We’ve all read numerous articles on relationships and relationshits. We know what our parents think, friends think, and what the common answers are to the dilemma of having connected, living relationships. With all that said, I’m throwing in my two cents. Much of what I express below comes from my personal journey, from my experience with my many clients that I’ve coached in respect to Relationship and its fundamentals, and my training in relating effectively.
Love is the reason we explore a connection. Compatibility is why we keep it.
Compatibility is what it takes to endure life’s shit when it surfaces. Compatibility is what affords us with pleasure, fun, play and support. It assists us in facing the differences we will encounter with our partner. So, what is Compatibility? It is the measure of the function-to-dysfunction that any two people create naturally in their relationship. This function-to-dysfunction ratio represents the natural satisfaction and endurance a relationship has. Function is defined as “a feeling of satisfaction, kindness and generosity actively shared between each partner”. Dysfunction is the “level of resentment, criticism, and frustration felt by each partner.” Dr. John Gottman of the Gottman Institute determined that a 5:1 ratio of Kindness-to-Criticism protects a relationship from fatigue and dysfunction.
Compatibility is a result of how two people fit together in four categories: Companionship, Support, Intimacy, and Play. We naturally and unconsciously populate these categories with our unique combination of:
- Personality Types
- Love Language Hierarchy
- Conflict and Communication Styles
- Attachment and Social Energy Styles
- Learning Types
- Definitions/Expectations of Roles
- Preferences, Don’t-wants, and Limitations
- Mutual Interests
- Life vision and goals
Knowing ourselves in these areas empowers us to understand how we fit with another, and how they fit us. When we can see how a person fits us, we gain the ability to more objectively respond to our needs and wants and dreams in a relationship. We can reliably say “Yes” to requests. We can also say “No” far more confidently to people we know we’d not be happy with (an especially handy thing to have when dating!). As we understand their nature, we can more reliably interpret their behaviors and respond appropriately to them. This alone ensures we’re not provoking unnecessary drama and conflict. Understanding each of the categories helps us see our individual FIT.
Companionship is about the physical “presence” aspect of relationship. It is about how we feel when we’re in the presence of the other person. What does our body do? What do we feel emotionally? What are our thoughts? What is the experience?
This matters because its the most dominant aspect of relationship. We will spent far more time being present with that person than we will in Support, Play or Intimacy. If we do not like the person we’re spending silent, tender moments with, how satisfied will we be? If we cannot stand their smell, how much fun will it be? If the way they screw up their face when their upset or confused grates on our nerves, how happy will we be?
If you want to know how strong your relationship is, check in with how you feel when you’re sitting with them in the same room.
Signals of Healthy Companionship:
- Your body feels relaxed, open and safe with them
- You feel emotionally safe, playful, and available
- You enjoy their physical attributes
- You adore their quirks (the vein in the forehead, the way they set their tongue against their teeth, the strange way they peel an orange, etc)
- You understand their body language accurately
- There is playful teasing and heartful comfort and care
- They reach towards you in your language of love, and you reach towards them in theirs
- Strong mutual interests
Signals of Unhealthy Companionship:
- Your body is scared of them
- High tension and stress when around them
- You find yourself withdrawing or stonewalling communication
- You find relief when they leave
- Their quirks annoy and irritate
- Their body language has never really made sense to you
- Love language doesn’t make sense to you
Without Companionship compatibility, you will have a very irritating, conflict-laden relationship. With it, you will have a natural harmony and synergy that fosters the well-being of you both.
