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The Single Most Important Dimension for Making a Relationship Work

Whether you just discovered eHarmony yesterday or have used the service for several months, you’re probably aware that eHarmony bases much of our matching choices for you on 29 Dimensions of Compatibility.

But what does that mean? And is there any one dimension that supercedes the rest?

The fact is EVERY couple gets together because of compatibility. If you were painfully incompatible with a particular person, you probably wouldn’t make it past the first date. Whether we know it consciously or not, most individuals are searching for approximately five dimensions of compatibility.

Sense of humor

Ability to be pleasantly social

Physical attraction



If, in the course of several dates together, each person discerns compatibility in these five areas, a relationship is usually born. And it naturally follows that a large number of marriages are based on compatibility, in these five areas as well. So when we say that almost every marriage is based on compatibility it is this narrow compatibility that usually serves as the springboard for two people to move forward together.

For two people who are dating and living apart, these five traits may seem like enough. But with a serious relationship comes the challenges of living together, mixing finances, sharing responsibility and, often times, raising children. Over the years, each of these events turn up the level of stress between two people, and they learn sooner or later, that five dimensions of compatibility doesn’t give them the stability and common ground that they need to weather the storms of life.

At that point, the success of their relationship will often hinge on whether they were lucky enough to stumble into the kind of broad-based compatibility that gives relationships extra support-the kind of compatibility they didn’t even know existed.

So The Person Has to Be Just Like Me?

Of course not. It would be, in fact, impossible to find someone “just like you.” The idea is that every major area of your life where you and your significant other agree is like a deposit in the bank account of your relationship. And every major area where you disagree is like a withdrawal from that account. Is it okay to have several areas of disagreement? Sure. Any account can stand some withdrawals if the balance is nice and high. But if you have a large number of very different opinions in major areas of life, you’re going to draw that balance dangerously low.

eHarmony once received an e-mail from a man who was pointing out how wrong this idea was. “My wife and I are practically opposite in many ways and we’ve been happily married for years.” Because we were curious to hear his story, we developed a friendly back and forth about his situation. When we asked about their differences, he wrote, “I like Chinese food and she likes Italian. I like football and she hates football. I like to sleep late and she gets up early.” But when it came to the more substantial things in life – values, character, curiosity, intellect, work ethic, etc., you probably won’t be surprised to learn that in every “major” dimension of marriage this man and his wife were totally in sync.

You can certainly make the argument that differences in a relationship spice things up. However, it’s easy to see that having major differences in important areas of life require continual compromise. While that may be a valuable exercise in loving sacrifice, over many years it can drain precious energy from a relationship.

The Universal Solvent

High school chemistry often covers the “universal solvent,” which is a substance that has the ability to dissolve both bases and acids. It turns out that the earth’s most abundant molecule, water, has the ability to dissolve most of the compounds we find in nature. In the world of compatibility there is a kind of universal solvent. To be clear, however, the wide variety of people and the combinations that they form as couples make it impossible to identify a universal “most important dimension of compatibility.” Rather, the presence of this universal solvent makes every part of a marriage or a serious relationship more stable, supportive and enjoyable.

We call this dimension, adaptability.

If you and your partner have a deep well of adaptability in your relationship, it acts like a buffer zone between you and serious problems. It cannot make up for a significant disconnect in areas such as character, autonomy or self-concept. But even if one person is highly adaptable, the relationship often just “works.”

When two people are acting authentically in a relationship there will be times of conflict. No two honest people can agree all the time. He will want to go out and she will want to stay home. He may want to visit family and she may want to take a trip to a new place. These disagreements may be minor or major, but if both partners are committed to sitting together and saying, “How can I give on this, and how can you give on this, so we can be together on this?” the relationship will strengthen and grow with each resolution. Adaptability allows us to recognize the power and the benefit of such a compromise, and enjoy the new choice almost as much as our original preference.

Many important dimensions such as intellect, emotional energy and self-concept are established early in our lives and virtually impossible to change. Adaptability, however, can be nurtured and expanded in your relationship. By acknowledging its importance and being mindful of how it can dissolve the areas of friction, you can practice your adaptability and watch it have greater and greater impact on the “acids and bases” that you experience.

Click here if you’re curious to learn more about the 29 dimensions that eHarmony uses to establish broad-based compatibility.