by Karin Sternberg, Ph.D.
Love compatibility is important but misunderstood
If you’re out looking for a partner with whom you’d like to build a future, few things are more important than your love compatibility with each other. After all, if you’re not a good match for each other, sooner or later, boredom and discontentment set in. Disagreements and arguments may start and you begin wondering since when you’ve been prone to argue over every little thing, no matter how insignificant it may seem.
If that describes you, maybe you’ve been looking for the wrong things in a partner. Which factors do you think are important for lasting happiness in a relationship? Age? Values? Looks? Religion? Common interests? Fair enough, these factors may play a role. But they’re based on “old wisdom” and common assumptions that sometimes work — but oftentimes do not.
In our research, we’ve found that there’s much more to true compatibility, but most people aren’t aware of it because it’s unconscious. If you want to find someone who’s a truly good match for you, here are five keys that you need to keep in mind:
1. Your love stories influence every aspect of your relationship
You have love stories in your mind that determines which potential partners you’re interested in and that shape your expectation of what a relationship should be like, how you should behave in a relationship, how you should interpret your partner’s actions, how you should interact with your partner, and so on.
Your love stories represent the essence of your life – the relationships of family members, neighbors, and friends you have observed since you were a child, your own experiences with other people, the stories you have read in books and watched in movies.
There is no objective reality; rather, it’s your stories that give your relationship meaning.
2. Happy relationships involve matching love stories
Obviously, you’re not the only one with love stories; everybody else has them as well. But there are stories that tend to work better and others that are maladaptive. Additionally, some stories work better together than others. For example, if you have a fantasy story and are looking for a super romantic relationship with your own personal princess, but your partner is not so much interested in romance but rather in creating a relationship that runs smoothly like a business, ensuring you are making good money and have clearly spelled out duties that need to be fulfilled responsibly, both of you are likely to end up disappointed.
You and your partner do not need to have the same story, but for a happy long-term relationship, you will need stories that are compatible with each other.
3. Understand what you really want from your relationship
The love stories you have give rise to what we call the “core components of love.” Every relationship is defined by
- how much intimacy you share with each other (that is, how close, bonded, and connected you feel),
- how much passion you feel (that is, how much emotional and physical attraction as well as romance you have in your relationship), and
- how committed you are to each other.
What you want from a relationship in terms of intimacy, passion, and commitment depends on your love stories. But more importantly, you’ll only be happy if you have what you want.
The issue is – we often are not consciously aware of what we truly want, and where our relationship lags. Identify what’s important to you. Does your partner want the same as you do? Identify the gaps that are obstacles to your happiness, and take action to eliminate them.
4. Your partner’s feelings for you matter less than you think
In our studies, we have found that people often haven’t the foggiest idea of how their partner feels about them – and the people who participated in our studies were in stable relationships! Can you imagine the results for people in unhappy relationships? We can’t really know what other people think or feel.
What matters to our happiness is how we want our partner to feel for us, and whether we believe they’re actually feeling that way. For example, your partner may feel that they’re very committed to your relationship. If you don’t feel that they are committed and consequently feel anxious or jealous most of the time, your partner’s factual commitment really doesn’t matter that much to your happiness.
Think about whether you have enough (or too much) of intimacy, passion, and commitment in a relationship, and if there’s a gap, act!
5. Your relationship needs to match your (and your partner’s) needs – not the expectations of those around you
Your love stories determine what kind of a relationship and partner you’re looking for and what makes you happy. All that matters to your happiness and that of your partner is that the two of you meet each other’s needs. Once you know your own needs and dreams more clearly, you’ll find that the expectations of those around you – parents, family, and friends – as well as those of society begin to matter much less. The key to your happiness is finding someone whose love story is compatible with yours, and not those of your family or the society around you.
We wish you the best of luck finding a partner who makes you happy!
Dr. Karin Sternberg is a research associate at Cornell University. She has a Ph.D. in psychology from the University of Heidelberg, Germany. She is married to Dr. Robert Sternberg, author of the Triangular Theory of Love and Love Stories. Their passion is to apply research findings to the real world in order to improve people’s lives.