespan of their relationship and it’s been interesting for me to see how these relationships evolve. Maybe the things that seemed very important when they were dating or before they got married are just of almost no consequence five years later, after they have a couple of kids, whereas other things that maybe they didn’t think as much about are now really the most important thing. So it shifts and so I’m going to be sharing that perspective with you.

I am also going to be dividing this into two categories. You might expect me to talk about things to think about while you’re dating before. I talk about things to think about if you’re already married and going through this conundrum. However, what I have decided to do is divide this into two sections, and I am going to be talking to you married people first. If you are already in the pool, and you have kids, and you’re doing it, I am going to give you some information, things for you to think about so that you can decide whether or not there is fundamental compatibility, or whether or not you need to pull the ripcord. But I would also like for you to think about this in a different way and potentially be able to put more time and energy into making it better and working with what you have, rather than being in a state of regret, maybe for things that you didn’t think about while you were dating. 

So I want you, married people, to listen to the first half of this podcast, and then just go ahead, do yourself a favor, and stop because I don’t want you torturing yourselves by going back to how did I feel about this person when we were dating kinds of things because that’s not helpful anymore. Whereas you daters, though, could benefit from listening to what compatibility boils down to in marriage, which might surprise you, particularly when it comes to different personality factors. Because that information will help you make better decisions when you’re out there, meeting new people and getting to know people. So you’re going to be thinking about what’s important and what is not as important, so that’s why I decided to break it down this way. I hope it helps. 

First of all, let’s talk about compatibility when it comes to being married. You’d be amazed at how many people show up in counseling or coaching. They are feeling disappointed, or they’re feeling frustrated with different aspects of their relationship, but they’re not there for couples counseling, they have come in as individuals, and they’re saying things like, “I don’t know if I want to keep doing this anymore.” They’re wrestling with this big question around, “Have I made a mistake? Should this relationship never have happened? What do I do now?”

One thing that I have found enormously helpful for these couples, either as individuals or even married couples who are coming in together and doing some discernment counseling around “Should we stay together?” kinds of things, is to help people understand their different aspects of personality, which sounds weird, but it is so helpful. Without this information, it is so easy for people to misunderstand each other or to be judge-y towards each other. But when we boil it down to personality components, things start to make sense, people can get a handle on it, and also, they oftentimes feel a lot more hopeful. The system of personality measurements and analysis that I look to, in a relational context, is one that was developed by my hero, evolutionary biologist Dr. Helen Fisher, who has done just, I can’t even tell you how much great research around personality, the biology of love, of the way our brains work on love. I had the great pleasure to interview her on this podcast a while back, which is still my favorite podcast of all time. I’m still recovering from talking to Dr. Helen Fisher on the show. She’s so amazing. 

Anyway, she has developed a personality assessment that explores four different aspects of personality and she identified these as being biologically-based personality characteristics. And there are many other personality characteristics but for the purpose of understanding the way people relate to each other and relationships, and that innate compatibility or un-compatibility, these four are really important. I am also going to be explaining this to you but I’m also going to be putting a link to this personality test on the page for this podcast. Again, growingself.com. Come to the blog and podcast section of my website and you’ll see this post for the podcast and I will include a link about relationship quizzes to her personality assessment which is free. You can take it for yourself to see what your personality is and also to see what your partner’s personality is because it’s just hugely helpful. 

But the four basic characteristics are called director, nurturer, explorer, and builder. Now, nobody is all one personality, right? We are all a blend of all four of these different aspects. However, we all do tend to have a dominant personality and a secondary personality. The third and fourth are kind of divided in different proportions. Dr. Fisher, when I was talking to her, she said that she’s given this assessment to thousands upon thousands of people, and no two people have ever come back with the same blend of different personality types. So everybody is different. But it does make a big difference in your dominant personality and your secondary personality and those of your partner when it comes to how you relate to each other. So I’m just going to talk through just different aspects of these, and then we’re going to talk through what it means for you, particularly if you are already married. 

Okay. So first of all, there are director personalities, and these people tend to be, well, they tend to be directive. They are linear thinkers like A plus B equals C. They like to solve problems logically. And they tend to be good at analyzing situations or systems dispassionately. They can see how the little parts work together, and they can also see what needs to be done to fix something. Then, if you’re a classic director, you will go do that: you will take whatever action is necessary to improve the situation. 

They’re good at taking action. They’re also very good at telling other people what action needs to be taken. They’re natural leaders in the best sense. They know what needs to be done and they have a high degree of, oh, gosh. I don’t know how else to say this. The nerdy psychological term is they have a high internal locus of control, which is like gibberish, but it means that they have this core belief that they are able to take positive action to change outcomes. They’re like, “I can do something to fix this” mindset, which not everybody has, believe it or not. 

