In last week’s blog post, I addressed the importance of you and your partner’s differences complementing and benefiting one another. In other words, opposites do attract. However, sharing similarities with your partner is also important.
Which similarities are “must haves” in order for you and your partner to maintain chemistry and determine your compatibility?
Dr. Van Epp references research conducted over the past thirty years that identifies three areas of similarities that tend to appear in happy and stable marriages. These three areas are: personality, values, and lifestyle.
What exactly do you mean by personality?
What is your partner’s Myers-Briggs type?
Ok, so, it’s not absolutely necessary to know your partner’s four-letter type, and it’s just fine if you don’t even know what I’m talking about, but consider the emotional temperament of your partner. Are they extroverted or introverted? Warm or cold? Rigid or flexible? Optimistic or pessimistic? Loud or quiet? Moody or steady? Does your partner make decisions based more on thinking or feeling? How does your partner solve problems? What is your partner’s sense of humor like? How are you and your partner similar and different in these characteristics?
Dr. Van Epp cites research studies that concluded “nearly all cultures placed high importance on the partner qualities of dependability, emotional stability, kindness and understanding, and intelligence,” as well as “qualities of warmth, expressiveness, intelligence, and humor.”
Well, duh. That’s not new information or rocket science – it seems like common sense. So, why is it often so hard to find partners with the qualities we desire? Dr. Van Epp says the reason appears to be “the way relationships are built and the criteria used in the decision-making process during the dating years.”
Let me introduce you to Bob (name has been changed, of course). Bob and I dated for about a year. I had met Bob at a party about a year before we started dating seriously, and chatted casually with him. I thought he was cute, he was a musician (what is it about musicians?!), and we shared the same faith, which was important to me. Between the year of the party and our first date, I had a pretty little picture of who Bob was in my head, despite limited interaction with him. I clung to that pretty little picture…even on our second date, when he inquired about my past relationships, which I thought was a little too soon. I clung to that pretty little picture…especially when he told me he didn’t want me to see my therapist anymore. And, while the pretty little picture became slightly less pretty, I still referred back to it after he suggested I alter certain aspects of my appearance. My “pretty little picture” kept me in a relationship far longer than I needed to be, as Bob’s personality slowly revealed itself to me. I made the decision to enter and stay in a relationship with someone because he was a cute, Christian musician, and I really wanted to be in a relationship. I would remind myself of these things during difficult times, instead of viewing the difficult times as his personality (and what life would be like as his wife) on full display.
Dr. Van Epp recommends giving the relationship time and patience in order to determine your partner’s emotional temperament. I remember feeling awkward when Bob inquired about my past relationships on our second date, since we were still very much in the getting-to-know each other phase, and had not at all defined our relationship. I would come to find out that this question was just the tip of the iceberg of Bob’s intrusiveness and lack of boundaries. On my first date with my now-husband, after inquiring about my experience in graduate school, he made a fairly innocent remark about me having student debt. However, my intruder bell went off, as I was transported back to my second date with Bob. I decided to acknowledge my intruder bell, but temporary silence it, and continue dating my husband, which, obviously, I’m so glad that I did! Later in our relationship, I told him about how I felt when he made that comment, and he clarified that he was trying to convey how impressed he was with how I managed to pay my way through grad school and support myself as a single woman throughout my twenties. My husband’s comment may have felt intrusive to me on our first date, but time revealed to me that he has a pattern of respecting and setting boundaries, unlike Bob, who enjoyed trampling all over them.
Dr. Van Epp wraps up his thoughts on personality similarities with an important caveat: “Make sure that you feel accepted, are completely comfortable to be yourself, and have a deep sense of coming home when you are together. These qualities typify the climate of a healthy blend of personalities.”
What exactly do you mean by values?
Dr. Van Epp suggests considering your similarities with your partner in three main areas of values: family, religious, and financial.
What are you and your partner’s individual beliefs about marriage? These beliefs will ultimately shape your and your partner’s behavior within your marriage. What are your beliefs on parenting? What do you and your partner believe about the roles of the husband and wife in a marriage?
So, how important is religion really? Dr. Van Epp references a study done by Dr. David Olson regarding the importance of partners sharing the same faith and the impact this has on their relationship. Dr. Olson found that couples who scored 70% or higher on a scale measuring agreement on faith issues also scored significantly higher in categories of relationship satisfaction, supporting “a strong link between a couple’s agreement on faith and the quality of their marriage.” It’s important to consider what you and your partner each believe and how important these beliefs are to each of you. The more important your beliefs are to you, the more likely your beliefs are to influence other major areas of your life and the decisions you make. If you and your partner want to live happily ever after, it’s important to consider the worldview and perspective that you’re each operating from, and how these will affect your decisions, goals, and priorities in the future.
You and your partner should also consider and talk about money management and your attitudes towards spending. As Dr. Van Epp points out, “thirty-seven percent of all married couples complain that money management is their number one problem in marriage.” I’m actually surprised this number isn’t higher, given the friends and couples I’ve spoken with who name this as their number one conflict with their partner!
What exactly do you mean by lifestyle?
Work habits, leisure activities, and interests. Chances are, you’re going to want to enjoy the things you enjoy the most with the person who you enjoy the most (hopefully, that’s your partner!). You don’t have to have all of the same interests (for example, my husband loves Metallica and I just hear screaming), but enough interests that you have something to do that you both enjoy when you spend quality time together (we both love going to Cardinals games and traveling).
Dr. Van Epp concludes his thoughts on comparability with this: “Marriage is both a companion relationship and a working partnership. The more couples are comparable in their recreational and leisure activities, the stronger the feelings of love.” Again, you don’t have to love all the same things, and love them all to the same degree. But having similar lifestyles brings a closeness and level of understanding that may not be as prevalent with two partners with completely different lifestyles.
A Bit of My Own Story
Soon after breaking up with Bob, I had a conversation with a friend about what I was looking for in a partner. I remember inwardly rolling my eyes at her question because this is something I’d thought about since I was a kid and something I thought I had totally figured out. And the qualities on my list seemed so simple and not high-maintenance – Christian, kind, values friendships, likes having fun, good sense of humor, enjoys sports…pretty basic stuff…so I thought. However, as I reflected on my relationship with Bob, and a couple of other guys I met through online dating, I realized that these qualities aren’t as common or “basic” as I thought.
Something that helped me in my own dating life was reflecting on all of the things I didn’t like from previous relationships. I listed those things out and then wrote the opposite quality, giving me a very clear and specific picture of the man I was looking for. For example:
Undesirable Quality Desirable Quality
Doesn’t have many friends –> Values and invests in friends
Inconsistent church attendance –> Involved in local church
Wants to spend every second together –> Respects my need for “alone” time – and wants time to himself too!
In the end, I was left with a more detailed list of qualities than I had ever had before. I also had a summary of the needs I have that I didn’t know I had before I learned difficult lessons through past relationships.
I remember taking a deep breath and posting this very detailed description on my Match.com profile, assuming no one would contact me, finding me too demanding or high-maintenance.
About a month in, a charming, kind, handsome accountant sent me an email, claiming he was all I had described. It turns out he was and we were planning a wedding a year later.
After spending years of settling for relationships that were unfulfilling and unhealthy (and walking with friends and clients who did the same), I’m passionate about helping others in their journey to finding a healthy and satisfying relationship that meets their needs and brings them joy. If you would like more information or support on your journey to finding a partner that’s right for you, please do not hesitate to contact me at (314) 392-2895 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Van Epp, J. (2007). How to avoid falling in love with a jerk: The foolproof way to follow your heart without losing your mind. United States of America: The McGraw-Hill Companies.