The Most Important Element of Compatibility in Relationships - Teal Swan Articles - Teal Swan Jump to content

The Most Important Element of Compatibility in Relationships

Compatibility is so important in relationships. When two things are compatible, their co-existence is beneficial and ads to the wellbeing of each of them. But there is one element of compatibility that is the most important thing to consider if you want your relationships to feel good and that is workability or lack thereof.  

Compatibility is when two things are able to exist or occur together in a state of harmony and without conflict. Compatibility is about creating the right arrangements with people and putting people in the right place in your life according to their boundaries (their personal feelings, thoughts, desires, needs, behavior, truths etc) and your boundaries (your personal feelings, thoughts, desires, needs, behavior, truths etc). But the most important element of compatibility is workability or lack thereof. Another way of saying this is that the most important part of assessing compatibility is to figure out what is and isn’t workable.

Let’s define workable in the context of this conversation. When something is workable, it is flexible, negotiable, pliable and adaptable. It can be influenced, molded or changed so that it produces the desired effect or the desired results. For a relationship to be harmonious, mutually pleasing and successful, we are likely to find ourselves changing certain things, adapting to certain things and developing flexibility in certain ways. For example, we may get into a relationship with a person who love sports and as a result, we may end up spending a lot of time watching sports when we didn’t before. Or, we may be in a relationship with someone who gets a job in another country. And as a result, we may end up moving to another country when we would never have moved to that place if we were not in that relationship. Or, we may find ourselves in a relationship with someone who is very emotionally volatile. And as a result, we may have to change our relationship to emotions and learn how to effectively regulate someone else.      

But a relationship can only be harmonious, mutually pleasing and successful if we know what is truly workable for us and if we know what is truly unworkable for us. And it can only be harmonious, mutually pleasing and successful if by knowing this, we don’t delude ourselves or other people into thinking that we are workable where we actually are not. To use a metaphor, some things about us and about our life are unworkable, like solid steel. And need to be for the sake of our wellbeing and other things are workable, like modeling clay. And need to be for the sake of our wellbeing.    

So that you can understand this better, here are some examples. A doctor has chosen a specific specialty that requires her to be on call. This is creating disharmony because her partner can’t plan anything that involves her and does not like the feeling of her being able to be called away at any moment. For this specific doctor, this is an area of unworkability. There is no flexibility or changeability relative to this thing in her life. So, the adaptability must be on the other side. But if needing a partner to be reliably present happens to be an area of unworkability for the other person, then there is genuine incompatibility. 

A person has strong beliefs about veganism and animal activism. He starts to date a woman who is new to the whole idea. She feels unable to just go off of all animal products cold turkey, but expresses an interest in trying vegetarianism. So, there is workability relative to this thing. For this man, he feels that he can tolerate eggs and yogurt being in the fridge, as long as there is no meat in the fridge. Which means that for him, there is also workability relative to this thing.  

A person loves climbing. They met someone on vacation that is not what you would call “outdoorsy”. This starts to be a problem because they never seem to want to do the same things. The relationship seems to be pulling this person away from what they love doing most in the world. A very strong desire is born within this person for a partner they can be with doing the thing they love the very most. Someone who is also a climbing enthusiast. They realize that it isn’t workable for them to have a partner who is not intrinsically invested in climbing too.    

Because all people are different, one person might exhibit workability relative to something where as another person can’t be workable relative to that same thing. For example, imagine that your career demands that you move around to different cities. One person might be able to be workable relative to that. But someone else might have a family and friend group that they are so close to and have no interest in leaving, that they could not be workable relative to that.

Keep in mind that workability and lack thereof doesn’t only apply to romantic partnerships. It applies to other relationships as well, such as friendships and work relationships and family relationships etc.

When we have to assess what is and is not workable for us, we begin to wander into the territory of compromise in relationships. The problem with conversations about compromise boils down to two things. The first is that people currently see compromise as an indisputably crucial part of relationships. And the second being that when two people are using the word compromise, they are often talking about two different things.

To compromise is to settle a dispute/conflict or reach agreement or alignment by way of mutual concession. Remember that to concede is to yield, give up or give away something you value. Keep in mind that when some people are using the word compromise, they mean it how I just described it, in that they see compromise as being about the big things that really matter. When people say that compromise is important and they hold this definition of compromise, it’s is just another way of saying “it’s important to give up what is important to you sometimes and take some pain for the sake of the relationship.” 

But when other people use the world compromise, they mean the small stuff. Stuff that doesn’t really matter because it doesn’t represent something the person deeply values. Such as a person who has a preference to eat at a certain restaurant, but who concedes to eat somewhere else because the other person wants to eat there. Or a person who may not have a super strong conviction to any religion, joining a religion for the sake of their partner. When people say that compromise is important and they hold this definition of compromise, it’s is just another way of saying “it’s important to be workable where you can be workable”. Does it make sense now, why we get confused when we talk about compatibility? 

One of the least popular videos that I ever did, was a video on the importance of not compromising in relationships. Every time my team posts a quote from that video, it ignites an online flame war. Why did I make such a bold claim, because a person can’t give up something that they value, and thus that really matters to them, without experiencing pain that eventually causes disharmony in the relationship. So, when you are assessing what is and isn’t workable, you have to assess what you truly value and what is truly important to you. And no one can tell you what is or isn’t important to you. Nor can they tell you what should and shouldn’t be important to you. None the less, so many fights in relationships (especially fights about compromise) are about what a person thinks should and shouldn’t be important. So, if you’d like to see that controversial video, as well as another good one on the topic of compromise in relationships, the first is titled: Why You Should Never Make Compromises in a Relationship. And the second is titled: Do You Base Your Relationships on Compromise or Compatibility?

Unfortunately, you may discover more about what is and is not workable specifically by being in a relationship that makes you aware of it. But knowing what is and what is not workable about you (such as things about yourself, your life, your values, your preferences, your aversions, your desires etc). is the most important part of assessing compatibility. Because these areas of unworkability are what causes extreme disharmony in a relationship and they are what breaks a relationship apart. Finding compatibility in these areas of unworkability is your best shot at having a relationship that is harmonious, mutually pleasing and successful. 


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