But anyway, so that’s the way they are. Once they make decisions, they tend to be pretty firm, like, “Nope, this is the way it is,” that can be a little black-and-white, all-or-nothing, true-or-false kind of thing. But they tend to make up their own mind about things based on the information that they receive from the environment, factual information. They also tend to have a very matter-of-fact way of communicating. They say what they think. These are all strengths. They’re wonderful leaders. They tend to be very honest and genuine and direct. They get things done, my goodness. Great problem solvers. All personality styles have pros and cons. So directors have a lot of advantages. 

But they do often run into trouble in their relationships because their superpowers do not extend to understanding other people in the sense of how do other people feel? What are they thinking? Why are they thinking that way? They can take apart a toaster and put it back together again, but they don’t often get how other people are feeling or why that’s important, and how they might need to be sensitive to that. It’s easy for them to get annoyed by other people’s emotionality or tendency to make decisions based on how they feel as opposed to facts. So a director, you give them a map, they’ll drive you to Chicago, and you’ll probably get there an hour early. But if you’re that person’s partner, and you want to go stop and look at the world’s largest ball of yarn because your sister would think that was funny and feel like, “Oh, you know what? Let’s just go to Omaha,” that kind of thing. A director is going to be annoyed with you if they don’t understand how you feel and why that’s important to you because they are on a mission. So that’s the director personality. 

Now, nurturer personalities are almost exactly the opposite of directors in some ways. They’re very good at understanding how other people feel, and why that makes sense. They can see things from another person’s point of view, really, and get on their side of the table, “Oh, I never really considered it that way. But I can understand that.” They also tend to prioritize people’s feelings and the quality of relationships over things like achieving goals or getting things done. 

Whereas directors tend to be 1-2-3 linear thinkers, nurturers tend to be web thinkers; meaning that they are very good at seeing the world in all its multifaceted complexity where things are interrelated and messy. Things often do have equal weight. And even though they seem unrelated, they still are. Nurturers are good at that. They can understand that many things are simultaneously true. They’re also very good at shifting. They take in new information, often take on board the perspective of another person, and then they can change their mind in response to that. So they tend to be flexible. They tend to be very high emotional intelligence and also, again, prioritizing people. Their priority is around harmony and connection. In relationships, they tend to be very supportive, and very loving. 

These again, just like directors, have wonderful qualities. But to a director type, they can seem flaky or irrational or overly emotional or soft-hearted; where to a nurturer, a director can seem mean and cold and controlling or even rude or tyrannical, compared to how far apart people are on the spectrum. 

This is a personality pairing that often lands people into marriage counseling. They come in there and they wonder if they are not compatible. They’re like, “We are so different. We see the world in these two different ways. We have two different ways of relating.” But did you know that directors and nurturers are hugely compatible? This is one of the best pairings in relationships. You might be surprised to hear that. But when people come in and they, through marriage counseling and empathy building, can back away from wanting the other person to be more like them and wanting them to behave in the world the way they do, which is like the correct way of being. If we can help people move out of those corners and build a bridge back to the center, then they can not just start tolerating the other person, but appreciating each other for who they are. When they’re able to have gratitude for each other’s strengths and lean on each other’s strengths, that can be one of the strongest relationship pairings that there are, because they help each other. 

So, whereas directors, left to their own devices when they’re on a mission, they can step on people’s toes and damage relationships in the process, sometimes, of getting things done. Unless they have a nurturer in their life who is their partner, and who can help them navigate relationships and think about personality things, and people’s feelings, and understand people involved. It helps the director be more effective because most of the time there are other people on this mission. But it can also help the director maintain their relationships and provide them with information that they might not have had fully otherwise. 

Just the same, nurturers are also stronger when paired with a director because without the perspective or maybe the tough-mindedness of a director, nurturers can have trouble with things like boundaries, or having a long-range linear project, they can get distracted, go down a side road without a director to be like, “Nope, this is what we’re doing.” Or home improvement projects; textured wall treatments and more throw pillows are not the solution for everything, particularly when there are building projects involved. 

You have to think of the natural compatibility. Director-nurturer pairings do much better than a lot of other personality pairings, specifically two directors together. That can be really explosive and unpleasant for everyone when two people have extremely strong opinions about the way things should be done, and neither is willing to make concessions for the way the other person feels. We’re both on a mission and, “We’re doing this or not.” That creates more problems. So, the next time you want your partner to be more like you, if you have this pairing, I would like to encourage you to instead, think about their strengths, and think about how your life benefits from being in a relationship with them.

