I think compatibility is a misunderstood concept.

From Dictionary.com:


capable of existing or living together in harmony: the most compatible married couple I know.
able to exist together with something else: Prejudice is not compatible with true religion.
consistent; congruous (often followed by with ): His claims are not compatible with the facts.

3 more possible definitions are given, all related to computers and communication. They are more examples than definitions, IMO.

#1 stands out immediately in terms of relationships. Compatibility has to do with the ability to live together in harmony. The reasons folks become incompatible after once having been compatible, is that they stop working to live together harmoniously. Instead, they take stands on peripheral issues and find themselves at odds. This causes one or both to see things as my way or his/her way, with our way taking a back seat in interactions they have. It is simply conflict.

What most fail to arrive at is that being right is not the main thing keeping you compatible. I am not suggesting that you have to change your core values and beliefs. Rather I am saying that seldom are conflicts resolved by turning them into my way or yours as the only two possible outcomes that allow us to move forward. If my marriage and our relationship within that marriage are important to me, then my concern should be for the relationship. When the relationship wins, we both win. When either of us loses, the relationship (and connection) loses as well.

Harley says it this way. Whenever you strive to resolve a conflict, it is more important that you don't hurt each other than that you actually resolve the conflict. Any time you hurt your spouse, the relationship is lessened, diminished and damaged. Every hurt gets held in reserve as a way to justify future reprisal to get even. Some folks even make a ritual of holding hurts in reserve so that they can use them for leverage later to try to make their own desires win out in the next (or some far off) round of unsolvable conflict. This is at the heart of resentment.

Resentment then gets used to justify future incompatible choices and actions. If I am acting in a way that is not compatible with loving my wife (see definition 3) then I am choosing to knowingly hurt her for my own reward or satisfaction. I justify this by listing the things over which I have been the loser in past conflicts. So now I say things like "It's my turn now" and lay out all the things I might have saved up that make me deserve to be right about it this time. Thus it isn't even really about being right or wrong, but rather about who was right or wrong even years before.

Neil McClendon calls this gunny sacking. We store up all this hurt and resentment and carry it around with us. We then dump it out, sort through it and try to find a reason why we should now be allowed to be selfish and hurt our spouse. We hold onto things, perhaps for 20 years, waiting for just the right time, when we have something really outrageous we need to justify, and then we dump it all out. We don't always dump it at our spouse's feet. We list it out and are ready to "share" it when we get caught or challenged on our hurtful behavior. This applies to the rewriting of history so many in an affair undergo, BTW. This is "the list" of why we can't stay married and it all has to do with stuff we've saved up to use for just such an occasion.

Couples aren't inherently compatible or incompatible. If two people are identical, one is probably redundant or at least superfluous. What makes us compatible is being aware of how what we do affects each other and doing things thoughtfully rather than acting thoughtlessly. Thoughtless behavior is just that, something we do without thinking. We don't weigh the consequences for our spouse nor for our relationship.

It comes from that resentment and justification thing where we believe that we should be able to do things that don't matter to our spouse. While it is probably true that most things don't matter much, what affects our spouse is not up to us to decide. We try to make stuff we know would hurt our spouse OK because of this whole list of wrongs against us in the past. We keep score and getting our fair share means getting even in the hurt department. We're willing to let it be balanced by acting like a jerk ourselves, but if our spouse doesn't buy into that, then we have all this stuff that shows why it is "Fair" for us to act like a jerk now.

Couples either become compatible or incompatible based on what each does that affects the relationship. Since what we do almost always affects our spouse in some way, and the way he/she feels connected or defensive toward us is the direct effect of how he/she feels about what we do, then our actions and choices are what makes us either compatible or incompatible.

B, your example I think has to do with Harley's Independent Behavior. It wasn't that he was helping folks who were down on their luck as much as that it was that he brought people that were incompatible with the family time and closeness as a couple you were expecting for that time into that family time and made it impossible. The ickyness of who they were was but a part. If it had been Dr Phil, you might have found it easier to get over, but still would have been disappointed unless you got something in return that made your sacrifice worthwhile. What mattered was that he didn't consider what you might think about it. Right or wrong, that made you feel threatened and said that he didn't care enough about your feelings to consider them.

That is where incompatibility is born. When I act as if I don;t care what my wife wants, things or feels, I am not acting in a way that is compatible with caring for her and showing her that I do. It might be stopping for a drink on the way home without checking to see what her plans are. It might be spending three hours on this forum "helping" other people fix their marriages while she sits alone on the sofa in her new nightgown wondering why I haven't noticed it yet. Anything that says "I acted without thinking of you and as if you didn't even exist" is incompatible with building a strong connection and better relationship.

Marriages fail for incompatibility when one or both begin to act in a way that is incompatible with being married.

What always fascinates me most about all this stuff is the way it is all connected. It's like explaining dark matter without considering how matter interacts and interrelates. That is why I gravitate toward some analogies or models and tend to shy away from some others. Some models account for most relationship issues. Some account for only anomalies. Some can be made to fit with monumental leaps of faith in things with no evidence and others can fit nicely as long as you keep defining things to fit the model rather than the data. For me, the best explanation is that assumption that almost everything I do affects my spouse and that how she responds to this effect determines whether she feels like being connected and close to me or feels like pulling away.

Harley's model fits that nicely and the vocabulary once learned by both allows for us to become more compatible and ask for what we want and need when we don't feel it in a way that can be understood so that we might actually get it. It eliminates that incompatibility issue that comes about when I say "I tried to tell you for years and you didn't listen."

I even know a couple who fight over whether 5 Love Languages or Boundaries In Marriage should be their model for solving their marital problems. I've got them both reading Fall In Love Stay In Love right now. She expects "gifts" and he needs more "touch." She wants him to make her feel safe and secure or she won't let him near her in the bedroom. He wants to feel more connected or he's going to seek divorce. Imagine the first run through of Harley's ENQ when her second EN was Financial Support and his was Sexual Fulfillment.

Compatibility in marriage comes from doing things that are compatible with loving (caring for) each other. (<-Tweet Tweet)


AKA Lildoggie

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