Match or Mismatch: Couples Who Are Right/Wrong For Each Other

The sparks began flying the minute Sara and Josh met. Josh was taken with her looks and bubbly personality. Sara couldn't resist his smile, beautiful blue eyes and quiet, sensitive nature. Both were professionals who lived near one another and shared several interests. Both felt it must be kismet and the relationship quickly became exclusive as they decided to move in together after seven months and became engaged before their one year (together) anniversary. As they neared the wedding date, their relationship began to grow strained and distant. It seemed as though the limited time they spent together had become peppered with tension, long silences and avoidance of one another. How could two people who seemed so compatible be so wrong together?

Jim and Beth met at a summer group house at the shore, a few hours drive from where they both lived. They each traveled there for a long weekend--looking forward to a couple of days with a large group of other singles. Beth's first impression of him was mixed. He really wasn't her type physically and their first (brief) conversation was a bit strained. Jim thought she was nice looking but nothing special. He found himself checking out a number of women in the house. Each went off to different activities and came together later in the first day for dinner and a group night out at a local club. Jim noticed that Beth seemed uncomfortable and ready to go back to the beach house, and he wanted to leave as well. He suggested they go for a walk on the boardwalk instead. After a couple of hours of walking and talking, something began to click. Over the next couple of days, they went out to eat, spent time alone on the beach and began to develop feelings for one another. Beth gave him a ride back home at the end of the weekend and Jim called her the next night. They were living together eight months later and married within two years. They weren't the only ones who were surprised by the relationship. Beth was 6 years older and they came from different religious backgrounds. Yet, they fit very well together. What important traits or similarities did they share that made them a good match for a long term relationship?

The above scenarios are but two examples of individuals meeting, making a connection, and choosing to move towards commitment -based on their initial attraction and perception of compatibility/ rightness for each other. They illustrate that attraction is not always immediate and/or based solely on physical chemistry. They also show that even when two people feel an immediate and strong pull towards one another- their personalities may not be a good match for sustaining a long term, committed relationship. So, how do we know if that special someone is a good match for us? If we can't completely trust our own feelings and instincts, what else is there? Fortunately, we can also enter relationships making conscious choices based on variables that can be measured and quantified. While this might not seem to be a very romantic way to choose a partner, it does give us an edge against any negative programming, destructive attractions, or tendencies towards regretful impulsivity that we may have. Thoughtful choices are formed by exploring compatibility with our heads as well as our hearts.

A wonderful tool for helping us do this is the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), developed by Katherine Cook Briggs and Isabel Briggs Myers, using the earlier personality type work of Carl Jung. It helps us to better understand our own personality type, which determines how we take in information and then make decisions based on that information. Our dominant type or temperament is believed to influence our interests, govern our behavior and determine how comfortable or uncomfortable we are in our interactions with others. The MBTI, has a total of sixteen different types, they are:

1. Introverted Sensing with Thinking ISTJ's are serious, quiet, need security. Dependable, responsible, hard working- and move steadily towards goals, finishing what they start.

2. Introverted Sensing with Feeling ISFJ's are quiet, conscientious, and observant of those around them- often putting others' needs first. They value security, traditions and serving others.

3. Introverted Intuition with Feeling INFJ's are forceful and independent yet sensitive, following through with tasks until they are completed. They are very intuitive, have strong beliefs and seek to do what is right in a situation.

4. Introverted Intuition with Thinking INTJ's are known for taking action through competence and structure. They are long-range thinkers and make excellent leaders or followers- depending on the situation.

5. Introverted Thinking with Sensing ISTP's are quiet and curious about how things work, often having excellent mechanical skills and an interest in and talent for sports. Known for their ability to find solutions to diffucult problems, bending rules when necessary.

6. Introverted Feeling with Sensing ISFP's are serious and kind. They avoid conflict and have no interest in leading others. They love beauty, are open-minded and creative and are known for their loyalty.

7. Introverted Feeling with Intuition INFP's are idealists who are interested in serving others. They have a strong value system, are loyal and laid-back in temperament. Often have a talent at writing.

8. Introverted Thinking with Intuition INTP's are logical yet creative. Ideas excite them and challenge their thinking. They value competence and knowledge for its own sake and are independent in nature.

9. Extraverted Sensing with Thinking ESTP's are sociable and action-oriented. They want results, not talk- and are willing to take risks. They are impatient with those who discuss, rather than get things done. High emotional intelligence makes them natural people pleasers.

