Are you missing out on the most important level of compatibility? Do you even know what it is? If not, you’ve not alone – most of us don’t! But in this case, what you don’t know can hurt you… so, read on.
My work with hundreds of women and couples has led me to realize that there are three levels of compatibility. Most of us focus exclusively on levels 1 and 2, which are important. But few of us are aware of level 3, which I believe is actually key in determining whether a relationship will really work over the long haul.
So what are these levels?
Level 1 is the one we mostly think a lot about. It’s the surface level, the kind many of us try to quantify in lists and personal ads – things like shared interests and similar lifestyle preferences and habits. It’s this kind of thinking:
“I like to hike so I want a girlfriend who likes hiking too.”
“I’m a gluten-free vegetarian and want to be with someone who eats similarly.”
“I love living in the city and my ideal partner does, too.”
And don’t get me wrong – those kinds of compatibilities do have their importance. If you are a vegetarian city-dwelling hiker and you meet someone who’s a carnivorous country-dwelling couch potato, it could create some challenges in navigating shared activities and meals.
But all of us also know that Level 1 isn’t all there is. So that brings us to Level 2 – the infamous “click.”
We’ve all had the experience of meeting someone who “on paper” sounded perfect for us – tons of shared hobbies, values and outlooks – but in person, did nothing for us. So…
Level 2 is the “click,” the spark, the chemistry (sexual or not), the intangible. It’s what makes you want to keep being in someone’s presence, regardless of how well you do or don’t line up according to some measurable set of criteria.
And I think we’d all agree that Level 2 is really important – in some ways even more important than Level 1, right?
But in my work with hundred of women and couples, I’ve come to realize that a third factor – what I’m calling Level 3 – is ultimately even more important than Level 1 or Level 2. It’s something we all notice, but we often don’t pay much conscious attention to. And yet I have seen over and over that it is ultimately the most important determinant of whether a couple will be able to make it work long-term. So what is it??
Level 3 is about our commitments – not in the abstract, like “I’m committed to love, peace and justice,” but moment by moment. It includes things like this:
Am I committed to being present in my own body? Is she?
Am I committed to feeling into the subtleties of my emotional experience, feeling all my feelings, and then telling the inarguable truth about them? Is she?
(By the way, the “inarguable truth” means a truth that is embodied, fully self-responsible, not blaming, and sticks to the actual feelings, not my “story” about them. For most of us, it takes some work to learn to tell this level of truth, but the results are astonishing. It creates feelings of freedom and joy, and also builds deep intimacy with those with whom we share these truths. That’s why we teach this skill in our coaching, classes and retreats!)
Am I committed to feeling like a victim, feeling helpless or persecuted or deprived? Is she?
Am I committed to using everything that happens in my life as an opportunity to grow? Is she?
Am I committed to stuffing my feelings with food or substances or compulsive behaviors? Is she?
Am I committed to making myself or my partner wrong? Is she?
The tricky thing about Level 3 is that it can only be determined over time, through careful observation. You’re unlikely to ever meet someone who tells you, “I’m committed to stuffing my feelings with food or substances.” In fact, she may tell you the opposite – but you can only learn what her true commitments are by paying attention to what she actually does, moment by moment.
By the way, this is also the only way you can learn what your own commitments are! When we start observing ourselves this closely, we need an extra-big dose of self-compassion, because it can be painful to realize what a gap there is between what we think we’re committed to, and what we actually do when the proverbial rubber meets the road.
Now, obviously, some of the above commitments are conducive to deeply connected, intimate, lasting relationships, and some are not. I’m pretty sure you can guess which are which.
So Level 3, the most important level of compatibility, actually has two parts.
1) Looking at yourself and your own commitments – and if they’re not in line with the kind of intimacy you want, committing to changing them! (And yes, that absolutely, positively can be done.)
2) Checking out the actual, lived commitments (not lip-service!) of anyone whom you date or consider dating – and making sure they line up with the kind of relationship you hope to create.
Sounds simple, right? Or maybe not. Actually, it isn’t complicated, but it can be painful. Many of us don’t look this closely at ourselves, or at others, because of the fear that we may not like what we see.
But guess what? Whether we let ourselves look or not – whether we let ourselves know what we see or not – it’s still there. And at least if you let yourself look, see, and know what you see – you can do something about it!
What can you do when you notice your own commitments are keeping you from the love you want – or you’re dating or involved with someone wonderful, but you notice that her lived commitments are perpetuating unhappiness for her, and maybe for you, too?
We can help. Our coaching can help you move through these patterns (if you’re willing) and into a whole new reality of joy and connection.
Ruth & Michelle