What Compatibility In Love Does (And Doesn't) Look Like

For all the drama in the villa, Love Island makes us look harder at our own relationships.

It’s currently Love Island season in the UK, which means our minds are fixated on relationships. Even though the show has its major issues – from the innate sexism to its perpetual upholding of European beauty standards, Love Island does make us reconsider what we want in our own relationships.

The show is built around “having a type on paper”, but as the weeks fade so do many of its infatuations. What does this tell us about what we think we want in a prospective partner versus what is actually going to make us happy? It’s easy to join Twitter’s running commentary about the couples on screen, but how much better do we know what’s good for us in our own love lives?

One of this year’s most dramatic couplings has been Faye and Teddy. At the start of the show, Faye struggled to click with anyone – until she met Teddy. It was clear to see that was attracted to him, but she was scared about getting her feelings hurt. While Faye is hot-tempered and isn’t afraid to speak her mind, Teddy is calm and patient. Opposites often attract, but were they a match?

Faye and Teddy: opposites attract?
ITV / Love Island
Faye and Teddy: opposites attract?

Faye has received major backlash since she yelled at Teddy after Casa Amor for his apparent transgressions – some viewers saw her outburst as emotional abuse. Yet previously to this incident, Faye had already aired her doubts about the couple’s compatibility.

Speaking to cast member Millie, Faye said she’d never found Teddy funny. A few weeks later, she cast doubt on their connection because of their music tastes. “He likes jazz music, I listen to Disney and old-school R&B,” Faye said.

How important is humour in a relationship? Should you and your partner like the same music, or films, or TV? And what about sexual attraction, what big a role does it play? Liberty is another Love Island favourite this year. She and her now-boyfriend Jake have been a couple since the start of the show, but some of the public doubt Jake’s true feelings for her.

At the start of the season Jake admitted to other contestants he wasn’t that attracted to Liberty. More recently, he’s even said as much to Liberty’s face.

We all talk about compatibility, but what does it actually mean in practice?

What compatibility looks like

Dr Jacqui Gabb, chief relationships officer at the couples app, Paired, believes that compatibility is “when you share the same mindset: when you connect with the other person on a deep intimate level.” And James Thomas, a relationship expert at Condom.UK, thinks “compatibility can be likened to friction – or lack of. If you’re compatible with someone, you just click. If you’re incompatible with someone, it doesn’t take long for you to know.”

That feeling might be what Islanders call the “ick.” But what do we think about when we think about positive compatibility? It’s often associated with how well we “get along” with someone. But it has to be about more than good conversation and sexy flirtation – there’s a deeper level of shared values.

If you watch the same TV shows or listen to the same music, it will keep things flowing on a first date, but what about your background, the way you were raised, and the way you want to build your future? Compatibility goes beyond your likes and dislikes – it’s also about the way you approach life.

Jake and Liberty: fancy at first sight?
Jake and Liberty: fancy at first sight?

Why compatibility is important

Compatibility is “a deep knowing and a sense that this is ‘your’ person”, says Gabb. “This doesn’t mean that couples must divest their deepest and darkest secrets. Knowing someone is about respecting someone for who they are.”

Compatibility matters, not just for your relationship but for your wellbeing.

When you’re compatible with someone you feel comfortable in your relationship, which can help establish a solid basis for a life together, but also allow you to pursue your own passions and goals.

“It’s very important – being with someone you’re compatible with will dictate how happy you are with life in general, your outlook on things,” says Thomas. “If you’re in a relationship with someone you’re not compatible with, every day can be a struggle – not necessarily through any fault of theirs, or yours,”

True compatibility creates a virtuous circle that allows each party in the relationship to develop, while also strengthening their partnership.

What compatibility doesn’t look like

If you aren’t compatible with someone this can have serious ramifications on your dynamic. Constant arguments, ongoing disagreements, and jealousy could all be signs that you aren’t compatible with your partner, says Thomas.

Wanting to change your partner can also be a sign the compatibility isn’t there, Gabb adds. “If someone wants to change aspects of their partner or feels uncomfortable or embarrassed about their behaviour then that’s a cause for concern. If someone serves as a constant corrective, pointing out how a partner could be different – that is to say ‘better’ – then those are definitely red flags.

“Just as ‘deep knowing’ is a sign of compatibility, then knowing that you’re not really compatible is something that needs to be addressed,” she adds.

So, what’s the secret of lasting the distance?

Though being compatible with your partner is important, remember that every relationship has its ups and downs.

“You must accept that no couple will be harmonious 100% of the time, and you have to be willing to work through rough patches together – not just jump ship at the first sign of struggle or disagreement,” says Thomas.

“There are different phases and moods of love. The early phase of love is quite different” from later phases,” Richard Schwartz, associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, told the Harvard Gazette. “Couples should try to adopt ways to fortify their relationships for life’s long haul.”

This means having shared goals and activities, but also staying curious about each other. “What keeps love alive is being able to recognise that you don’t really know your partner perfectly and still being curious and still be exploring,” Schwartz said – in other words, spending enough time together, but keeping enough “separateness” that you can still be an object of curiosity, too.

This issue can be what makes it tough for the Love Islanders, holed up in the villa for weeks on end. It’s also what made the pandemic tricky for so many couples who didn’t have time – or space – apart from each other in lockdown.

And for all this compatibility chat, good communication, openness and honesty are important if a relationship is going to last the course, Gabb says.

“Being able to talk with each other and to listen and hear the other person will enable a partnership to navigate good times and bad. Recognise that there are three parties in a relationship – you, your partner, and the relationship.”