Is it marriage incompatibility…or do your differences have a deeper meaning?

Like many couples, you may be asking…

“How did I marry the most incompatible person on the planet?”

“Why could I not see who this person really was?!

“How did something so beautiful turn so ugly?!”

Before you lose hope, consider the fact that this experience is NORMAL to some degree with most couples.

Also, consider the possibility that your differences may have a deeper meaning and purpose.

marriage incompatibility

We are so much ALIKE!

(The story of symbiosis and romantic love)

Most marriages begin with  pretty intense romantic feelings. This is a season where you actually feel like you and your partner are “one soul and two bodies”, sharing the same beliefs, values, tastes, and desires.

The term for this emotional state is “symbiosis”. During the romantic stage of the relationship symbiosis is pleasurable. You feel like you’re in heaven.

The problem is that, unconsciously, you are assuming that your partner is like you.

Symbiosis is the illusion that your partner shares your thoughts and feelings.

  • You believe that when you are in love you must think, feel, and act alike.
  • You’re certain that it’s not possible to function as an individual and still be in a relationship.
  • You assume you can’t operate with clear boundaries and still be connected.

I know this may sound absurd, but that’s what goes on unconsciously.

And it’s like heaven as long as this  romantic symbiosis lasts and you believe that you and your partner are the same!

But, after a while, some clues that your partner is actually different from you begin to surface.

marriage incompatibility

We are so DIFFERENT!

(The story of symbiosis and the power struggle)

“What happened?! Why did you have to change?! Why can’t we go back to the way it was when we were ‘in love’?!”

When the symbiotic state of romantic love is disturbed by these indications of difference, marriage partners become anxious and reactive. Conflict occurs as they try desperately to retain the romantic illusion.

  • You get frustrated or irritated when your partner can’t read your thoughts.
  • You get disappointed because your partner doesn’t do things right.
  • You criticize your partner to get her or him to be more like you.
  • You become argumentative and dogmatic because “there’s only one way to think”.
  • You use guilt or shame in an attempt to get your partner to do things your way.
  • You say your partner is like you when he or she does something you like.

This negativity and coercion only make matters worse, and you soon feel like your romantic dream has morphed into your worst nightmare!

Symbiosis in the romantic stage is like heaven, but symbiosis in the power struggle is like hell.

The wish to maintain the romantic illusion is so powerful, and its rupture so terrifying that a couple will start to unconsciously annihilate each other through many forms of negation, negativity, as well as verbal and even physical abuse.

As things progress you realize you both have married someone who has the worst traits of your parents. We call this your Imago. You ask yourself, “Could I have possibly chosen someone more incompatible even if I had tried?!”

That’s when we start thinking about “separation on the basis of incompatibility”.

But are you really incompatible? Or do your differences have a deeper purpose?

Marriage Compatibility

Actually, we are a PERFECT match!

(The story of differentiation and connection)

At this point a new commitment is required.

A commitment to move from an unconscious to a conscious relationship. To move from symbiosis and self-absorption to differentiation and connection.

If symbiosis in the power struggle seems like hell, differentiation will dissolve it and make your relationship feel like heaven again.

But you must surrender your symbiotic wish, and engage in the process of differentiation.

Here’s what can happen with differentiation:

  • You move into a new paradigm in which your relationship has priority over your individual needs.
  • But paradoxically, when you serve the needs of your relationship, the relationship serves your needs.
  • You will discover that your differences do have a deeper purpose: healing and growth.
  • Your relationship problems become maps that identify the places you have been wounded and need healing.
  • You discover that it’s the partner you’re with right now, your “Imago match”, that offers you the greatest opportunity to heal your childhood wounds and grow the underdeveloped parts of yourself. To separate from this person means that you miss this opportunity, and end up taking all your problems with you into your next relationship.
  • When you move from negativity to curiosity, you discover the amazing world of your partner. Your partner is not who you thought they were. Turns out they are even more amazing than you imagined.
  • Both of you are enormously enriched when you accept the fact that you live in two different worlds, and that you look at everything through different lenses.
  • You are no longer imprisoned by a mono-centric view of life. And this transforms other areas of your life – your parenting, your life work, your community involvement.
  • In sharing your stories with each other, you co-create a new story in which you actually co-create each other. You become a much better person together than you would be by separating.
  • And, finally, meeting each other at this level restores the feeling of original connection. And that is what heals you and restores your feelings of joyful aliveness.

