Navigating Relationship Incompatibility

Renowned clinical psychologist, Dr. Paul Hauck, made significant contributions to psychology with his publications on love relationships (among other subjects), in his lifetime.

He pointed out that one of the primary causes of incompatibility is the inability to communicate effectively. That is, when couples struggle to express their basic needs, desires, and concerns, it can lead to misunderstandings and resentments.

It becomes clear then, that just like we emphasize on its importance at workplace between workgroups, conflict resolution skills play a pivotal role even in relationship management. And similarly, the discomfort associated with navigating conflict becomes a stressor for many people in relationships too, especially if one is conflict aversed or discomfort avoidant by nature.

Sometimes partnerships become complacent for too long so there’s irretrievable damage done to the relationship. Then at other times there are consistently quarreling partners leaving each other with mixed messages when both are actually thinking of ending things and suffering less. And then sometimes, there is a partner feeling deserted by the other, feeling stuck with emotions between love and false optimism, hopeful of getting back together after something has broken. These spaces are complex.

To no surprise, till date, my relationship workshops have been the most popular life-skills emotional intelligence sessions that have received full-house participation every time in the past, followed next by the one on overcoming procrastination.

In this regard, the question I have often been asked in couple’s therapy sessions as well is – ‘If two people are incompatible, can it be changed?’ The answer is – yes, with conditions applied.

  1. Understanding the Differences – Where exactly do the differences lie? Is there an understanding of and an agreement about the problems between the couple?
    1. For e.g; sometimes are the differences in the values framework between a couple (honesty, trust, shared responsibilities), or
    2. attitudinal deficits (Belief in self or other, dealing with past trauma or an idea about relationships) or
    3. skills deficits (communication gaps, managing time, organizing skills, hygiene) in meeting each other’s expectations. Many a times, it is a combination.
  2. Clarity of Expectations from Each Other – Is there enough clarity of specific expectations between two people? Sometimes, expectations change along the way in dating and relating without getting adequately communicated.
    1. For e.g; one partner might interpret emotional intimacy as talking about issues to solutionize better, while the other thinks emotional closeness is being met by watching a movie together. And the two are meeting the same goal differently in their minds.
  3. Goals of the Couple –  Are both the individuals committed to the same end goal? That is, to be together, or do they want out from the relationship? Even if one person clearly wants out, it would be futile to hold someone back against their will. Knowing if it’s too late for the other is important before starting out to work on incompatibilities.


Once these broad criteria are met, relationship incompatibility can be addressed through a number of changes, agreeable to both partners:

  1. Open and honest communication
  2. Developing willingness to listen more and not just listening to speak
  3. Exploring different mediums to address difficult conversations over multiple sit-downs. For e.g; does a combination of texting work better or sending out an email if beyond a point talking is triggering more fights?
  4. Overcoming contempt – the idea that nothing useful will come out even if efforts are made. What can motivate positive change if it starts with contempt and disdain?
  5. Accepting each other’s fallibility as humans and forgiving the past – working at letting go of resentments, anger triggers and fury.
  6. Recognising ways to make acceptable compromises to meet the partner’s needs
  7. Acknowledging personal inadequacies without making it about oneself
  8. Reigniting romance for those who feel like it is lost
  9. Working together to keep improving communication strategies – addressing dismissals, accusations, or other pain points
  10. Willingness to grant concessions and offer flexibilities, stepping down for the other occasionally
  11. Committing to change one’s habits that are not working out for the other
  12. Identifying expectations that have become rigid roadblocks along the way
  13. Learning to bring in empathy for the other. Hurting couples often find it hard to practice this.
  14. Choosing therapy to work on the individual self and relationship goals

Dr. Albert Ellis (founder of REBT, also known as the grandfather of CBT) once said, ‘The art of love is largely the art of persistence.’

So, it’s significant self-work to make a relationship work. At the same time though, it’s not a contest to win a race. Neurotic reasons for staying in an unhappy relationship (like social stigma of leaving, unable to give up co-dependency, promises of eternity, for the sake of children and so on), are likely to make things crumble too. Knowledge and willingness to work on one’s personal neuroticisms in a love relationship can benefit in addressing incompatibilities immensely in all stages – finding a partner, managing an existing one and after a relationship ends.



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Rajita Ramachandram

About the Writer:

Rajita Ramachandram

Founder & Head Psychotherapist (practicing for 15 years)

Corporate Wellbeing Consultant,

Emotional Intelligence Speaker,

Associate Fellow of Albert Ellis Institute, NY, USA,




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