What criteria make two people compatible, relationship-wise?
March 17, 2010 6:58 PM   Subscribe

What criteria make two people compatible, relationship-wise?

Assume that there is chemistry—mutual personal and physical attraction—and open communication. That's enough to get things started, but what makes things last? What are the signs that two people might be able to forge a lasting connection, or—conversely—should think twice?

I'm deliberately keeping the question plain, because I'm interested in all perspectives on this. Hopefully it's clear enough—but please feel free to ask if you need clarification.

posted by ixohoxi to Human Relations (25 answers total) 50 users marked this as a favorite
Willingness to compromise, trust, and to always give the other the benefit of the doubt. It sounds like all that would all just be a measure of maturity, but I've found the same individual can have those things with one person and not with another.
posted by MexicanYenta at 7:02 PM on March 17, 2010 [3 favorites]

Having similar goals in life is the major thing that has kept Mr. Zinfandel and me together for 25 years. We talk about our goals now and then and I think we adjust our personal goals to match each other somewhat. Also, we've always been able to have fun together.

Mr. Zinfandel's answer is "lots of cats."
posted by zinfandel at 7:04 PM on March 17, 2010 [2 favorites]

Not expecting the other person to read your mind.

Also, realizing that you are, on occasion, just as big of a pain in the ass as the other person, and as lucky as they are that you put up with their crap every day, you're pretty lucky to have found someone who can tolerate you, marvellously flawed as you are.
posted by Sweetie Darling at 7:09 PM on March 17, 2010 [10 favorites]

I've been married to my husband for 15 years, with him for 19 this March. Things that keep people together long-term: similar sense of humor, similar taste in music (or at least not polar opposite likes/dislikes), similar values (political, ethical, charitable), and mutual respect. Also? We each have our own separate interests and pursuits, along with the stuff we do together.

Can opposites attract? Absolutely. But I'd be willing to bet that even opposites have something basic in common.
posted by cooker girl at 7:11 PM on March 17, 2010

What are the signs that two people might be able to forge a lasting connection

Having matching styles of communication, especially during disagreements.
posted by gabrielsamoza at 7:11 PM on March 17, 2010 [4 favorites]

What are the signs that two people might be able to forge a lasting connection?

I liked zinfandel's comment about goals in life, but I'd add that I think you need to first have similar goals for the relationship itself. When my wife and I started dating, we both went into it with the attitude that it was heading towards marriage and a life together, and that if (while dating) we realized that that wasn't going to happen, that we'd move on. Thankfully, we never had that realization, and we've been married now for 8+ years.

I don't think you need to both be committed to "marriage and a life together" from the beginning. "Let's see where this goes" is fine. But I do think you should both be able to talk openly about your goals for the relationship, and those goals should roughly match up. And, over time, A) you should still be able to talk openly about your goals, and B) your goals should align more and more closely with each other's.
posted by Alt F4 at 7:24 PM on March 17, 2010 [2 favorites]

I think the most important things are:

-flexibility (the ability to compromise).

-good sense of humor/playfulness.

Everything else can work itself out. My boyfriend says, "Always believe your relationship partner/spouse when they tell you something, unless you are given evidence to the contrary" He doesn't mean willfully ignore things that are happening, but I think it is a good point as well. Trust is important.

When I was younger, I had this long list of requirements for my "perfect guy". Turns out my boyfriend wouldn't have fit 90% of them, but he is far more compatible with me after half a decade together than many of the guys who fit all the "dream guy" list characteristics. Don't make lists, just go out and meet people. If you keep an open mind, you may be surprised.
posted by arnicae at 7:27 PM on March 17, 2010 [8 favorites]

I seen it said many times, it's a bit trite, but I really think it captures the essence. A relationship is a stool with many legs:

- sexual chemistry/compatibility
- friendship
- intellectual compatibility
- similar interests
- similar goals.

You can have a chair with 5 legs, and it's very stable. 4 legs is also fine. 3 legs makes an adequate stool. But you can't have a chair with 2 legs.
posted by smoke at 7:32 PM on March 17, 2010 [42 favorites]

Having similar ideas about money. Seriously. A marriage is a lot of things, including a partnership that is similar to a business contract. You should have similar ideas about how money operates in order to make that part of your relationship stable.
posted by k8lin at 7:34 PM on March 17, 2010 [3 favorites]

Mutual respect. Without that, it all falls apart.
posted by aquafortis at 7:41 PM on March 17, 2010 [4 favorites]

Sex. Hot, dirty, nasty, tie-me-up-and-spank-me-while-the-crowd-cheers-and-the-cops-regretfully-undo-your-handcuffs-to-put-their-handcuffs-on-you-cause-ya'll-are-tying-up-traffic-while-still-congratulating-both-of-you-for-such-a-fine-performance sex.