10. Extraverted Sensing with Feeling ESFP's are fun-loving people who create enjoyment for those around them. They love to try anything new and live in the here and now. They are likely to be the life of the party, yet have great common sense.

11. Extraverted Intuition with Feeling ENFP's are idealistic and energetic. They are great at anything that interests them and love new ideas. They avoid getting mired in details and love the big picture. They are known for having many interests and great people skills.

12. Extraverted Intuition with Thinking ENTP's are bright and resourceful. They have a broad range of competencies and can be competitive. They get excited over new ideas, but avoid mundane, necessary life tasks. They like stimulation and people who have something interesting to say. Their hallmark is logic.

13. Extraverted Thinking with Sensing ESTJ's are organized, traditional and practical. They are hard working and exceptionally good at organizing and managing complex activities/events. They like being in charge and are often known as upstanding and well respected in their communities.

14. Extraverted Feeling with Sensing ESFJ's are often popular and good-hearted. They feel a responsibility to those around them and value service to others. They seek feedback and encouragement from others to feel good about themselves.

15. Extraverted Feeling with Intuition ENFJ's are usually popular and great with people. Their energy is focused outward on others around them and they dislike being alone. They make excellent managers and enjoy serving others- even at their own expense.

16. Extraverted Thinking with Intuition ENTJ's are outspoken and assertive with others. They are great at understanding how organizations function and have little tolerance of inefficiency or incompetence. They are often strong public speakers.

Using the MBTI, let's examine Josh and Sara's relationship, in light of their types. Sara is an ENFJ and Josh is an ISTJ. Sara was the outgoing one in their relationship. She disliked being alone, so she always wanted to fill her leisure time with activities she could share with others. She had difficulty understanding Josh's need for quiet, alone time and she became frustrated at what she saw as his anti-social attitude towards her friends and family. She often waited for him to get home, wanting to talk about her day or something happening with one of her friends. Josh was often quiet and somewhat unresponsive, which led Sara to believe that he was uninterested in her and did not care about her feelings.

Josh often felt overwhelmed by Sara's need for other people. He interpreted it as her avoidance of being alone with him. When she wanted to share events from her day or discuss a problem, Josh often found her getting frustrated by his quiet listening in which he struggled inwardly to identify solutions and the right words to offer his support. He often felt as though she were deliberately picking a fight with him when she would raise her voice and express anger over his lack of feedback. This caused him to withdraw from her as a way to keep the piece and reduce the stress between them. After a while, he felt as though he could do nothing right, and began to avoid Sara completely. Soon after, both of them decided to call off the wedding.

In contrast, Jim is an INFJ. He has a strong presence, yet has the ability to be sensitive, especially in his relationships. He has strong intuition, which helped him negotiate the challenges he and Beth experienced as their relationship developed. He is someone who always follows through on what he has committed to, and worked to do the right thing for Beth and the relationship when they met bumps in the road.

Beth's INTP provides a good fit, with just enough difference to help them compliment each other. Like Jim, she has an independent nature, and can follow or lead- depending upon the circumstance. She values competence and, together with Jim's follow through, they make a good team in handling day to day responsibilities and long term planning. Both are logical, yet Jim's ability to pay attention to detail compliments Beth's love of the big picture and focus on visioning, not implementing.

While the MBTI is only an assessment, not a hard and fast predictor of relationship success- it does show that certain "types" are naturally more compatible because they see and interact with the world in similar ways, taking in information and drawing conclusions based on their unique (personality based) view. If you are in a relationship and would like to better understand your partner's perspective and/or find ways to enhance your communication and understanding of each other- take the MBTI and see what insights it can offer. If you are single and in search of that right relationship, don't ask them their sign on that first meeting- ask them what their type is.

This article by Toni Coleman can be found in "Going Bonkers" Magazine in its most recent ( Fall 2007) edition. You can find it on the shelves of Borders, Books-a-Million and Hastings bookstores as well as many independent book stores and newsstands.

Want to read other articles on this subject?

"The Right Formula For Choosing Mr/Ms Right"
List of more "Compatibility Issues" articles

"Talking about your relationship VS relating"


Toni Coleman, LCSW
Phone: 703-847-1768


Copyright 2008 Antoinette Coleman. All rights reserved.

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