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Ask a Latter-day Saint therapist: What is compatibility?

Editor's Note: The views, information, or opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author. Readers should consider each unique situation. This content is not meant to be a substitute for individual, professional advice.

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Q: I’m single and dating to try and find my match. What I’d like to know is, What does it mean to be compatible? How do I know if I’ve found a match that will last?

A: This is such a crucial question. Many people think that compatibility has to do with “sameness” or how much you have in common. They cite how important it is to have the same taste in music, the same hobbies, the same favorite movies, etc.

In some cases, “sameness” does indeed lead to close, happy relationships. My cousin is married to a man who is incredibly similar to her in personality and temperament. That said, I’ve also seen couples fall apart even though they were alike.

To me, compatibility isn’t necessarily about sameness. It’s about how well you go together—like peanut butter and honey. As a couples therapist, in my observation the difference between those couples who make it and those who don’t is not how alike they are. It’s how well they complement each other, how well they work together, how much they appreciate the similarities and respect the differences, and how willing they are to grow together.

With some couples that looks like finding someone who is very much like you. With others, it means finding someone who respects you enough to not try to control you or make you change who you are. I’m not talking about repentance—we should all change when we sin and fall short, but we should not feel pressured to change our personality, preferences, and interests just to please someone else.

In his book How to Avoid Falling in Love with a Jerk, Dr. John Van Epp explains that “sameness” matters most in a few key areas. Morality is one. Religious beliefs are another (although some couples who differ in this area make it work by sharing mutual respect for each other’s beliefs). Financial goals and family values are big ones as well. But, while it is true that you should share some interests and passions so you can enjoy them together, liking all of the same things doesn’t really matter—it’s a bonus.

From a gospel perspective, what is compatibility? In the Doctrine and Covenants the Lord outlines a principle that may well apply to dating and compatibility: “For intelligence cleaveth unto intelligence; wisdom receiveth wisdom; truth embraceth truth; virtue loveth virtue; light cleaveth unto light” (Doctrine & Covenants 88:40). Be the type of person that you want to attract. If you want someone educated, get an education. If you want someone virtuous, be virtuous. If you need someone who is kind, faithful, and righteous, be these things. Compatibility will mean that they can keep pace with you.

If you need to make changes in your life to be who you’d like to be and to attract a certain kind of person, the Atonement of Jesus Christ makes these changes possible.

When dating someone, to see if they’re truly a good fit for you, make sure that you truly know them. This takes time, it takes conversation, it takes interacting in the same space. It takes seeing them in a variety of contexts. It takes comparing what you think you know with what you’re observing. It takes prayer. And it takes following what you want in your heart, mind, and soul.

Elder Richard G. Scott said, “As you seek an eternal companion, look for someone who is developing the essential attributes that bring happiness: a deep love of the Lord and of His commandments, a determination to live them, one that is kindly understanding, forgiving of others, and willing to give of self, with the desire to have a family crowned with beautiful children and a commitment to teach them the principles of truth in the home.”

God bless you. I hope this helps.

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Jonwe

Jonathan Decker, LMFT, Contributor

Jonathan Decker is a licensed marriage and family therapist and clinical director of Mended Light. He offers online relationship courses to people anywhere, as well as face-to-face and online therapy to persons in several states. Jonathan has presented at Brigham Young University Education Week and at regional conferences in Arizona, Utah, and Nevada. He is married with five children. Contact him here and join his Facebook group for daily gospel-based relationship tips. 

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