The Imago Dialogue process can help you and your partner discover that your problem is not really incompatibility. And you will see that your differences really do have a deeper meaning!

Let me encourage you to find an Imago therapist in your area to help if you need it. Or contact me and I’ll walk you through it.

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Why incompatibility is grounds for a great marriage

If you’re thinking of divorce on the grounds of incompatibility, STOP and think again!

Incompatibility is the grounds for a great relationship. Compatibility is actually the recipe for boredom.

The dating sites have it all wrong.

Dating sites are good at matching you up with someone with whom you are compatible. No question about that.

Finding someone compatible with you sounds like a great idea, but there’s one problem with this approach.

You won’t bond with that person!

Oh, if you’re just looking for a companion this can work fine.

But if you want hot romance, forget it.

The sparks will fly only when you connect with someone with whom you are incompatible.


That’s right.

The degree to which you are incompatible is the degree to which you will be drawn to a person romantically.

Marriage Incompatibility 3

Why are we drawn to someone with whom we are incompatible?

The incompatibility I’m talking about has to do with something going on in your unconscious mind.

We are attracted to someone with the positive and negative traits of our parents.

Consider Ron and Debbie’s experience.

Ron was super popular in college. There were at least three attractive women who had serious crushes on him.

He dated and got along really well with these women. But everyone was surprised when Ron fell for Debbie, a girl who did not fit the image of the perfect match for him.

While Ron was outgoing, Debbie seemed aloof and socially withdrawn.

Why was Ron drawn to her? Why did he choose Debbie when there were so many other more compatible prospects?

The scientific reason is that…

Our lower brain only releases the romantic love chemicals that cause us to fall in love when we find an “Imago match”, i.e. someone who has the positive and negative traits of our parents.

Debbie has some of the positive and negative traits of Ron’s mother. The negative traits are especially significant as Ron’s experience shows.

Ron grew up feeling neglected by his mom. His mom was distant emotionally. Debbie was like that.

Ron’s mom tended to be depressed. So did Debbie.

Even though Ron had much more in common with the other girls he dated, he had more feelings for Debbie than for all them put together!

It was this Imago match, this composite image of Ron’s early caretakers, particularly his mom, that drew him to Debbie.

But why are we drawn to someone like our parents?

Our “unconscious relationship agenda” is to finish what we didn’t get in childhood.

It may sound absurd, but Ron was drawn to Debbie because she had the very traits that would activate the wounds, frustrations and unmet needs from his childhood.

His unconscious hope was that he would finally get the love he always needed from a person similar to the one who denied it when he was growing up.

This unconscious agenda is a primary factor in our choice of a romantic partner.

Growing up we all experience wounds, frustrations, and unmet needs to some degree.

From your very first interaction with your parents, your lower brain starts “videotaping” everything they do.

The things that that register and stick in our unconscious mind are those experiences where our needs weren’t met. Each wounding experience takes up permanent residence in our memory.

Your lower brain (the part that is all about survival) is crying out something like, “I need mom’s attention to survive! I’m not getting that and yet I have to have it to survive!”

When Ron experienced neglect from his mother who was often depressed and detached, his anxiety would turn into rage.

What about Debbie?

Debbie was romantically drawn to Ron with her own unconscious agenda to “finish” her childhood as well.

Debbie’s wound growing up was similar, but her way of coping was opposite from Ron’s.

Her dad was outgoing like Ron but was preoccupied with work, and often had angry outbursts.

In order to avoid feeling smothered and overwhelmed by her dad, she learned to detach emotionally and avoid closeness with him.