So again, if you’re married, and this has been creating stress, and making you wonder, “Are we compatible or not?” Step away from the edge, and come back to not just tolerance but appreciation, and figure out how to work together, and be two players on the same team. You each have different roles. You each have different strengths. You each have different liabilities. Start talking about how you can support each other instead of trying to change each other. So, little advice there. 

Now, another two personality types that may be blended with a director and nurturer, or maybe dominant in their own right, are explorer personalities and builder personalities. So an explorer is someone who craves novelty and newness and adventure. They have this drive, this desire to be thrilled, and excited with things. They are very comfortable with living in the moment and taking risks, and not knowing exactly what’s going to happen next. They don’t need to make detailed plans. They don’t need to know what’s going to happen. They can just go do stuff. They tend to be very curious, and very creative, enthusiastic, but they do need to have something new, this new energy in their lives.

It’s very important. They can be a little bit impulsive. But without having something exciting on the horizon, they tend to get bored and they get even a little depressed. They do need to be stimulated in this way. The pros, the strengths of this personality, obviously, are that they are interesting, and they’re fun, and they’re always doing something different. The hard aspects of this personality can be: they can be much less interested in having a “stable life” than one that feels emotionally fulfilling to them, and by emotionally fulfilling, that often means adventurous. 

That can show up in things like their jobs, their homes, they may be serial renters, and may show up in their bank accounts if they’re prioritizing other things over financial stability. These are the people who might want to sell their house and travel around Europe for a year. “We’ll figure out what we’ll do when we get back,” kind of thing. This isn’t bad at all, particularly, if you have two people in a relationship who both have fairly strong explorer tendencies. You’re going to feel compatible because your husband might say, “I’m just feeling bored.” You’d be like, “Yeah, I know. We should go to Iceland.” That’s the thing. You can enjoy that and stimulate each other in that way, and be really good adventure partners. So that is a great pairing. 

Now, the other personality that I mentioned: a builder. This is not a great pairing if one person in the relationship has this fourth personality type, which is that of a builder. Builders value on a felt level: security, stability, order, routine. They are usually very into building: building their careers, creating a home, investing in their community. They tend to like making plans and knowing what’s going to happen next. They tend to be very risk-averse. So when you imagine your stereotypical suburban couple, who loves doing home improvement projects together, and raising kids, and going around the same little swim class, karate class, same orbit every week, month in month out; people who have a strong builder orientation are very happy and satisfied with that. 

It’s not that they don’t do fun things. They do fun stuff. They have friends. They have a good time. But the difference is that they’ve usually figured out what they like and then they can keep doing that. So every summer we go to the coast of Maine. Every winter we go to the condo in Breckenridge. They have their thing. It feels settled. It feels stable. And these partners can usually make an excellent team around many aspects of the working partnership, things like finances, household stuff. They both tend to be reliable, do what they say they’re gonna do, thoughtful, hard-working, many, many, many strengths to having a builder personality. No one except for the most extreme person is going to be devoid of any builder characteristics. Even if you have a more explorer kind of orientation, hopefully, you still have some of this in order to be able to function. 

However, when it comes to innate compatibility, people with a really strong builder orientation are much more compatible with other builder types than they are with explorers and vice versa. Because builders and explorers drive each other nuts. Strong explorers think that builders are boring as hell and they feel like they’re dying inside when they have to go to Costco every weekend; where builders think that explorers are selfish and irresponsible and ridiculous for wanting to buy a motorcycle. So, there are lots of fights that can come up when one person in a relationship is more a builder and one is an explorer. So where opposites attract when it comes to that nurturer director pairing, not the same for builders and explorers. 

However, do not fear if you are in one of these marriages. Because, again, even though we tend to have a tendency towards one over the other, we all have a mix of these characteristics. Although, yes, okay, if you’re a builder, and you had married another builder, you might have to fight less with that person about different things. But when you can start to, again, let go a little bit of your insistence on the other person being more like you, and instead, begin appreciating them, and seeing the value that they bring to your life, and figuring out how to build a bridge back to the center; it can also be super beautiful and it might be enriching to your life in a way that you would not have had had you just married another builder or had you just married another explorer. 

Because I’ll tell you, builders, your life is going to be much more interesting, and probably more fun, if you are partnered with an explorer who is going to challenge you to take risks and open yourself up to new ideas and experiences. It’s going to add a lot of value and enrichment to your life. Because among other things, we know that novelty and newness is a key ingredient to keep a healthy, long-term relationship satisfying over decades. It is doing new things together so embrace it. 

