Why compatibility is a myth

I’m sick of reading about compatibility being the supposed ‘glue’ of a relationship all the time.  I hate this strange definition of compatibility and I’d like to redefine it with you now and show why it’s overrated.

There is such a thing as a compatible couple.

There’s no such thing as two people who share all the same tastes, values and interests.  All couples fight and argue about the same things- sex, time, money, kids, in-laws etc.  A good relationship hinges on how you manage and resolve these conflicts together.

Research shows there’s no difference in levels of compatibility in happy or unhappy couples.

Happy couples never even mention compatibility. Only unhappy couples bring compatibility up all the time and stress how important it is to a relationship.

Compatibility is like an easy scapegoat for unhappy couples to blame when a relationship is floundering or doesn’t work out.

Successful relationships aren’t about compatibility.

Successful long term relationships  are more about will power and partners who truly want to stay together in the relationship. You must want to be in a relationship in general and you must want to be with your partner.

Creating a fulfilling relationship is more to do with you and your partner than this contemporary concept of compatibility.

Lasting relationships are more about how you interact with each other than who you are.

Compatibility is something that you create together. It’s not something you have inside of yourself. You maintain and nurture that compatibility over time. You work at compatibility.

I want us to throw out talking about relationship compatibility like it’s a noun. It’s not like a holy grail you find in the wilderness. Relationship compatibility should be discussed as a verb. You go on a pilgrimage together to find the holy grail. Verbs are doing words and a noun is an object.

Relationship skills can always be sharpened and improved upon.

How do you emotionally connect? How do you respond to your partners bids for connection? Do you turn towards your partner or turn away?

Some people think someone’s personality or interests are what makes up compatibility but these won’t necessarily pass the test of time.

Relationships are about building something together. How does your relationship support your vision for your life?

Stop focussing on this flawed notion of compatibility especially in the early days of dating. Doing this makes it easier for commitment phobes or people scared of intimacy to run straight for the exit door of the relationship as soon as things get challenging.

Are you just a booty call but want more?


Are you a booty call, friend with benefits, fallback or in a casual relationship when you want more?

Many people want the companionship and regular sex of someone with the least amount of effort possible. This is fine if you’re both on the same page with this, but I see so many clients who want commitment and possibly children but they get stuck in relationships going nowhere fast. Their pain and dissatisfaction is heartbreaking.

Our instant online gratification hook-up culture has extinguished our relationship expectations. Nihilistic and jaded anti-love sentiment can make us way too casual about ourselves. I see so many clients trying to convince themselves they won’t “catch feelings” and that they can keep it simply physical. Just stop. Your values are important and you can clearly articulate what you want.

Hopper, Excursion into Philosophy 1959

How to tell if you’re in a pseudo relationship

They’ve told you they don’t want a relationship or anything serious right now but you still stick around. You can’t change their mind. You can’t prove yourself to them. You won’t win by waiting it out after a year of casual sex. You’re not a car that needs multiple test drives.

You’ve been giving all of yourself whilst requiring nothing more than a bare minimum in return. This reflects how little you value yourself and what you’ll tolerate.

You have a history of casual relationships because you run from people who want serious commitment from you because it feels “uncomfortable”. You might be commitment phobic yourself and the “challenge” of the emotionally unavailable person means you don’t have to look within and confront your fears about commitment, abandonment and how loveable you are.

Your sexual partner doesn’t make time to see you regularly, doesn’t follow through fast enough after dates, isn’t interested in meeting your friends, family or you theirs. You may have ignored red flags and desperately don’t want to be alone.

There’s no emotional and sexual boundaries. They exploit kink and polyamorous identities as “excuses” for their bad behaviour. Respectful behaviour is important for any identity or lifestyle.


Your sexual partner keeps you at arms length and avoids emotional intimacy. The “relationship” isn’t developing and a year later you’re still their “once a week shag”.

You settle for crumbs and focus obsessively on them. Yeah, sure they like your company, like sex with you, maybe they did a nice thing for you last week… You might focus on that one tiny thing so much that you block out the negatives.

You hope by having sex you will get emotional intimacy. Don’t. If you get emotionally attached to people you’re being sexual with, take your time getting to know them first! Sex can bond you to the wrong person for years.

If you want a committed partner and you’ve been dating someone for a few months but they still don’t know what they want, it’s time to hold your head up high and say goodbye. You can’t force someone to commit. Stop clinging desperately to what you don’t want when you could be out there finding what you do want. You deserve it.

Cat O Dowd
Sex Therapist & Couples Counsellor

Art- Narcissus and Echo: Solomon Joseph.

Excursion into Philosophy and Summer in the City:  Edward Hopper