The Importance of Compatibility in Romantic Relationships
Much is made these days about compatibility when it comes to romantic relationships. Indeed, the entire online dating industry is built upon the idea of compatibility, and a simple Google search will provide you a dizzying array of romance gurus ready to share their wisdom on how to find the person with whom you are the most compatible.
One popular Christian dating website offers seven types of compatibility, including the nebulous “Personality Compatibility.” One social-psychologist states that when we’ve found another person with whom we share the “traits that really matter,” we are most likely to experience the greatest happiness and avoid divorce. That’s quite a promise.
Unfortunately, the idea of compatibility, if misunderstood (as it commonly is), can keep Christian men and women from marriage rather than serving as a means to draw them into it. But Scripture clears away the complexity often created by these compatibility discussions by giving us only three areas with which we must concern ourselves. Let’s consider each of these categories.
1. Sexual Compatibility
First, there is sexual compatibility. Is the person in whom you are interested a member of the opposite sex? If so, then you are sexually compatible (Gen. 2:22-24).
2. Spiritual Compatibility
Second, there is spiritual compatibility. Is the person in whom you are interested a Christian? If so, then you are spiritually compatible. Of course, this principle assumes that you have good reason to believe that the person in whom you are interested is truly a Christian. A mere profession of faith in Christ is not enough, nor is an active religious lifestyle enough to determine if a person is truly born-again. Marks of genuine conversion include understanding and enjoying the truth of the gospel (Rom. 1:16-17; 1 Cor. 1:18-31); bearing of spiritual fruit (Gal. 5:22-23); a desire for holiness (Matt. 5:8; Heb. 12:14); a tender spirit toward the Word of God (Jer. 31:31-34; Ezek. 36:25-27; Ps. 119); a love for Christ (1 Cor. 16:22); a willingness to make hard, costly decisions for the sake of obedience to Christ (Luke 9:23-25) and so on. While we can never be absolutely certain of another person’s regeneration (because we can’t see their hearts), these are marks of genuine faith that will allow us to make a reasonable decision on whom to date and marry.
3. Gender-Roles Compatibility
Finally, there is compatibility in the area of gender roles. The reason why I believe this is an issue of biblical compatibility is that gender roles comprise the very essence of male-female romantic relationships. If you disagree with the idea that man’s God-given calling is to lead, protect, and provide for his wife and family, and the woman’s God-given calling is to follow and support her husband and care for the home and children, then one of you will have to violate your conscience in order to have peace in the relationship and in the home. The Bible, however, is explicitly against intentionally violating one’s own conscience or requiring another Christian to do so (see Romans 14:23). If you are unable to find agreement on this issue, it would be best to graciously part ways and look for someone with whom you share the same convictions.
If we move beyond these basic areas of compatibility, we run the risk of keeping ourselves from the blessing of marriage. Sadly, I see this happening with Christian couples on a fairly regular basis. The truth is that none of us is fully compatible with our girlfriend, fiancé, or spouse. Why? Because we are sinners.
Actually, what most relationship gurus probably won’t tell us is that we enter every romantic relationship in a state of perpetual incompatibility because we each have selfish desires that will often create conflict (James 4:1-3). Having similar interests (rock climbing, ballroom dancing, ethnic restaurants, etc.) or “feeling liked” by our partner may lead to some superficial agreement, but not enough to mitigate the relational turmoil our sinful hearts will produce. To add a stack of extra-biblical compatibility requirements on top of Scripture’s simple, straightforward instructions will only enslave us and keep us from marriage.
Compatibility and Selfishness
Much of the underlying problem with the compatibility discussion is that it promotes a self-centered approach to dating and marriage. The unspoken goal in most (if not nearly all) thinking on compatibility is, “How can I find the one who makes me happy.” But such an approach to dating and marriage is contrary to the entire fabric of Scripture and actually militates against our joy. Our deepest, most abiding happiness will come when we seek the happiness of another above our own. Jesus said, “It is more blessed to give than receive” (Acts 20:35). Paul instructs us to “consider others as more important than yourselves” (Phil. 2:3). These two verses essentially undo the entire contemporary discussion on compatibility.
Scott Croft is very insightful here. I’m not including this quote in order to defend the courtship model (principles, not titles, are what really matter); nevertheless, Croft’s point is well taken.
Modern dating is essentially a selfish endeavor. I do not mean maliciously selfish, as in “I’m going to try to hurt you for my benefit.” I mean an oblivious self-centeredness that treats the whole process as ultimately about me. After all, what is the main question everyone asks about dating, falling in love, and getting married? “How do I know if I’ve found the one?” What is the unspoken ending to that question? “For me.” Will this person make me happy? Will this relationship meet my needs? How does she look? What is the chemistry like? Have I done as well as I can do?….Biblical courtship means that a man does not look for a laundry list of characteristics that comprise his fantasy woman so that his every desire can be fulfilled, but he looks for a godly woman as Scripture defines her—a woman he can love and, yes, be attracted to, but a woman whom he can serve and love as a godly husband. In other words, modern dating asks, “How can I find the one for me?” while biblical courtship asks, “How can I be the one for her?” (Sex and the Supremacy of Christ, pp. 147-148)
When considering the issue of compatibility, don’t allow man-made wisdom—often very plausible-sounding wisdom—to lead you into a labyrinth of confusion in your pursuit of a romantic relationship. God is most wise, and he has only given us a few vital areas with which to concern ourselves when it comes to compatibility: sexual compatibility, spiritual compatibility, and gender-roles compatibility. When we move beyond these, we keep ourselves from the blessing of marriage.
Derek J. Brown currently serves as professor of theology at Cornerstone Seminary in Vallejo, California, and associate pastor at Grace Bible Fellowship of Silicon Valley where he oversees the college and young adult ministry, online presence, and publishing ministry, GBF Press. Derek blogs at fromthestudy.com.
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