Now, explorers, speaking to you: instead of feeling like your builder partner is your mom or your dad who’s always trying to corral you or crap on your dreams, instead of that, I would like to invite you to just try to appreciate them for everything they do. How your life benefits from their stabilizing influence in terms of your financial health, your physical health, “Get your butt to a doctor”, the way that they are trustworthy, reliable, and the way that they help you achieve these long-term goals that you might have, and just think about how much more adventuring you might ultimately get to do when you are paired with a builder who can help you build a foundation of stability on which to launch off into wonderful new things. 

So again, this is a strength, but it requires intention in order to make this pairing a good one. So, I hope, married people, as you think about what I’m saying here, for every personality type, again, please remember that the most important characteristics for a healthy, happy, loving, long-term partnership, real compatibility is not about how much you are alike or whether or not you both like doing the same things. It is about your ability to be kind and to be generous. So, meaning, kindness means your ability to reframe your partner’s characteristics in a positive light; kindly with gratitude and appreciation as opposed to criticism and contempt. That’s what I mean by kindness. And with generosity, meaning that their needs, their rights, their feelings, even if they are mysterious to you, their feelings are just as important as yours are. That you can give that to them. That’s what I mean by being generous. 

Everything else doesn’t matter as much as those two things because all relationships have “issues.” All couples have differences. However, any problem can be worked out if you both are bringing kindness and generosity to the table. Because that means that you are both willing to give, and bend, and flex, and appreciate in order to give each other what the other person is needing, and feel appreciated, and loved for who you are, as opposed to with someone who is going to be upset with you until you change. That’s what my hope is for you. I hope that these ideas help you, married couples, think about your compatibility in a different way. Again, look for those bridges back to the center. That’s my hope. Okay. Now, I want you, married people, to turn me off because I’m going to talk to the daters now. 

Okay, daters. It’s just me and you, and I’m going to give you the scoop here. People who are married and have bought real estate together and have kids together, they are committed in a different way. I think that particularly, and this is my opinion, okay. Not everybody has to share this. But I think that when there are especially children involved, I think that you need to prioritize their needs and make sacrifices sometimes to maintain a nice, happy, healthy, safe life for your family. It stops being about you as much and what you want or don’t want, once you have made those commitments, and are on that trajectory. While you are dating, however, this is the time for you to be serious about compatibility, and what you want, and what kind of person you want to be with, and to be very selective about who you are going to share your life with.

I’m always disturbed by people who hook up a little too soon in these situations and make global judgments about who another person is based on very little information. Let me tell you: it takes a long time to get to know people. Character is revealed over time. So, I’m going to give you a few things to think about that are going to help you slow it down and be a little bit more discerning about who’s who and what’s what, and what’s a good fit, and what isn’t. 

Dating is an audition. From the first date until you either move in, or there’s a marriage proposal. That is like, you’re checking somebody out. I know that that might sound a little bit harsh, but this needs to be the time for you to think, as realistically as possible, “What would it be like to have this person with this personality and these set of values as my partner for the rest of my life?” You cannot determine that overnight, and you also can’t determine it by how that person makes you feel, particularly at the beginning.

I’m going to preface everything else I’m about to say right now by the fact that I believe in love. I will go to the mat for love. However, love, real love, true love, it is not a feeling. It’s not a thrilling, “Oh my God, you’re so awesome,” feeling. That is not love. That is romantic attraction. That comes and goes. My husband and I are about to celebrate our 20-year wedding anniversary in October. I can’t even believe I’m that old, anyway. I do feel that for my beloved adventurer husband, I do. I look at him sometimes and I’m like, “Why are you so awesome?” I have that feeling. 

But I also really appreciate our relationship because we have true love, which is that, “I am going to be kind, and generous, and respectful, and loyal even if I don’t feel that way.” It’s not a feeling, it’s a choice. True love is based on character and appreciating, and respecting, and honoring who someone is; not how they make you feel. Okay, because that ebbs and flows. The adventure has been amazing and sometimes he makes me crazy, but I love him anyway, in that true love sense. He doesn’t make me crazy, very often, in a bad way. Anyway. 

So here’s what I want you to know: one of the biggest mistakes that I see people who are dating make is they get way too hung up on chemistry in the beginning. Yes, you certainly do need to have a certain level of physical attraction, and sexual attraction, and intellectual attraction. That is important in order to have a relationship that’s more than a friendship, to have that romantic attraction. However, just because somebody makes you feel excited, or that you’re sexually attracted to them, that does not mean that they have the potential to make a good long-term partner. The opposite is often true. For example, not to scare you but being extremely charismatic, and charming, and knowing exactly what to say, and being flattering, and the life of the party, those are traits associated with both antisocial and narcissistic personality disorders. 

