Most of us have a “type”, someone who checks all our boxes on paper and we’re compatible with. But what does romantic compatibility look like in a relationship, and how important is it, really?
“Compatibility is often conflated with being in love with a partner, but they’re not one and the same,” says Dr. Jacqui Gabb, professor of sociology and intimacy at The Open University and Chief Relationships Officer at Paired.
“You can be in love with someone but be very different from them, and this can be a positive dynamic within the couple, or a source of tension.”
Compatibility in a romantic relationship doesn’t mean you have to share the same likes and dislikes or have the same hobbies. It goes beyond star signs, chemistry, or just getting along like a house on fire.
According to Dr. Gabb, compatibility in relationships is “when you share the same mindset, when you connect with the other person on a deeply intimate level. It means that how you approach life, and the values and qualities that you cherish are shared.”
You can have completely different interests and still have a fulfilling, long-lasting relationship. You can even have disagreements — what matters is being able to navigate those differences.
Dr. Gabb also adds that while compatibility is important, it’s not the be-all and end-all of healthy relationships. “Compatibility is crucial in long-term relationships, but not more important than love, intimacy, and desire,” she says. “Friendships are often based on compatibility and yet they can feel qualitatively different. “
“Deep knowing and a sense that this is ‘your’ person are hallmarks of compatibility,” says Dr. Gabb. This doesn’t mean you have to share your deepest and darkest secrets with your partner, though. “Knowing someone is about respecting someone for who they are,” says Dr. Gabb. “It’s about trust and intimate knowledge – for example, knowing what makes a partner ‘tick’ and consolidating trust, over time, as you confide in each other and grow together.”
“Being compatible in a relationship means that you’re comfortable being yourself,” she adds. “You can allow emotions to surface without censorship or concern. This establishes the solid basis for a long-term partnership where you ‘see’ the other person and love and respect them because of all of their quirks and qualities rather than despite them.”
Researchers at The Open University found that loving a partner “warts and all”, and accepting their quirks as part of what makes them who they are is the basis of lasting enduring love.
Another sign that you’re compatible with your partner is that you can communicate honestly and openly, which is “something that is at the core of all positive relationships,” adds Dr. Gabb.
It’s entirely possible to be in love with someone and be fundamentally incompatible. No couple will be in perfect sync 100% of the time, so small differences are to be expected, but incompatibility should be addressed, says Dr. Gabb.
“Ignoring a lack of compatibility is not going to make things feel better and is likely to lead to feelings of resentment and a growing distance between partners,” she says. A lack of compatibility can turn the relationship into an uphill battle.
Dr. Gabb explains that you might be incompatible if a partner wants to change or “improve” who you are, or feels embarrassed or uncomfortable about you. “If a partner wants to fundamentally change how their partner looks or dresses, or behaves, then that’s not respecting them for who they are,” says Dr. Gabb.
If you’re worried you’re incompatible with your partner, ask yourself:
Are you aligned on values?
Does your partner respect your differences and support you regardless?
Are you able to resolve issues, or “agree to disagree”?
Do you have shared goals as a couple?
Can you be yourself around them?