The Compatibility Fallacy

By Scott Keith


None of us are compatible with any of the rest of us! We live in a world that seeks at every turn to minimize risk and increase reward. We move from gimmick-to-gimmick, profile-to-profile, and review-to-review in a vain attempt to find the people, places, and things that are most compatible with our perceived needs. But, the joke is on us. There is no magic equation through which we can press all the data in order to discover that mysterious combination of things that will make our life perfect.

We have lied to ourselves. We have been told and have accepted that if we just put enough time into our every life move, it will all work out better than expected. We think that if we check Yelp ahead of time, our meal will be grand. If we check Zillow before we buy our happy home, dreams will come true. Check Carfax before we pull the trigger on that used BMW we could never afford new, and we’ll drive off happily into the sunset. It’s all about examining our needs and wants, and comparing them to our wallet in order to ensure compatibility. Right? Wrong! Yelp can claim that your favorite sushi spot is 5 stars, and you may still be puking from food poisoning in an hour. Yelp may claim that the house you paid $500 thousand for is worth $750 thousand, and then you go to sell it and receive no offer exceeding $350 thousand. Ouch! Carfax may claim that the BMW you just bought had a clean history, until it begins to rust and you find out that after its last accident the previous owner fixed it with Bondo and a rattle can in his garage. The cold hard truth is that there is just no telling.


Nowhere is this truer than when we are seeking a future husband or wife. A good friend recently told me a story. He has known this couple that have been dating for three years. The lady told my friend that they recently went to “Pre-Engagement Counseling.” She elaborated by saying that in this counseling they took personality tests in order to examine where they were and were not compatible. It turns out, she claimed, that they have several areas of “incompatibility.” So, instead of getting engaged after three years of dating, they are going to work on their incompatibilities for another year and then examine if they should become engaged. After which time she again explained, they will then wait another couple of years, just to make sure, before they get married. What a crock of bull-crap. No amount of personality testing will ensure a happy marriage. Furthermore, no amount of personality testing will prevent a future divorce.

Here is the cold hard truth. Whenever you put two sinners belly to belly together for a lifetime there are going to be some great compatibilities (if you know what I mean), as well as a good amount of incompatibility. It is fine to build on your relational strengths and work on your weaknesses. But don’t fool yourself. This is not like checking Yelp before going to that sketchy sushi spot. Marriage is perhaps the most wonderful and most complicated of all human affairs. The fact is that we are all sinners, and thus we are all incompatible because we are self-centered, self-righteous, and well, pretty much just selfish. This means that marriage, like most of our earthly relationships, is a lot of fricking work.


Now here is the good news. From the start, God wanted us to all have companions, to have friends, and not to be alone. Loving companionship is one of God’s greatest gifts. This is the first purpose of marriage. Said plainly, it is always good to have a friend by your side. It is not compatibility that is the issue; rather trust is the issue. If you marry someone who is a true companion and friend to you, you will trust them. If you trust them, if you like them, if you love them, you will be more willing to put in the hard work to get through the times of incompatibility. Those times will be many nonetheless. But the times of joy and pleasure will outweigh them by far. So let’s stop wasting our time trying to ensure marital happiness (or any other kind really) through pointless tests of compatibility. Live free. Marry for love and companionship. Know that it will be hard. Know that it will be great. Know that it will be your common faith in Christ, and your common love for neighbor and one another given on account of that faith that will get you through. Know that love really is enough if it is the right kind of love.

And finally, at the risk of sounding too sappy, remember: “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things. Love never ends.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7, ESV) Too late, that was sappy! Did anyone see anything in there about compatibility? Most of it looks like companionship and service to neighbor. Our closest neighbor, our closest companion, will always be our spouse.