So you could meet some sparkly amazing person who accepts your world on fire and in the cold light of day, nine months later be like, “Oh, my God. What have I gotten involved with?”  Similarly, being seductive, emotionally intense; those can be characteristics associated things with histrionic or borderline personality disorders. I am not saying that somebody is instantly suspicious if they’re the life of the party and the most incandescently attractive person in the room. That doesn’t mean they’re psychologically questionable. However, I am saying that the most toxic and unhealthy relationships can and often do, make you feel more of that chemistry buzz, especially in the early stages, than do interactions with stable, reliable, emotionally available people who might be really good long-term partners for you. 

It just makes me insane because I do a lot of work as a dating coach, right? I have people who very earnestly tell me what they want, what their dream is, and they’ll say, “I want to have a committed relationship with someone who is loyal, kind, and responsible, emotionally supportive, generous, hard-working, wants a family, wants to be with somebody who loves me.” They’ll tell me all that and then next week, immediately go and date only the people that they have an intense sexual attraction with and they will very intentionally reject all of the people who have the personality qualities they want but don’t make them feel that buzzy way. 

It’s normal. That biological sexual drive is extremely powerful and cannot be denied. But it’s problematic for more than just the obvious reason: that in every relationship, that sexual heat and romantic like, “Oh, my God. You’re the most amazing person I’ve ever met my life,” that starts to cool down within a couple of years and stops entirely by about year three or four, which as also pointed out by evolutionary biologist Dr. Helen Fisher, is almost the same timeline required to get pregnant and raise a child into a sturdy, relatively independent preschooler. Amazing how those two things coincide. That timeline also coincides with what we know about divorce rates, which are statistically most likely to occur right around four years of marriage. That’s about how long it takes that cycle to go all the way through. Okay. 

So, not that sexual chemistry, again, isn’t important, but when you prioritize it at the expense of all other things in the early stages of a relationship, it’s problematic because, in addition to obscuring other character aspects or personality traits or values, that’s what it does. When you engage in an intense sexual relationship with somebody, you will bond to them on a biological basis, and you will get emotionally attached, and be in a state of early-stage romantic infatuation, where you’re much more likely to make excuses for people’s bad behavior, or blow off character traits that might be problematic, or ignore red flags. When you’re in that space, it’s much easier to do that. So, the problem is that you get emotionally bonded to somebody through sex before you know who they are before you know their character. 

Again, character is only revealed over time and through adversity. So how people handle stress or disappointment, or how they communicate when the stakes are high, whether they’re selfish or generous, or supportive, or critical, whether they can address issues with you constructively and maturely, and talk through things, or whether they blow up at you, or withdraw passive-aggressively when they don’t like somebody, something or somebody, or how they show their love to you even when they don’t feel like it, are they still loving even if they don’t like you at that moment—all of these things are so important. These are not things that you can identify on the first six dates. 

You can’t see how they treat the people that they’re closest to, or whether or not they give up or work harder when the going gets tough. We all tend to take little bits of information, and then extrapolate into a whole in those early stages of romantic love. We create a narrative that fits the information that we have so far and to the degree that we are sexually and emotionally welded to the person. We fill in those blanks with either positive information that we would like to be true and sweep aside the troubling stuff like, “Oh, nothing to see over there. Look over here. Look at how hot they are.” So we can do that. 

Whereas if you can slow down and get to know somebody over time, before allowing yourself to jump in the deep end of the pool with them on that sexual and emotional level, you will be much better able to say, “Oh, yeah. That’s not so awesome and that isn’t something that they seem to be willing to acknowledge much less talk to me about. So that’s a red flag.” Again, being able to take that information on board and make decisions about what you want to do long-term. So imagining a little scenario here to illustrate this. Our hero, Joe, listened to this podcast and did not heed my advice. That’s okay. But a little about Joe—Joe, he’s a middle-of-the-road guy, super nice guy, in the middle of in between director-ish, nurturing, not so much on one side or the other. They’re fairly balanced but does, maybe, tend to have more builder characteristics of his personality. He’s a hard worker. He wants to have a nice stable life. He would love to have kids someday. He’s close to his family. He wants to stay in his hometown and continue on and he likes that. 