Both Ron and Debbie needed a more consistent feeling of connection and safety growing up.

Ron learned to throw tantrums for attention while Debbie learned to cope by escaping into her art and reading.

They illustrate how…

We are drawn to someone who has a similar wounding that we had, but an opposite way of coping with it.

Wow, talk about incompatible! Evidently opposites do attract!

This fundamental “incompatibility” is hidden from our awareness in the Romantic Stage of our relationship (darn those rose-colored glasses!), but becomes painfully apparent when we enter the Power Struggle Stage.

So we can see how Ron and Debbie entered adulthood with an unconscious agenda to get those childhood needs met someday, somewhere, by someone.

And so, when they found each other, that is a major reason they fell in love.

Marriage Incompatibility 2

Ron and Debbie show how our unconscious mind pairs our childhood needs with someone similar to the parent who didn’t meet those needs.

The problem is that romantic love hurls us into a relationship without our being conscious of these hidden agendas.

The Power Struggle is evidence that healing and growth need to happen

As a result of this Imago match, the person you fall in love with has the ability to trigger memories of the parent in childhood with whom you had the worst time.

After the romantic feelings faded, Debbie began to feel smothered by Ron. The childhood wound from her dad was triggered, and she’d pull away from Ron saying she “needed space”.

This of course triggered the childhood feeling of abandonment Ron experienced during the times when his mother would be emotionally unavailable.

This ignited all the rage he felt as a child. His reaction had the effect of smothering Debbie even more. This is where the dynamics of their power struggle began.

Debbie’s retreat would trigger Ron’s need to connect. Ron’s need would in turn trigger further emotional withdrawal in Debbie. Their situation soon became hopeless.

We fall in love with this person with whom we want to get the need met. But since this person is like your mom or dad, they can’t meet your need anymore then your mom or dad could.

Couples begin to talk about divorce on the grounds of incompatibility when they realize they need something their partner can’t give them and they lose hope that things will ever change.

Chuck, it sounds to me like romantic love is nature’s “dirty little trick”.

It really does seem that way.

Ron said, “Debbie and I were so in love! It wasn’t until after we got married that I realized we are so incompatible! And now my dream of a happy marriage has become my worst nightmare!”

But it’s not a dirty trick.

Marriage Incompatibility 4

Romantic love is actually a very effective way to get you to commit to someone who otherwise would  cause you to run away in the opposite direction as fast as you can!

“I don’t get it! Why did I marry the most incompatible person on the planet! What was I thinking?!”

Now you know. It was an unconscious relationship agenda that drew you to the person who will be the key to healing your childhood wounds.

Why? Because…

You can only finish childhood with someone similar to the one with whom it got interrupted.

It would be nice if our brain said, “Let’s go find an ideal person, someone compatible with whom we can finish childhood without all this conflict and struggle.”

But it doesn’t work that way. Your Imago is the template that guides you in that selection process.

OK then, how is incompatibility the grounds for a great marriage?

Next stop: Mature Love

Ron and Debbie show how we begin in the Romantic Stage and soon enter the Power Struggle stage of the relationship. That’s where they got stuck.

But they didn’t stop there. Through the Imago Dialogue process they were able to mirror, validate, and empathize with each other.

As they continued to do that with the help of an Imago therapist, every issue of “incompatibility” became an opportunity to heal the past and to grow into new behaviors that continued the healing process.

They showed how, if you hold this “tension of opposites” without letting it go, without giving up on the relationship, then you can grow into a new way of being with each other.

This is how an incompatible relationship becomes a win-win proposition: a healing and growth partnership.

What about you today?

If you’re in conflict with your partner, you’re not with the wrong person. You’re with the person that your unconscious mind chose and put into your life so that you can finish childhood.

“Irreconcilable differences” is not a reason to separate.

On the contrary, it may be the greatest opportunity you’ll ever have, not only to heal and grow into the person you want to be, but also to have the marriage you’ve always dreamed of.

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My goal is to provide free relationship tools and resources delivered to your inbox every week!