Is Compatibility Overrated? Our response to Psychology Today…

July 1, 2011

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There was a blog post in Psychology Today yesterday that had the provocative title “Sorry eHarmony, Compatibility Can be then Most Overrated Factor in Relationship Building”.

Ouch….

I am always interested in articles like this. Does the author believe that compatibility is not important? Or is the author simply misinformed about what eHarmony actually does. In this case, it’s clearly the latter.

96983333 300x166 Is Compatibility Overrated? Our response to Psychology Today...

When you read the blog carefully Dr. Heisler comes to the conclusion that compatibility on certain things is actually very important. Some of the areas he says you should pay attention to are conflict resolution, sleeping, spending money, recreation, spirituality, eating, and pastimes. When you look at eHarmony’s 29 Dimensions® of Compatibility, you find: Conflict Resolution, Physical Energy (i.e., likelihood to sleep a lot or a little), and Traditionalism (which has a big aspect of spirituality or religiosity). There are also closely related characteristics like Industriousness and Ambition, which relate to how you view money and hard work, and Sociability, which helps drive the interests and pastimes you have. In fact, most of the things that Dr. Heisler proposes are important are taken into account in our matching system.

But his argument is a bit more subtle in two ways. First he states that two individuals who are exactly alike often get bored with their relationship, which implies that eHarmony wants to match people who are exactly alike.

That is utterly ridiculous. Every person is an individual; no two people are exactly alike. Even identical twins raised in the same environment are different from each other in many ways. eHarmony’s matching system matches people who have generally similar personality traits, values, and beliefs that are core to who they are as a individuals. When partners share these traits they see the world in the same way and understand each other better, that makes a relationship easier. When people are opposites on characteristics and values that are important to them they may end up debating those differences time and again. While that can be exciting at first eventually it just becomes exhausting. As we like to say “Opposites attract, and then they attack”

Compatibility isn’t really about shared affinities. Things like hobbies, interests and activities. More often sharing some of the same interests and hobbies promotes interpersonal chemistry between two people. When these are shared it makes two people want to talk to each other. Over time, partners tend to adopt some of each other’s interests. But whether you pick up a new fondness for hiking or skiing with your partner probably will not fundamentally change how you interpret the world around you.

Dr. Heisler also makes another excellent point, that only certain aspects of compatibility are important at certain times in a relationship. For example, it is fairly well known that differences in how partners resolve conflict can lead to a destructive cycle in a long term relationship. When one partner wants to engage, even to the point of nagging, and the other wants to avoid conflict it can lead the couple to a cycle of demand/withdraw when they try to resolve conflict. This can be very damaging to a relationship. But if you don’t have conflict this won’t be a problem. Early in marriage couples are often very satisfied and don’t report high levels of conflict, so this difference doesn’t impact the relationship. But then imagine when kids come along, and spouses now have less money, less time for each other, and less sleep. Now disagreements on small things may grow quickly because couples are under stress and don’t have the right match of conflict resolution skills.

In the end Dr. Heisler wrote an excellent article on compatibility that reflects much of what we at eHarmony have thought for years. There are certain characteristics, values, and interests that you and your partner should be compatible on and certain times in a relationship that require different types of compatibility. If you don’t have a broad base of compatibility with your partner your relationship may not suffer today. But at some point down the road, it is likely the relationship will suffer from that incompatibility.

So Dr. Heisler you wrote an excellent blog. Now if only the title were correct…

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