But say, Joe makes the mistake that I’m encouraging you here, that he hasn’t done the work around figuring out what he wants his life to look like even though you and I know what he wants. He has not explicitly had that conversation with himself yet. When he puts himself out there on Tinder or Match, he just starts chatting with whoever shows up and seeing how things feel, looking for chemistry as many people do. He starts texting with Jill. Okay. Jill, she’s super cute, and she’s funny, and she’s hot, and they start dating, and they have sex on the third date. By about the three-month mark, Joe has decided that Jill is just, he can’t stop thinking about her. She’s super intense. She’s exciting. She’s sexy and unpredictable, and interesting. He’s like, “Oh, my gosh. I feel this feeling. So she must be the one.” He becomes emotionally welded to her because he’s prioritizing those chemistry feelings. Then her lease is up. So, of course, it makes sense for her to move in since they’re hanging out all the time anyway.

It’s around that time when she moves in, Joe starts to feel frustrated with the fact that she’s always late, and she spends too much money, and she drinks too much. He doesn’t like her friends. Here’s the most important part: when he tries to talk to her about this stuff, she gets mad at him, and lashes out, and gets mean, and nasty. So he stopped saying anything. Then she starts bugging him about a ring and his mom is like, “Yeah, are you gonna marry her or what?” His friends are getting married, and he’s 33, and he likes to have kids. Ring shopping is exciting, and she seems happier. Maybe, all the trouble was just that she was unhappy because we didn’t have a commitment, and things are gonna change once we’re settled down and married. So, they announced their engagement, make grandma cry, and that’s fun. Then they get to start wedding planning. That’s absorbing. Even as this train is picking up steam, they’re chugging on down the track, on some level, Joe is feeling uneasy, right? But there’s this energy around moving forward now. How is he going to say, “I don’t know if I want to do this anymore.” Because deposits have been put on wedding venues and all this stuff.

Jill isn’t that bad. There’s a lot of positives in their relationship. He’s ambivalent but there are other times when she is fun, and she’s sexy, and they have a good time together. He can gloss over how mercurial she is, or unreliable, or selfish, belligerent, critical, or how it feels like she doesn’t understand him and the things that are important to him. She does not seem to be interested in working with him to accomplish his goals and honor his feelings. This is sadly true for a lot of couples that people get swept up in this early stage romantic stuff and then the ball starts rolling, and it’s a time of life when people are getting married. Within 18 months, the dust is settled, and you’ve bought a house, and you’re married, and you have to work as a team, and pay bills, and maintain home, and support each other’s careers. There’s a lot more going on in a relationship, especially when kids come. My goodness. 

That is related to, “How do we communicate? How do we work as a team? Do we want the same things? Do I like you as a person? Do I respect you? Do we have shared values? Are our personalities compatible?” Like what I was talking about in the first section around is one of us a builder and one of us an explorer? Or are we two directors? Because of the other stuff, that romantic intensity thing, by year four, Joe and Jill are not going to have that anymore, at least not in the same way. I’m not saying that people can’t have wonderfully satisfying, sexual experiences and still have some of that energy, but it does change and in the cold light of day, who are we? Is there enough here to sustain us and keep each other interested and loving for a long time?

The punchline of all of this, again, is that the key ingredients of a solid long-term relationship were never there for Joe and Jill. When they finally go into marriage counseling with somebody like me, it is much less about helping these two repair their relationship, as it is helping them develop one from the ground up. This is not necessarily a death sentence. Sometimes, what this process does when people do get into marriage counseling under these circumstances is that they finally both have the opportunity to do some important personal growth. Not to put this all on Jill, but just hypothetically, maybe, Jill came from crappy circumstances where she never got what she needed to develop the ability to have empathy for other people or to learn how to regulate her emotions in a healthy way, or how to communicate in high stakes situations. 

Let’s say, for the purposes of this story, that Jill is committed enough to this marriage, in this family, to work on herself in this way, and then within the marriage, she is able to grow into a person who can love and be loved. That would be my hope for her. She’s probably going to still always be more of a director and more of an explorer, where Joe is always going to have more nurturing tendencies and be more of a builder, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t have a nice relationship together. However, they’re gonna have to work harder for that, than they would have if Joe–and by Joe, I mean, you. Okay, since you’re the dater–for you to be a little bit more selective about who–Joe/you–get involved with when you’re out there dating. 

