In the waning days of my first marriage, my former wife told me on several occasions, "We're just mismatched." At the time, I hurt a lot over those words. I didn't think we were mismatched, but if one person in the relationship says it is a mismatch that is enough to make it true.
My former wife's comment that we were "mismatched" was generally prompted by the idea that I wanted to be able to discuss the difficult issues together and she was unwilling to. My personal opinion is that you will be mismatched with pretty much everyone if you can't communicate verbally about the difficult issues or the things that cause pain between you. But leaving that possible controversy aside, let me pose the question of whether some people are so different from each other that a marriage between them cannot succeed. A related question is how much emphasis should you give to compatibility when choosing your dating relationships?
I want to begin answering this question by suggesting that God did not emphasize sameness when He designed marriage. Consider these words from Genesis:
"And the Lord God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him” (Genesis 2:18).
"22 And the rib, which the Lord God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man.
23 And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.
24 Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.
25 And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed” (Genesis 2.)
Let me first state the obvious difference that man and woman are different. They do not think the same way. They do not feel the same way. They do not respond in the same way. We could go through endless examples of where this is true. For example, because of hormonal differences, women tend to have larger emotional fluctuations than men. Sometimes men are bewildered by that. Sometimes women are bewildered when men seem to lack feeling. We could come up with a thousand other examples. The point is, that God did not give Adam and Eve companions that were just like themselves.
Notwithstanding their differences, Adam called Eve "bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh[.]" He decreed that, thereafter, "shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh." He emphasized their love and unity more than their differences. His thoughts were not dwelling on how they were different, but how they could be united.
One way in which they were united was that, "they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed.” Laura M. Brotherson actually wrote a best-selling book titled "And They Were Not Ashamed" with the message that we should not feel shame with our partners about our bodies or our sexuality. I very much agree with her.
I also believe we can understand this passage in a metaphorical sense. I think it is very interesting that the scriptures describe sex as knowing. For example, ”Adam knew Eve his wife; and she conceived[.]" (Genesis 4:1.) Sexual intimacy and emotional intimacy go together to create a deeply connected whole. Being "naked," means being exposed. My wife is the only person who sees me completely unclothed. She is also the person in whom I confide my fears, embarrassments, despair, and my deepest hopes and dreams. And because we are together in this way, I am not alone and she is not alone. Being naked and not ashamed certainly refers to being completely exposed in our physical bodies. I think it also means being fully exposed in our hearts and souls. It wasn't until after the fall that Adam and Eve were shamed into covering themselves with fig leaves to hide. One of the most monumental consequences of the fall is the introduction of shame into the world.
Does creating a marriage where you can be fully exposed and vulnerable require compatibility? Well, I think it requires being with someone who is on the same page about that. But that can come in all different shapes and sizes. It can come with various different personality types. It can come in a man that reads poetry or one that watches football all weekend. It can come in a woman who is a full-time homemaker or an achievement driven CEO.
I actually love both sports and poetry. Cathy and I don't watch a lot of football together. At the end of the day, not sharing that in common is not all that important. I can watch a good game with my guy friends. Cathy might come to the party and enjoy the snacks and the company. But when the game is over she's going to ask me who won, because she has not been following it.
We have Love in Later Years in common, and we are both professional writers. That is something we enjoy doing together. There are times when we still frustrate each other because our approaches are different or our priorities for the project are sometimes different. But what unites us is certainly more than what divides us. We have a strong common purpose.
I think compatibility is something you need to look at in terms of the issues that are really important to you. For example, if one partner wants sex twice a week and the other wants it twice a year, they are probably going to have trouble. I'm not saying it couldn't work. But I think both of them are going to have to massively adjust their hopes and dreams.
What if one partner envisions coming home from work and interacting with the other for most of the evening and the other envisions going into his wood shop and building things by himself until dinner time or even bedtime? One envisions a lot more time together than the other. That is a core issue that troubles a lot of marriages.
We could come up with other examples. My point is that compatibility is an important factor on the issues and subjects that are most important to you. You should not compromise your core values to make a relationship work. However, you can compromise pretty much everything else--and you probably ought to.
Sometimes the incompatibilities you discover in marriage are actually a blessing in disguise. Sometimes it is in those life moments when you are frustrated and can't seem to understand how your partner could think the way he or she does that you get a window into your partner's deepest fears and hopes. You get to know each other at a depth that you couldn't otherwise, if everything was smooth sailing all the time. For example, I could tell you why my former wife has such an aversion to verbal communication over conflict. During our years together, I came to understand it. I'm not going to share this explanation publicly in the interest of her privacy. But I got to know more about her because that frustrating issue required me to ponder and inquire.
I want to offer you the perspective that having those moments where you don't understand how your partner could possibly think the way they do is an opportunity to know your partner more intimately. You do that by seeking understanding, rather than seeking to blame or judge. Then, how you use that privileged information will make all the difference in deepening or destroying your relationship.
Most differences do not create a fatal mismatch. They are a disguised opportunity to deepen your intimacy together. When you are dating, look for compatibility in your core values and purposes. But in most other things, determine to be flexible and work together.
I mentioned my former wife. Her parents are a great couple, and yet they have almost nothing in common the way we think of that in dating. (Of course they have kids in common and a house in common and the life they have built together in common.) My former father-in-law is relatively serious. He enjoys reading books and watching war movies. He was a military man all his life and he has a military bearing and way of going about life. My former mother-in-law doesn't enjoy intellectual pursuits. She reads romance novels and watches romantic movies. She laughs a lot. At face value, they don't seem to have much in common. Their relationship is not perfect, but it works. They love each other and they are happy together. I'm glad they didn't decide they were too different to be together. In their core values they have been united. For them, family, church, and togetherness are the things that matter most. Because they have been united in their approach to those things, they have a marriage that I believe will be eternal--vast differences in other areas notwithstanding.
I will never forget these immortal words of President Kimball:
"While marriage is difficult, and discordant and frustrated marriages are common, yet real, lasting happiness is possible, and marriage can be more an exultant ecstasy than the human mind can conceive. This is within the reach of every couple, every person. 'Soul mates' are fiction and an illusion; and while every young man and young woman will seek with all diligence and prayerfulness to find a mate with whom life can be most compatible and beautiful, yet it is certain that almost any good man and any good woman can have happiness and a successful marriage if both are willing to pay the price."
I believe these to be the most inspired words President Kimball ever gave us. He is both idealistic and practical. He says that marriage can be "more an exultant ecstasy than the human mind can conceive" and yet says, "'Soul mates' are fiction and an illusion[.]" He tells us that almost any good man and any good woman can have a good marriage together, even if they aren't terribly compatible IF--and this is a big "if"--BOTH are willing to pay the price. What is the price? It is forgiving seventy times seven. It is seeking to know and understand rather than to blame. It is seeking the other person's welfare as much as your own. It is stepping back and trying to see your partner as God sees him or her. Soulmates are not found. But soulmate relationships can be created with intentionality in courtship and continuing on into marriage.