That and communication and shared goals.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:50 PM on March 17, 2010 [10 favorites]

Laughing at each other's jokes.
posted by parkerama at 8:53 PM on March 17, 2010

I found that it's important that the two people are different enough that they find each other novel and interesting, but similar enough that they're able to communicate effectively without misinterpreting everything. Being able to learn together and maintain interest in the other means alot in terms of maintaining a good quality relationship for a long time.
posted by scrutiny at 8:54 PM on March 17, 2010 [5 favorites]

This is based on observation, because I get twitchy in long-term monogamous relationships, but the thing that seems to be the foundation of all the successful, happy couples I know is this: each partner is the ideal yin for the other's yang. If a crunchy vegan ER nurse has the idea in his head that the ideal woman is sort of like June Cleaver, and his woman strives for that ideal. It will work even though that seems like a horrible mismatch until you get to really know them and watch them over time and see what their core is, and understand how they fit together.

All kind of other things - taste in music, favorite TV shows, hobbies, religion - don't seem to matter as much as finding the ideal and being able to rely on having that missing piece at your side.

To me, it seems like sex would be important, but of course there are couples who stay together and are happy and loving even after their sex life is crippled by illness or accident. (There are things people can do, and things people did before Viagra, but still, I'm talking about people losing a big piece of what was their life and making the rest of their life okay without it.)

Money is an issue - that's the one fact in all the divorces (and committed gay couple break-ups) that I've been dragged into. One of them was stupid about money.

I've seen marriages last (at least until now) when one of them is sort of like a teenage child who has no real responsibilities in the relationship, but they don't seem happy.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 9:03 PM on March 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

A long-term relationship has a lot more boring weekday nights than fun weekends and parties. Way too many relationships fail when one of them isn't mature enough to realize this. Fortunately those folks end up bitter and lonely having pissed away a lifetime of possible relationships. Oh wait, that's just my ex...
posted by wkearney99 at 9:55 PM on March 17, 2010 [6 favorites]

How bad does a bottle of wine have to be, before neither of you will drink a glass? How tired does either of you have to be to electively miss a party hosted by George Clooney? Could you bury a child, and stay together? Could you bury any hope for children, together? Could you bury parents, and stay together? Could you bury one another?

Could you win the lottery and share the proceeds, without a single thought or verbal reference to individual luck, ever? Could you be a traitor to your country, and be sure you wouldn't go into exile, or prison, or death row, alone?

Could you give blood to that person, or take their blood, all typing and Rh issues being compatible, with no questions? Could you still use a condom with them, on grounds of a simple UTI, without questions?

Could you sing songs you'd change stations to avoid on radio, with them, even if they were tone deaf? Could you still sing those songs to them if they became completely deaf? Could you hear them still, offkey and behind the beat, singing just for you, if you became deaf?

Would you trust them with the only nude picture of yourself ever taken? Would they reciprocate that trust? What if that picture of you was at age 6 months, and of them, at age 23? What if the ages were reversed?

Would you change the end of the toothpaste tube you squeeze, if it was important to them? Would you still French kiss them, if they failed to quit smoking, and you did quit? Could they trust you with the grocery list, if they were vegan, and you were an unrepentant omnivore? What if they were sending you out in the middle of the night, for a pregnancy cheesesteak and chocolate ice cream, and you were the vegan? And what if you were, in that last scenario, the pregnant, vegan female in the partnership, and they were none of those things?

And finally:

Would you know when to stop trying to love them, if loving them wasn't what they needed?

There is, from what I've seen in successful marriages of family and friends, some Rubicon of trust and connection that such couples recognize, and never need to cross, to know what their mutual limits and needs are. But I couldn't tell you about that, personally; I ford every river I come to, and will, until I drown.
posted by paulsc at 10:01 PM on March 17, 2010 [71 favorites]

I think it was Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot who said that only two things were necessary for a successful marriage: first, agreement on what time to go to bed; second, agreement on whether the bedroom window should be open or closed. Everything else is negotiable.
posted by Carol Anne at 5:10 AM on March 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

paulsc, that's the most beautiful thing I think I've read on what marriage and/or partnership truly is. I am so glad I could answer yes to all of it with my husband. We have our glitches (some big ones, in fact) but I could truly answer yes to those questions without reservation.

I've had to compromise on some pretty big stuff to be with my husband, we don't share a lot of common interests but we do give each other the space they need, the support they need when needed, a good talking-to when needed and the willingness to be open to change for the highest good of our relationship. All the rest is cake. (Not to denigrate cake because MMM! cake! hehe)
posted by Mysticalchick at 5:56 AM on March 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

Tons of good points above, e.g. respect, trust, compromise, maturity, etc. (I can't stress how important maturity is! Sometimes I think the success of my marriage is mostly due to the fact that I waited until I was 30. Most of the people I know who married in their 20s are now divorced. Some remarried in their 30s or later, and those second marriages are generally successful. If you think you're a grownup when you're in your 20s -- as I did -- you're probably wrong.) Here are a few other points that have helped maintain my 15-year relationship.

- a strong ethic of commitment.

