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How Compatible Do Couples Need to Be?

When you're upset about any other part of life with your husband, wife, or life partner, it's likely you will start noticing your differences, too. How compatible do you need to be to keep the relationship going?

Compatibility has two sides: propriety and enthusiasms. Marry someone whose ideas of what's proper and what's not differ wildly from yours and you'll probably end up divorced. But few people leaving a pedophile or suicide cult leader would describe the reason as incompatibility.

Most who use the term refer to different enthusiams. One likes golf and the other wants to go sailing. One enjoys eating out, the other eating home-cooked meals. One watches TV and the other is always reading. One wants to raise kids and the other does not.

On this last item: if you already have kids, any differences over how to raise them have nothing at all to do with your relationship with each other. Stay married or get divorced and you will still need to deal with your different ideas about what's important for them. It's about your relationship with your kids now, and you can be sure they want you to really, really make an effort to like their other parent.

So let's get back to those differing enthusiams. How many do you need to share? None. There is almost always a third alternative to any two you choose to compare.

Here's how you find that third alternative, which I define as an option that each of you likes at least as much as you like the option your mate rejects.

Question 1: If you did the thing you enjoy doing and your mate doesn't, did it alone or with friends, would there still be enough time in your week to spend time together delighted with each other? Yes? Then stop trying to drag your spouse along.

Question 2: Is there any aspect of what your mate enjoys that relates to something you truly enjoy? Can you watch sci fi to appreciate the editor's or sound effects person's talents, instead of the screenwriter's? Can you use your time on the dance floor, even though you don't much enjoy dancing, to strengthen your softball or skiing muscles or to get ideas for characters to include in your novel? Enthusiasm for the dreaded activity may actually sneak up on you if you manage to have a good time while engaging in it. It happened to me with country music.

Question 3: What are some of the themes in your enthusiasms? Do you tend to enjoy things that involve a risk or thrill? Things that get you moving? Things that are intensely beautiful? Things that let you be generous or kind to others? Things with order or repetition? With your mate, brainstorm other options that share these qualities. You might find some new ones you will both enjoy together.

Question 4: If you have enough income or assets or skills that neither of you would need a sugar daddy or a room in your parents' home to survive a divorce, what would you do differently on your own? Be honest. Can't you do them right now, with this person who loves you? Can't you have separate homes or at least separate rooms in the house? Can't one of you travel and the other stay home? Can't one of you cook for your friends and family without requiring the other to play host or hostess or clean the house? Sometimes our image of what married folks do gets in the way of picturing the great life we could be living as a couple.

Let me know what you two have done to become more compatible. Or ask us all to help you find your own third alternative.

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Patty Newbold is a widow who got it right the second time...

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