There are three big factors that combine to result in lasting love; chemistry, compatibility and commitment. In Western culture, chemistry is emphasised as the hallmark of true love when it really only reflects true lust. Chemistry is no doubt important because it cements a strong bond between lovers at the start that begins the process of love however, it is perfectly possible to fall in love with someone who is not compatible with you and who has no real commitment.
Commitment is the ability to stick together over time and in the face of obstacles. The long-lasting couples I have encountered have a sort of 'taken-for-granted' attitude to the long-haul - it's almost as though the possibility of divorce doesn't even occur to them. They keep going, no matter what, and they automatically help their partner when times are tough rather than withdrawing. The ability for this type of commitment is a combination of a personality trait and the example these people saw growing-up with their own parents. Although you can learn commitment, it's something that's mostly pre-determined. This is true with chemistry too - something over which you have very little control because it's hormones and desireable biological traits.
Compatibility is the extent to which you have the right traits and experiences in common with someone else. Compatibility makes it easy for two people to relate to each other and work together - it removes the friction that comes from misunderstandings and differences of opinion. Many of these traits and experiences are also pre-determined by biology and personal history, however, once they are understood, you can reject potential partners who have low compatibility with you and give your attention to a partner with high compatibility.
In the introduction to my book on compatibility I write...Most people imagine that the search for the right partner is like walking along a golden beach, picking up shells and hoping to find one with a pearl inside. Granted, I see clients who’re unhappy in their relationships but, in my observation, finding the right partner is more like being faced with a table laid with 100 revolvers - 99 of them have bullets in the barrel and one of them has none. Your task is to pick the empty gun and test it on yourself.
Over 20 years as a therapist, hearing the stories of many, many couples it became obvious to me that some of these unhappy people were never going to have success with their selection of a mate. Some relationships are clearly doomed from the start and it’s only a matter of time before the cracks reveal incompatibilities - incompatibilities that make a relationship more of a psychological engineering challenge than a natural flowering of love. In fact, most people aren’t so much selecting a life partner as much as playing a game of ‘choose-your-mate’ while blindfolded by fairytales and lust.
However, because our relationships reveal our vulnerabilities, because we share our valuable resources and spend our precious time, a bad choice of partner is so disastrous that it’s often better not to have made any choice at all and lived alone. At best, a bad choice of partner can trap you in a life of mediocrity, sapping your confidence and ambition - a mire from which it takes all your strength to escape...if you do. At worst, a bad choice of partner can leave you shivering from the emotional, social, financial, and physical toll of the encounter. Glib people will justify any suffering as an ‘opportunity to learn’ but, I can assure you that, when starting a relationship, there is no virtue in walking blindly off a cliff just to learn about how horrible the consequences are.
I’d like to give you a chance to find someone who’s both compatible and desirable. If you know what makes you compatible with someone you can narrow the field to those people and then choose someone who also ignites a spark. Having some selection criteria in place beats randomly kissing every frog and falling in love with one who remains a frog forever.
Take your life seriously. You are the captain of the ship whether asleep in your cabin or awake at the helm. Sleep is easy and seductive but I urge you - take the wheel! Use the maps! This book is one of many maps available to you for planning your journey. I assume you want to feel secure, loved and empowered by your relationship. I assume you want a fun life, a meaningful life and lasting love. A little bit of applied knowledge will help in that pursuit.
In the next few articles, I'll be detailing the aspects of compatibility I have seen as a therapist that contribute to lasting love. I'd like you to start by taking noticing the difference between chemistry, compatibility and commitment in your own relationships. If you can distinguish between these three forces, you avoid being seduced by chemistry alone and start thinking about compatibility - if you want lasting love.
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