Again, if Joe had been less influenced by sexual chemistry, and if he had postponed sleeping with Jill, and getting involved with her on that level for a few months, while he took time to get to know her, and if he had been more mindful of her character, rather than just how she made him feel when she showed up in the high heels, he would have been probably less attracted to her. If he had kept his options open, dated Jill, also, dating other people, he might have had the opportunity to be more attracted to the girl who, maybe showed up wearing stupid frumpy mom shoes instead of high heels but had a wonderful personality, was empathetic, was reliable, was thoughtful, had at an innate ability to be his friend, and was able to add value to his life as a partner, and work alongside him on building the type of life that they would find mutually gratifying. 

It might not have been that same instant animal attraction he had with super sexy Jill. But say this girl, Jane is also attractive, and also sexy in her own way, but maybe in a more subtle way that takes a little bit more time to uncover. Most importantly, that number one thing: Jane is kind, and she’s generous, and she is willing to work on things with him. If he has a problem, she can hear him and respond to him to try to make it better because she cares about how he feels. That, I’m telling you, friends, from the perspective of a marriage counselor, and also from 20 years later, after having been married myself, those things: having somebody willing to listen to you, and care about how you feel, and work on things with you, instead of fight about it. That is so much more important than sexual chemistry. 

Because that, again, you have to have some of it, but it’s not the most important thing. It isn’t. Because, again, that super sexy thing at the beginning is going to be super hot for the first year or two. Then it is going to fade into nothingness and people are going to say, What happened? I want us to feel like how we felt when we first met each other? You can’t have that. That is a very special, early-stage thing that isn’t replicable in the same way long-term. Whereas if you get involved with somebody who can be a friend, a partner, a fellow adventurer, or a fellow builder, that you can help each other, support each other, bring out the best in each other, and be a good team, complement each other. That is going to be much easier to solve problems as they come up and constructively work together to make a life that feels good for both of you. 

So that is my are-you-compatible-or-not advice. So please listen if you are dating. Step one: get clear about what is important to you. Take that personality assessment. Figure out: are you a builder, are you a nurturer. What are you? Figure out what your values are and just imagining. I do this with my dating coaching clients all the time like, “You have a time machine. Go 10 years into the future and think about how you’re going to spend a typical weekend. What do you want that to look like?” Figure out what are those big most important things. 

We all know sexual chemistry is important. But for the purposes of this exercise, I want you to cross that one off the list. Instead, put your attention on who you are, and who they are, and what you want your life to be like. What kind of personality would you be most compatible with? Who would be the most satisfying long-term partner for you? As you date and get to know people, defer that sexual chemistry piece even if you feel chemistry with them. But in order to give yourself that time to get to know their character and whether you’re a good match in terms of personality, and core value. Once that has been established, I hope you have a wonderful time enjoying each other and allowing that part of your life to build over time, as opposed to being a flash in the pan. 

Okay. That’s it for today’s episode of The Love, Happiness, and Success podcast. I hope this was helpful to you. If you have questions for me or if there are other topics that you’re interested in that I haven’t talked about or haven’t talked about in a while, hit me up with an email, drlisa@growingself.com. You can also get in touch with me on Facebook, Dr. Lisa Bobby at Facebook. I’m also @DrLisaBobby on Twitter. I am Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby, but I have removed the Marie for the sake of brevity when it comes to things like Twitter handles. So get in touch with me. Let me know what would be interesting for you, and you just might hear me talk about it on an upcoming episode of The Love, Happiness, and Success podcast. All right, take care.

[Song Outro]


Episode Highlights: Relationship Compatibility

  • Relationship Compatibility for Married People
    • Dr. Helen Fisher’s Four Personality Types
      • Dr. Helen Fisher established four personality types, a mix of which you might see in your partner.
      • Each personality type has its own advantages and disadvantages.
      • The four personality types are Director, Nurturer, Explorer, and Builder.
    • Director-Nurturer Compatibility
      • Directors are linear thinkers and like to solve problems. However, they cannot easily understand a person’s emotional aspects.
      • Nurturers are more on the emotional side of things and tend to prioritize the other person’s feelings before their own.
      • Directors and Nurturers are hugely compatible and complementary: they make up for each other’s weaknesses and temper the extremes of their strengths.
    • Explorer-Builder Compatibility
      • Explorers love adventure and spontaneity, and you will see traces of this in their person: where they live, what they do, how they carry themselves.
      • Builders are more for stability: they like to have everything planned to a T, and they like constancy in their lives.
      • These two look to be opposites but can enrich one another’s lives if they make their relationship work.
  • Relationship Compatibility for Those Dating
    • What Is Love?
      • Love is a choice. If you base it on your first impressions and the tensions between you and the other person, that’s merely romantic attraction.
      • When finding the right partner, remember to have what you want to be at the front and center: be very clear about what is and what isn’t acceptable.
    • What Is Attraction?
      • What’s frustrating is that it’s these bad traits that produce attraction and tension between two people: those who do not fit the bill are those who we tend to date.
      • Remember that you are at the dating stage, and this may not necessarily be how your partner will carry themselves in a long-term relationship.
    • What Is Character?
      • Character is only revealed through time and trials.
      • We don’t see this in the first couple of dates, so it is important to get to know your partner well first.
    • How Do We Communicate?
      • Communication is very important in a relationship.
      • Communicate with your partner whenever you have a concern with them or their behavior.
      • Do not let attraction and momentary good periods to get in the way of you and your partner discussing your relationship.

