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Do we have Enough in Common?

First of all, you should know that a cornerstone of our philosophy here at eHarmony is that strong, long-lasting relationships are based on compatibility between two people. That’s where we’re coming from when we answer a question like this.

But even given that starting point, there’s still the question of what compatibility really means, and how much of it needs to exist in order for a relationship to work out. So let’s give you a chance to look at the issue in more depth.

Here’s a little exercise to help you two determine how much you have in common, and what areas are most important to you when it comes to compatibility within your relationship. This exercise could take up a whole weekend (or more) if you let it, but we recommend holding yourself to 20-30 minutes. That way neither of you feels overwhelmed at the thought of having to “process” together for more than a little while.

First, get together and make two lists. In the first list, name all of the similarities that exist between you. There’s probably an infinite number of possibilities to explore, but here are a few to get you started:

• common interests

• activities you both enjoy

• principles you believe in

• philosophies that guide you

• relational tendencies

• goals for the future

• family relationships

• time-management preferences

• ways you relate with other people in your life

• how you think about and plan for the future

Again, this is only a partial list to help you begin thinking about the areas in your life where you two share important similarities. After you make your lists of likenesses, draw up a list of differences between you. Where do you two diverge when it comes to both minor and major details of your lives?

You don’t have to list every little similarity and difference, but make your lists are comprehensive enough to get a good picture of where you two are alike, and where you are dissimilar.

Then, once you have worked together to compile these lists, separate from each other and sit down alone for a few minutes.

As individuals, think about the two lists you just put together, and answer these three questions:

What are my NON-NEGOTIABLES when it comes to Compatibility?

In what areas of you relationship are you simply unwilling to budge at all? This may have to do with your most cherished beliefs. Perhaps you need to be with someone who believes essentially the same things you do when it comes to your religion or spirituality. Or maybe your non-negotiables are about relationship-related issues. For example, you might decide that a person needs to be a skilled communicator in order for you to be willing to consider some sort of serious commitment. Or maybe you decide to list a mutual willingness to be faithful as one of your non-negotiables. Whatever you include on this list, the point is that you put down the areas of your relationship where it is not all right for you two to be very different.

What are my SEMI-NEGOTIABLES when it comes to Compatibility?

In what areas of your relationship would you at least consider allowing for a lack of complete compatibility? Again, this might have to do with beliefs and values. For instance, whereas it might be a deal-killer for your partner to be of a different religion, you might be willing to be with someone who has different specific beliefs that emerge from the same basic world view. What you are trying to do in this list is to create a set of issues that you care about, but that in a serious relationship, you would be at least open to discussing the idea of agreeing to disagree.

What are my NEGOTIABLES when it comes to Compatibility?

Again, when you are answering these three questions, you should keep in mind your lists of similarities and differences—the lists you and your partner came up with just before separating to answer these questions. And for this third question, focus especially on the list of differences. Are there items on that list that, when you really think about them, don’t seem to be “do or die” issues? It may not ultimately matter, for example, that one of you loves the National League, and the other loves the American League. Or that one of you thinks New Kids on the Block was more talented than N’ Sync, and the other feels just the opposite. We’re not saying that you should ignore or minimize major distinctions that exist between you. But we do think that many differences between partners often come down to minor issues that require cooperation and compromise. So see how many of your differences might actually be negotiable.

Once you’ve answered these questions individually, come back together and discuss your answers. You should now have a pretty clear understanding of how much you have in common, and where you’re pretty different. And, you’ll be much better able to decide, together, how important those differences between you are.

It might be that you determine that you two are simply incompatible in several areas that matter most to each of you. If this is the case, then it’s probably time to have a serious discussion regarding whether it’s worth continuing to invest in this relationship.

On the other hand, you may find out that you have much more in common than you realized, and that even where you two differ, there’s plenty of room for negotiation and compromise. In that case, you can continue to put maximum effort into the relationship, knowing that you’ve got a good chance to build on that compatibility and create something really special together.