This was the topic for a radio show interview I was asked to participate in. My first thought was, “I’m not a sociologist. I don’t have the data or expertise to address this.” However, I soon realized that the important question underlying this one is the one we all share when it comes to relationship: What are the ingredients of a happy, long-lasting relationship?
As a relationship coach working with couples in every phase of relationship, from pre-marital counseling to ministering at weddings to working with childrearing issues to mediating separation, I have had a lot of opportunities to theorize about what makes certain couples “stick” while others drift apart. Interestingly, similar socioeconomic status has not, at least not directly, been on my radar as a criterion for a thriving relationship.
With just a few days to prepare for the radio roundtable discussion on And The Women Gather, I came up with a list that we can call:
Top 6 Compatibility Factors for a Thriving Relationship
• Communication skills
• Shared values
• Common interests
I didn’t number these factors because the hierarchy changes at different times in a relationship, which is probably why some relationships survive and others dissolve. At the start of a relationship, common interests might top the list. (Actually, sexual attraction probably supersedes everything at first blush. However, sexual attraction changes, ebbs and flows, and is often dependent on the other factors, at least for women.) After a few years into a relationship, communication skills and trust may outrank some of the other factors. If a couple has children, the criterion of shared values often bounces to the top of the list.
So how do you pick a partner who is likely to be a good match? There’s something to chemistry, of course—that invisible but potent gravitational pull into a stranger’s orbit. But after a few months of swooning, our minds begin to catch up. This is when it’s time to ask ourselves three important questions: 1. What are our priorities at this time in our life?, 2. Which compatibility factors can we offer a partner?, and the one we tend to forget to consider, 3. Which factors might matter to me five or ten years from now?
If I hear about a couple where one partner likes the symphony and the other buys ringside seats for Friday night wrestling, I can’t predict how happy that couple has been, is, or will be. If I hear that one believes strongly in cultivating a “green” lifestyle and the other drives a Hummer, I don’t know that there is trouble on their horizon. It depends on which compatibility factors are most important to these two people individually and as a couple at this particular time in their lives. If they come in for counseling, I won’t assume that the Hummer/Prius argument is the bottomline issue. Why not? Because maybe an unspoken or unconscious difference in another compatibility factor is what they are really at odds over.
I don’t think I came across with the kind of certainty the host of the radio show hoped for with my “it depends on other compatibility factors” suggestion. Maybe a sociologist has actual data, rather than my anecdotal experience, that would tell us if class distinction is really a make it or break it issue for couples. In the meantime, I will keep offering this list to couples in the hopes that they can address what really matters to them.
If you have some ideas about what makes relationships thrive or your own set of criteria, let me know. And if you have a relationship question or problem, please contact me at Jane@AskJaneNow.com. In your e-mail, let me know if you’d like to work with me on my new Ask Jane radio show. I look forward to hearing from you.