David Webb: You mention on your website that True Compatibility is the secret to creating the deep connection that enables strong and fulfilled relationships to develop. Could you briefly explain what True Compatibility is?
Dr. Karin Sternberg: True Compatibility entails that you are compatible with your partner in three domains:
Core components of love
The first domain is what we call the core components of love (which refer back to our triangular theory of love, for those of you who are familiar with it). Those three core components are intimacy, passion, and commitment. They’re mostly unconscious, so we do not really know what we want and if we have what we want.
You experience intimacy with someone when you care deeply about them and share your thoughts, feelings, and dreams with them.
Passion is not only of a sexual kind. But you also experience passion when you can’t stop thinking about someone and crave to be with them.
Commitment is a decision to either remain in a relationship, regardless of how hard things get.
What matters most to your happiness is not what your partner feels but rather what you think they feel.
Every relationship you have can be described in terms of these three core components. For example, when you fall in love with someone and experience both passion and intimacy with that person, you have what we call “romantic love.” If you get married and at some point, your intimacy with, and passion for each other get lost, all you may have left is commitment and what we call “empty love.”
Your satisfaction in a relationship depends not only on what you want from, and in your relationship, but also on what you feel you’re getting from your partner. For example, if you want lots of intimacy and passion in your relationship but are not getting it from your partner, you’re bound to be unhappy.
We can go into depth with our analyses here and consider a relationship from several different viewpoints: What do you want to experience in your relationship, what do you get, how do want your partner to feel, does your partner feel like you want them to feel for you, etc.
Interestingly, there’s a lot you can do by just looking at one partner. What matters most to your happiness is not what your partner feels but rather what you think they feel.
Essentially, we’re compatible with our partner in terms of the core components of love if we want the same things and feel that we can give each other what we each want.
The second domain is our love stories. Our love stories encompass all the ideas and beliefs we have about what love and relationships should be like. Our love stories represent the essence of our life and experiences—we see our parents’, relatives,’ and neighbors’ relationships, we create our own relationships, and we read books and watch movies, for example.
Our love stories influence what kind of a partner we’re looking for, how we interact in our relationship, how we interpret our partner’s actions, what we’re hoping to get out of our relationships, our dreams and hopes, and much more. If we end up with the same kind of partner in similar dysfunctional relationships again and again, our love stories are likely to blame.
People usually have more than one love story, and their love stories are arranged in a hierarchy, with more desirable ones for us nearer to the top of the hierarchy.
In our research, we have identified the 26 most common kinds of love stories, but obviously everyone’s love stories are unique. True compatibility in terms of your love stories means that you and your partner are living and enacting love stories that are a good fit for each other in that they are either similar or that you play complementary roles. For example, you may both have business stories, where what matters to you most in your relationship is that your household matters and finances are organized and well taken care of. You know who earns the money, who takes care of the kids, and how to run your everyday life smoothly. But you do not crave a lot of passion in your life. Your love stories are compatible with each other. But if one of you craves a relationship with lots of romance and passion (which the partner cannot or does not want to have a part in), then your stories are not really compatible and one or both of you will end up unhappy.
But again, our love stories are largely unconscious, so people usually do not know what they want in a partner and how to figure out if a partner is a good fit for them in terms of their love stories.
We have assessment instruments and are currently creating webinars and online courses to help people become aware of their love stories (and in the case of dysfunctional stories, change them) so that people can figure out what really matters to them for a happy love life and find a partner who is truly compatible.
The third domain is one that we call lifestyle factors. That domain is usually accessible to people’s consciousness, and it includes a lot of variables that online dating companies ask about in their dating profiles. Lifestyle factors include variables like age, religion, culture, political attitudes, whether you want to have children and how you intend to raise them, and so on. These factors can, but do not necessarily have to, play a role in your relationship satisfaction. It all depends on how important a certain factor is for you: For some people, it is very important to have a partner who shares their religious beliefs, for example. For other people, religious beliefs are not important. For a happy and successful relationship, you need to be compatible in those factors that matter to you. If you do not agree on whether or not to have children, for example, you’ll not be able to create a relationship that is fulfilling in the long term.