Compatibility is king when it comes to establishing a long-term and satisfying relationship. But even the most well-matched couples are sure to have differences, and some of these may not matter very much.
If a guy prefers country music and his girlfriend likes classical, that’s a difference that may cause irritation but can probably be negotiated. If a woman’s top choice for vacation is skiing and her man hates the cold, there’s a good chance these two can figure a way to please both of them. But there are more significant differences that will spell big trouble over the long haul, and these are usually the kind that relate to innate qualities or ingrained habits.
In the early phases of a relationship, when idealism and romanticism can cloud clear thinking, it’s easy to dismiss differences as insignificant when in fact they’re very significant. Here are six differences you should take seriously:
1. Ambition. Some people are content to take life as it comes, never worrying much about career advancement, monetary gain, or achieving big goals. Other people are just the opposite — they are highly motivated to do more, be more, have more. Are you content to put in your forty-hour workweek, come home and relax in the front of the TV? If so, you need a partner who is similar. But if you are a go-getter who is motivated by goals and lofty dreams for the future, you need to find someone who shares your level of ambition.
2. Core Values. This refers to an individual’s most dearly held beliefs and motivations about the essential aspects of life. A couple’s values about social issues, politics, and the environment are highly important. They should also be in agreement about financial issues — saving, spending, and giving. Perhaps most the significant core values relate to marriage and family: how to raise children, roles and expectations for spouses, what traditions to follow, and what religious beliefs to emphasize.
3. Intelligence. This is a delicate subject because no one wants to be considered unintelligent. But the fact is, difference in levels of intellect between two people is sure to cause frustration and a sense of inequality. Research indicates that intellectual equivalence is crucial to a happy, healthy partnership. There is no evidence that two people do better in marriage if they are extremely bright, but these is evidence that they need to be at a similar intellect level, whatever that level may be.
4. Emotional Intelligence. This refers to the interpersonal skills that foster harmony and closeness in relationships. Qualities include empathy, cooperation, compassion, affirmation, appropriate humor, the ability to compromise, and a high degree of impulse control. For the past few decades, considerable research has been conducted on this topic, with many social scientists asserting that emotional intelligence is even more vital than intelligence in determining success or failure in most aspects of life. If two people have significantly different skill sets in relating emotionally, frustration is sure to follow.
5. Spiritual Beliefs. We are not referring to shared “religious affiliation,” though this is sometimes important, too. This refers to the deeper matter of spirituality, which has to do with the larger context within which people perceive their lives to be lived. If one person has a strong spiritual interest and the person is indifferent, trouble is sure to ensue. If you are deeply spiritual and your partner has almost no spiritual interest, the two of you are bound to encounter a barrier that separates you.
6. Grooming, Weight Management, and Other Personal Habits. The way a person cares for his/her teeth, waistline, hair, clothes, car, and living space are important while dating — and usually even more important when married. If you’re dating someone whose hygiene and habits irritate you, don’t expect to reform that person’s standards over time … because there’s a good chance you won’t.
When you find your relationship is moving from casual to serious, pay close attention to differences — and know which are trivial and which will be trouble. Based on your experience, you may have a critical difference to add to this list — if so, leave a comment and see if other readers agree!