Research on Relationship Compatibility

Heather Long
Couple dating in a restaurant

Compatibility is when you get to the place when you say, "I'm where I want to find out what to do to make this relationship work," says Jacqueline Nichols of Intuitive Matchmaking LLC, a professional matchmaking agency. "You have to be at the same commitment level to find love. You need equal commitment to being a couple." With that said, there has been a lot of research done on what predictors there are for relationship success, as well as what traits are present in a relationship that are likely to make it successful over time.

Communication Style

A study published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, finds that people who speak and write in similar styles are more compatible. The study was conducted by James Pennebaker and Molly Ireland at the University of Texas at Austin, and it examined the way people communicated and the language they use.

Writing Style

They found that 80% of couples whose writing styles matched were still together after three months. Writing and speaking style can indicate future dating behavior because it's developed through social interactions and education. Nichols agrees that language style similarities are important. "Conversation stimulation needs to be at the same peaks. It's a highly requested item."

Test Your Compatibility

For couples who are interested in testing their commication styles in relation to their compatibility, Pennebaker offers In Synch: Language Style Matching. Couples copy and paste samples of writing from emails, texts or even class assignments, and the tool offers feedback on the potential compatibility of your relationship.

Personal Goals

Having similar interests is important, but Nichols stresses that being at the same place in life is more important. "You want to look for someone in the same chapter of their life. You need to have similar goals and dreams. Drive and ambition are also important. If one partner is very driven and the other person isn't, it can be difficult to grow together no matter how much you enjoy each other."

In an article for the Greater Good Science Center, University of California at Berkeley, Amie M. Gordon, M.A. writes "When a situation requires sacrifice from you or your partner, the two of you may not be equally invested in the outcome. As you navigate the situation, make sure you are both clear about your own desires and priorities."

When partners aren't on the same page and open about their desires and priorities, "the relationship is strained and jealousy happens. One or both always feel pushed." Nichols said.

Problem Solving

How a couple solves their problems can be a great predictor of overall compatibility. What, and how, you solve disagreements with your partner are key indicators of future longevity.

Fighting About Money

Money fights, for example, are a great predictor of a relationship's viability. A study done at Utah State University found that how couples fight about money, in particular, can be a great predictor of divorce.

The report in the New York Times found that:

  • Disgareements over money and sex were the key predictors of divorce for women
  • Disagreements over money were the only common predictor of divorce for men

Conflict Resolution

John Gottman has studied over a 1,000 couples in various situations to monitor their interactions from how they communicate to how they fight. He's found that the quality of their interactions in the first few minutes of each conversation are a great predictor of divorce or success. Couples who focus on negative emotions in the first three minutes of a conversation, are more likely to divorce than couples who display positive emotions. Conflict in a relationship is natural, Gottman wrote in his Seven Principles for Making a Marriage Work that how couples handled the conflict and recovered from it was a greater predictor of compatibility than how many conflicts they have.

Low Self-Monitoring as a Compatibility Predictor

Self-monitoring refers to how a person deals with the perceptions of others. High self-monitors will alter their actions and statements to meet the perceptions of others, while low self-monitors are less concerned with others' perceptions and are more likely to express their own beliefs. A study performed on self-monitoring, trust and commitment in relationships found that couples comprised of high self-monitors were less likely to succeed than couples that have at least one low self-monitor. The study monitored 38 couples between the ages of 18 and 25 who had been dating for at least two months. Each participant filled out a coded questionnaire with a variety of scales. The correlation study found that the higher a person scored on self-monitoring, the lower they scored in areas of trust with their partner.

Wanting Children

Wanting children (or not) can be a deal breaker for many relationships. Relationship expert Harriet Lerner told the Huffington Post that the sooner this issue is discussed the better. If one partner wants children and the other doesn't, there not any room for compromise. A longitudinal study revealed that 100 percent of couples with a husband who didn't want to become a parent were divorced by the time their kids were 6 years old.

Courtship as a Template for Marriage

Relationship problems don't just "explode" from nowhere. A study done by Dr. Ted Huston, and reported in Psychology Today noted that often a couple's courtship was a great indicator of marital bliss. His study found that often couples are uncertain about their relationships while dating, and when they go on to get married, experience great distress. In addition, couples who dated for around two years tended to be the most happy in their marriage. However, couples who dated longer, especially if they were not fully committed to exclusively dating throughout their relationship, tended to seek divorce after a few years of marriage.

Maintaining Compatibility

Relationship compatibility is a long-term effort that requires a couple to work together. How a couple works together, solves their problems together, nurtures their relationship, and develops a shared meaning are the biggest factor in whether or not a couple succeeds. Compatibility is a popular term, but relationships are built, nurtured, and maintained.

Research on Relationship Compatibility