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5 Comments

  1. i listened to your podcast on compatibility, and i found a lot of truths in it . and it seemed your theme was not about attraction or chemistry but about the long term and that the initial ( butter fly’s ) will wear off. you mentioned at 4-5 years it drops.
    But I am wondering if there was no to little attraction on one persons part,( because I am sure that the attraction level will be more lopsided to one person to another in these situations) wouldn’t these relationships suffer 2 fold at 4 -5 year mark ( unlike the couple with the higher attraction level in the beginning of there relationship) with lack chemistry in the beginning
    if your not feeling sexual for your partner in the beginning of relationship hows that that going to play out in 4 to 5 years . Wouldn’t chance are they would be working toward becoming a sexless marriage at that point?
    20% in a relationship is about the physical/ but when your not having any it’s 80%
    I heard this some where.

    1. Hi Scott, I’m glad that you enjoyed the “Relationship Compatibility” podcast. You bring up excellent points about chemistry and attraction — I think they might be worthy of a whole podcast sometime! In my experience, feelings of attraction and sexual chemistry can be cultivated by two people who love each other and want the relationship to work. Having a solid friendship that is based on love and respect is the foundation upon which a healthy and satisfying sex life can be built. Does it require effort and intention? Yes. However couples who do this work often have longer lasting, happier, and more enduring relationships than couples who depend upon feelings of “chemistry” to keep them together. And yes, in relationships there is always a “higher desire” partner and a “lower desire” partner. But again, the quality of a sex life or a marriage is all about courageously communicating about your needs and caring enough about your relationship to work on it. In contrast, couples who feel resigned to “the way things are” will often start to feel hopeless about their relationships, and like they are unsustainable. That mindset is a fast-track to divorce. It’s hard to talk about what you’re needing – especially when it comes to your sex life. But the saying “the truth will set you free” applies in this case, too. Hope that helps clarify. xoxo Lisa

  2. i listened to your podcast on compatibility, and i found a lot of truths in it . and it seemed your theme was not about attraction or chemistry but about the long term and that the initial ( butter fly’s ) will wear off. you mentioned at 4-5 years it drops.
    But I am wondering if there was no to little attraction on one persons part,( because I am sure that the attraction level will be more lopsided to one person to another in these situations) wouldn’t these relationships suffer 2 fold at 4 -5 year mark ( unlike the couple with the higher attraction level in the beginning of there relationship) with lack chemistry in the beginning
    if your not feeling sexual for your partner in the beginning of relationship hows that that going to play out in 4 to 5 years . Wouldn’t chance are they would be working toward becoming a sexless marriage at that point?
    20% in a relationship is about the physical/ but when your not having any it’s 80%
    I heard this some where.

  3. Hi Scott, I’m glad that you enjoyed the “Relationship Compatibility” podcast. You bring up excellent points about chemistry and attraction — I think they might be worthy of a whole podcast sometime! In my experience, feelings of attraction and sexual chemistry can be cultivated by two people who love each other and want the relationship to work. Having a solid friendship that is based on love and respect is the foundation upon which a healthy and satisfying sex life can be built. Does it require effort and intention? Yes. However couples who do this work often have longer lasting, happier, and more enduring relationships than couples who depend upon feelings of “chemistry” to keep them together. And yes, in relationships there is always a “higher desire” partner and a “lower desire” partner. But again, the quality of a sex life or a marriage is all about courageously communicating about your needs and caring enough about your relationship to work on it. In contrast, couples who feel resigned to “the way things are” will often start to feel hopeless about their relationships, and like they are unsustainable. That mindset is a fast-track to divorce. It’s hard to talk about what you’re needing – especially when it comes to your sex life. But the saying “the truth will set you free” applies in this case, too. Hope that helps clarify. xoxo Lisa

  4. […] or differences in desire. But truthfully, the most common reason for many breakups is simple relationship incompatibility. (Or, frequently, where ONE person is feeling like it’s a […]

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