Support is where we experience connection of a caring and nurturing element within the difficulties we face personally, as a family, and as partners. When we feel supported by our partner, we feel our emotions are valued by them. We see through behavior and words that we’re valued at the emotional level for what we display from vulnerability, fear or courage. Supportive connection includes:
- Empathic listening and sharing
- Empathic responses about complaints and conflict
- Respect of boundaries and needs
- Understanding of your social energy type and connection language (love language)
- Willingness to defend and stand with you in conflict with others
- Willingness to face your problems with you without fixing or solving them
- Kindness in the face of struggle
- Apology and positive ownership of mistakes
Unsupportive connection involves:
- Critical reprisals to complaints (i.e. but you did this…)
- Contempt for your nature (attacking your preferences, limitations, sensitive topics)
- Silence and disengagement from discussion
- Unable to identify your concerns
- Unwilling to understand or relate to your feelings and experiences
- Disruption or violation of your boundaries
- Lack of change of behavior after complaints are voiced and change agreed upon
- Defensiveness or attitudes of “I’m right/you’re wrong”
- Unwilling to apologize, grudge holding
Unhealthy support includes the Four Horsemen of Relationship Doom: Contempt, Criticism, Defensiveness, and Stonewalling (check out my “Mini Tune-up for Couples PDF” for more info on that). Healthy support provides the necessary ingredients for Intimacy and Play: safe vulnerability, trust and affection.
Intimacy pertains to how we connect at a deep, vulnerable, sacred space with another person. There are several categories of intimacy – its not just sex! Effective intimacy deepens the sense of belonging and being connected with the other people involved. Its an essential, and dominantly emotional, aspect of relating. The categories that intimacy involve are:
- Platonic Physical touch and interaction: this is hand-holding, kisses, tickling, light touches, playful rough housing, high-fives, etc
- Sexual Physical touch and interaction: fore-play, intercourse, post-sex affection and touches
- Verbal interaction: sharing tender, kind, or vulnerable words of affirmation, secrets, hopes, desires, dreams, and sexual innuendo
- Non-verbal interaction: body posture and space sharing with another person (close, far apart, etc)
- Physical space sharing and blending
Healthy Intimacy Includes:
- Feeling safe with being touched, and wanting to be touched by them
- Free expression of affection
- Free to deny requests or gifts of expression of affection, connection, etc. Body autonomy is honored at all times
- Ability to say NO, to say YES, and to ASK without any kind of reprisals, punishments or consequences
- Sense of your boundaries and theirs and that it is safe and welcome to have them
- Feeling heard and connected to through your love language
- Feeling a sense of trust and confidence in your partner
- Gratitude and Kindness reign
- Apology and ownership of errors and mistakes
Unhealthy Intimacy Includes:
- Feeling pressured to give affection, contact or interaction
- Feeling shamed for not giving affection, contact or interaction
- Violation of boundaries
- Punishment for denying requests or for asking
- Your body doesn’t like their presence or touch
- Resentment and Emptiness reign
- Denial of problems and blame
Play is not often discussed in terms of relationship health. People focus much of the time on Intimacy, Support and Companionship elements. Play, though, is utterly vital to the longevity of the relationship. It is the effective insulator against the Four Horsemen of Relationship Doom. It is the nutrition that Companionship, Support and Intimacy need in order to maintain their thriving aspects in your life. Play brings out fun, joy, kindness, generosity, and gratitude.
Healthy Play Involves:
- Inside jokes
- Similar humor styles (you get his humor, he gets yours)
- Playful mutual interests
- Adventure and risk that is daring and mutually interesting
- Little things that make each other laugh and enjoy each other
- Your own “language” and social hints
Unhealthy Play Involves:
- The lack of shared humor styles
- Lack of play in general
- Aggressive or unwanted teasing
- Unwanted physical touch
- Exploitation of preferences and criticisms of desires and likes
- Sarcasm and negative inferences couched in humor
Make play a priority in every relationship you have. It will diversify and deepen your sense of connection, fulfillment, and enjoyment of life, yourself and them.
I approach relationship dysfunction and challenges by assessing how things are functioning in these four categories. Thriving relationships have a high degree of understanding of differences, mutual likes, and respect for conflict and preferences. Relationships experiencing struggles and dysfunction typically require work in one or more category. Resolving dysfunction involves determining the type of dysfunction happening, its cause, and then remedy through imrpoved skills, emotional growth or bridging for incompatibilities. Use the above information to help you determine where your relationship could serve improvement and discovery. If you’d like coaching or more information on this, contact me.
Your friend and coach,