We all as social creatures have a deep and underlying desire to find that one perfect person to spend the rest of our days with. That one person when you meet, you feel an uncontrollable attraction to and an illogical sense of familiarity with. As if you’ve known that person for a lifetime, or perhaps lifetimes. Whatever you want to call it, films and TV series alike have romanticized the phenomenon known as the soulmate. But what do we really know about the perfect mate or the ideal partner? Psychology is finally shedding light on the mystery that encapsulates so many hearts and minds around the world in an effort to understand what truly makes two people compatible for a relationship.
Dating sites like OkCupid.com or chemistry.com boast about their in-depth personality tests and claim that someone with similar answers to the questions on their tests can result in finding the perfect mate.
Now, this sounds very appealing for many different reasons. First, naturally, you want to be with someone who shares the same values as you and perhaps even someone who enjoys similar activities like rock climbing. Secondly, it only seems logical to search for another person that also wants to raise children and begin a family someday. Lastly, we have such a yearning for love as social creatures, that we will convince ourselves of just about anything in order to fill the empty spots in our hearts.
All of these reasons create quite the compelling case for compatibility sites, but how well and how long do the relationships that have similar interests and quirks truly last?
Dr. Ted Hudson of the University of Texas ran a longitudinal study of couples that had been married for years and in his research he discovered something quite surprising. Dr. Hudson explains, “My research shows that there is no difference in the objective compatibility between those couples who are unhappy and those who are happy.”
Dr. Hudson went on to say that couples that feel content and warmth in their relationships said that compatibility wasn’t an issue for them. In fact, they said that it was them who made the relationship work, not the compatibility of their personalities. But when the unhappy couples were asked what they thought about compatibility, they all answered by saying that compatibility is extremely important to a marriage. Sadly, they didn’t think they were compatible with their significant other. Dr. Hudson explains that when the unhappy couples said, “we’re incompatible” they were truly meaning, “We don’t get along very well.”
That’s where the issue arises with compatibility – everyone who is unhappy naturally blames it on the facade of compatibility. They fail to realize and comprehend that a successful relationship does not hinge its posterity on how alike you are, instead it hangs on by the sheer will power and want to stay in a relationship.
This can be observed in arranged marriages, where they tend to last longer and tend to be happier in their relationships, according to international happiness surveys. Do these arranged marriages last longer because they don’t have the option of divorce like we do in the United States? Of course not, it’s because they choose to stay committed and aren’t looking for “the next best thing” or someone that’s more suitable in their eyes.
Professor of Sociology at Stanford University, Michael J. Rosenfeld explains that arranged marriages aren’t that different from the love relationships we have in the Western world. The greatest difference is in our cultures. Americans value autonomy more than anything – they want the freedom to choose who they want to be with. More often than not, however, we get stuck in the perpetual loop of consciously and unconsciously considering someone else when things aren’t going perfectly in our own relationship. And this is where the illusion of compatibility comes into play.