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Why Chemistry Is Mistaken for Compatibility


Nov. 15, 2021 Psychology Today

My tenth-grade chemistry teacher warned, be careful with these substances because some don’t mix well together. 

Since then, I have learned the same is true about relationships. Just because there is an initial explosive reaction, it doesn’t mean a Fourth of July parade will follow. We mistakenly convince ourselves if the fireworks are present, it is validation that a compatible match is knocking on our door. If the rockets of euphoria do not launch, we tell ourselves to close that door.

A former client who described himself as a confirmed, unhappy bachelor sat across from me, calmly describing a recent second date he had, “We laughed and talked about our crazy interest in quirky books and off-peak travel. She is different from what I am used to. I was so relaxed.”

Before he could finish his next thought, I said, “It sounds like some great chemistry is brewing.”

He laughed and commented, ” I was just going to say, it’s a shame I didn’t feel any chemistry with her.”

I encouraged him to give it at least five dates since he enjoyed her company. They were married 18 months later. He shared that their second child was on the way during the last update I received, and he was living in bliss.

As a mental health educator focused on helping people navigate the nuances of relationships, one of the classic mistakes I have seen over the years is individuals tricking themselves into falling for a partner based on a fleeting chemical reaction.

A woman told me,

Sheila when I met him, there was so much heat between us. We rarely went out. We just wanted to be alone together all the time- we could not keep our hands off each other. Today we are struggling and have nothing in common. I hang on because we once really had something.

Herein lies the moment of self-deception.

Did she really have something? A more appropriate statement would have been that we once had something based on a fleeting physical attraction.

The infamous Mount Fuji Volcano last erupted in 1707 – no doubt, a remarkable sight. Can you imagine standing at the base of this volcano for 400 years, waiting for the next combustible reaction? Of course not. Those cataclysmic burst are not built to last- it’s a mistake to insist that they do. 

Chemistry can signal the mix is compatible, yet compatibility goes the distance in relationships. Compatibility allows couples to enjoy the warmth of a consistently cozy- sometimes roaring fire- without falling into chilly relationship states, desperate for a bit of heat.

Three key questions to ask yourself on the quest to secure a suitable mate are:

  1. Based on who I am, what main characteristics do I require from a mate to enjoy a harmonious relationship?
  2. Beyond a physical attraction, what am I seeing and experiencing with this person that leads me to believe we are compatible?
  3. Do this person’s core values, standards, and communication style mirror my own?

The time to gain clarity around compatibility factors is when you’re on the shore enjoying the sun and sand, not in the middle of the ocean sailing.

The primary reasons relationships fail are cheating and high conflict. These issues are far less likely to rear their ugly heads in compatible pairings.

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