Thursday, February 26, 2009

Relationship Matters Nine - Are You Suited?

Compatibility is Possible for All Types
Some couples are as different as chalk and cheese. She is rigid and dogmatic. He is flexible and fun-loving. Or he is a domineering tough guy and she is placid and easy-going. In contrast, other couples are so similar they could be matching bookends. They look alike, talk alike, act alike.

What is Compatibility?
Both the chalk and cheese couples and the bookend couples can have successful, happy marriages. How is this possible? What is the secret to compatibility? What does ‘compatibility’ mean anyway? We tend to think that compatible partners get along smoothly and if there are differences of opinion, they have the ability to work things out. We also think of compatibility as the twosome who shares interests. So what allows a couple to ‘get along’ in a state of loving intimacy without tearing each other to shreds on the one extreme or being withdrawn and disconnected on the other extreme?

I believe that problems in marriage are not caused by gender, personality or cultural differences as many popular theories would have us believe. Problems are caused by dysfunction; that is, the low level of psychological health of one or both partners. When psychologically unhealthy or immature, partners act out unresolved repressed pain and lack the emotional qualities and communication skills necessary to meet each others’ needs and sustain an intimate connection. On the other hand, when partners are functioning at a higher level of psychological health they possess the abilities to overcome any differences and issues.

Complement or Clash
This is a view shared by world-acclaimed experts in the Enneagram personality system, Don Riso and Russ Hudson. They have meticulously analysed combinations of personality types to assess their strengths and weaknesses and areas where they complement and clash.

Partners of the same personality type will naturally have an understanding of each other and share similar values however the danger is, they can also reinforce each other’s negative traits and allow each other to get stuck in comfortable ruts.

Partners with different personalities can extend and draw out each other to venture into unfamiliar territory. The emotional, deep-thinking wife can challenge the superficial husband to explore introspective depths. The adventurous husband can challenge the cautious, conservative wife to scuba-dive and climb mountains. Such personality differences can be complementary.

Anybody Can Be Compatible
After all their research of couple combinations, Riso and Hudson conclude that any two people can be compatible and have a happy, loving marriage if they are functioning at a psychologically healthy level. When psychologically healthy, one partner will consider the other’s feelings and needs and will accept and respect differences. When healthy, a person has moved beyond childish self-centredness and is capable of loving and caring for someone else. They learn to become other-centred.

Learning communication skills helps any personality combination co-exist happily. The functional couple has to learn how to listen with empathy and speak respectfully to each other and rationally solve problems, resolve conflict and make decisions together. Such skills are taught in Effectiveness Training, which has been around since the 60s. These skills don’t come naturally if we rely on the faulty template laid down in our formative years by unskilled parents and teachers. Intelligent communication skills have to be learned.

A Number One Priority
Having a shared faith and shared values such as loyalty and devotion to each other and making your marriage a Number One priority, even above extended family, friends, career and interests, forms a solid foundation, which can overcome personality, cultural or gender differences.

Marriage expert, Dr Willard Harley agrees that compatibility is not so much about innate traits as shared interests. In his book Surviving An Affair, he claims that compatibility is really the result of a series of choices about how you live as a couple. You can choose to be compatible.

He advocates a ‘Policy of Joint Agreement’ which is simply: “Never do anything without an enthusiastic agreement between you and your spouse.”

Brick By Brick
Dr Harley writes: “Building a marital relationship is like building a house – brick by brick. Each brick is a choice you make about the way you live together. If you follow the Policy of Joint Agreement and make choices that are mutually agreeable, your house will be strong and beautiful. But if some bricks are made by only one of you, those weak bricks will make your whole house an uncomfortable place to live.

“When couples throw out all their thoughtless habits and activities and replace them with habits and activities that take each other’s feelings into account, that’s what compatibility is all about – building a way of life that is comfortable for both spouses.”

Chalk and cheese or matching bookend couples can be compatible if they are psychologically healthy, make the effort to learn consideration for each other and choose a compatible way of life together.

This article was published in June 2008 in XL Extra! an international magazine for entrepreneurs and business people.

For more information, read Fall In Love, Stay In Love by Dr Willard Harley, Jr and Surviving An Affair by Dr Willard Harley Jr & Dr Jennifer Harley Chalmers & Personality Types, Using The Enneagram, for Self-Discovery, by Don Richard Riso and Russ Hudson or visit

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