That's not very romantic, but it's a core part of my personality, and it's a core part of my wife's personality, too. By which I mean that we take our marriage vows very seriously (as seriously as we took the unspoken "vows" that we made to each other when we were dating, before we got married). I don't believe getting married is some sort of magic spell. It's simply that I chose to (or was compelled to, due to the way I'm constituted) think of my marriage as a binding contract. To Death Do Us Part.

Of course this has its limits. If my wife started beating me, having serial affairs, etc., I would re-evaluate the contract, but the key point is that I come at the relationships from a general perspective of "opting out is not an option." That doesn't mean that I just live with problems. It means that, when I (we) solve problems, I don't consider leaving-the-relationship as a viable solution. It's like having a kid. Most parents don't consider "abandoning the child" as a viable solution to parenting problems. When they chose to have the kid, they "signed a contract" and they are now honoring it.

I've learned, in discussions with friends, that not everyone thinks this way. It doesn't necessarily have anything to do with whether their relationships are happy or unhappy. Some people just think of all relationships as potentially ephemeral. "It seems to be working well today. Who knows what the future will bring?" That's a fundamentally alien viewpoint to me.

- A core belief (and an acceptance of the fact) that relationships take work.

There's no part of me that feels like, when two people click, everything is (or should be) easy after that. So when the relationship needs work, I'm not resentful or surprised. I expect it. It stuns me how many grownups believe in that happily-ever-after myth. And I say that, even though my wife and I hardly ever fight or have serious problems.

My relationship isn't the thing I relax into after a hard day at work. My relationship is the main thing I work on.

That's actually not true most of the time. 90% of the time, hanging out with my wife is the most relaxing and fun thing in the world. But that's a gift. It's not what I expect. And I'm always ready to do the work if it's needed. So many people seem to think, "wow, I'm having to work at this. So I guess that means it's not working."

- good role models.

My friends who have lots of troubled relationships are almost all children of parents who had troubled relationships. I am so grateful to my parents that they got married in 1962 and are still together, today. My wife's parents are dead, but they stayed together until they died, in their 70s. So we grew up thinking of marriages as things that last.

Probably more important, my parents are kind to each other and respect each other. So I grew up with that model too.

Okay, if you didn't happen to get lucky in that way, that's not your fault and it doesn't mean you are doomed to have sucky relationships. Just be aware that your feelings about relationships are colored by what you saw around you when you were growing up. You may have to work to ignore or push past some bad conditioning.

I've heard friends -- ones whose parents divorced or lived together miserably -- say silly things like, "there's no such thing as a happy marriage." That's as absurd as me saying "all marriages are happy," just because my parent's happen to be happy.

The complicated truth is that some are happy; some aren't. Don't let what you've seen limit your possibilities. If your parents had a troubled marriage, delve into it. WHY was it troubled? What could they have done differently? What will you do differently?

- Oh, and I married my best friend. For some reason, people are opposed to doing that. I guess it's because they want mystery. Once someone is your best friend, mystery is gone. But many of my friends who chased mystery and "the spark" are now divorced. I'm still married to my best friend.
posted by grumblebee at 6:50 AM on March 18, 2010 [17 favorites]

Similar attitudes regarding money and spending. Other stuff too, but definitely that. Marriage can be challenging enough without fights over money.
posted by troywestfield at 7:22 AM on March 18, 2010

2nding "lots of cats"
posted by battleshipkropotkin at 8:09 AM on March 18, 2010

I'll repeat my answer from this similar question:

How does one know that they've found someone who is right enough?

When I found someone with whom I could totally be myself, without any reservations whatsoever, that's when I knew I'd found the one. I never have to hide anything from him, I never have to pretend to be smarter or prettier than I am. At the same time, he challenges me to be a better person, like that Jack Nicholson line in As Good as it Gets: "You make me want to be a better man."
posted by desjardins at 9:05 AM on March 18, 2010 [9 favorites]

It's said above - but: Laughter - lots of it. My husband makes me laugh at least once every day, and I return the favor. With that much laughter, being with him is never 'work'.
posted by dbmcd at 10:40 AM on March 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

Everyone has flaws, do their flaws annoy the shit out of you, freak you out, make you cry?

Ideally you think their flaws are mildly annoying and possibly even cute.

God knows I am messy; I am perpetually late; I can't sit or lie still; I am a poor dresser; I have bad taste in music and I like to play it loudly; I forget our anniversary. These are a few of my many faults.

If I were dating me I would find these things: disgusting; disrespectful; annoying; embarrassing and annoying; buy some $%^& headphones; hurtful.

My husband finds these things: mildly annoying; doesn't notice; charming; occasionally slightly embarrassing; cute to mildly annoying; he knows I'll make it up to him later.

If you want to get really technical, check out a book called "The Marriage Clinic" by John Gottman.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 11:58 AM on March 18, 2010 [6 favorites]

(By the way my husband and I have almost nothing in common, completely different senses of humor, different approaches to money management, different tastes in interior decorating. According to me--and Gottman--those things really aren't dealbreakers. It's the way you argue about them that counts.)
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 12:01 PM on March 18, 2010 [4 favorites]

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