Why Incompatible Spouses Can Stay Happily Married

A square peg and a round hole are incompatible from the start. They are not “capable of living together in harmony”1 (the meaning of compatible). The emphasis is on capable.

Compare the situation in which a man and woman have lived together in a five or twenty-five year marriage and then get divorced because they are incompatible. How did they come up with that?

Photo by Krachaus
Photo by Krachaus | Source

“If a square peg doesn’t fit a round hole, neither the peg nor the hole is to blame. . . We must take care that focusing on fault - which is proper for the courtroom - doesn’t carry over into interpersonal relationships."

— Jeffrey Bryant

We can make several guesses.

  • They were always incompatible but they did not know, because they had not taken the compatibility test.
  • They were always incompatible and they knew they were, but they married for reasons other than “existing together in harmony.”
  • They were compatible until an irreparable change happened to one or both of them, rendering them incompatible.
  • They choose to label themselves incompatible because they do not want to name the specific reason for their pending divorce.

Anyone of these guesses may be right. The question is whether a couple can recognize their incompatibility and still choose to live together peaceably and happily. A wise couple can.

(1) Confess Dislikes

Timothy Keller, in The Meaning of Marriage states that “some people in our culture want too much out of a marriage partner. They do not see marriage as two flawed people coming together to create a space of stability, love and consolation.”2

“Two flawed people.” So where does one get the idea that the other person would be completely likeable? There are bound to be some dislikes on both sides, which can be magnified to the point of incompatibility; or, with an understanding that both individuals have faults, the incompatibility can be disregarded in exchange for an adventure in learning to love.

Because the dislikes may remain (everything from dislike of seeing a spouse wearing certain color to the way he or she spends money), it is helpful to know them and confess them just so the surprise does not become a reason for argument. Barring destructive habits like abuse or dangerous threats resulting from mental imbalance, most inharmonious actions can be discussed, and some may even be understood.

Dancing in the street, New Orleans - Photo by Howie Luvzus
Dancing in the street, New Orleans - Photo by Howie Luvzus | Source

(2) Maximize Likes

Justin A. Lavner and Thomas N. Bradbury studied 136 marriages. All the couples were satisfied with their relationships at the start and throughout the first 4 years. In the 10-year follow up, those who stayed married had healthier “interpersonal exchanges.”3 They enjoyed stronger and better commitment, communication, emotion and social support.

Early in the marriage, the atmosphere is set for the kind of marriage it will be. The more effort put into enjoying the likes, the less impact the dislikes will have. Marriages become happier when couples intentionally make it so, by practicing habits like the following:

  • Commending and strengthening the qualities they like in each other, instead of nagging about qualities they wished for
  • Expressing gratitude for the number of similarities instead of regrets over the difference
  • Reliving the occasions when love instead of indifference was the controlling factor
  • Counting the benefits instead of the inconveniences of the marriage
  • Laughing instead of complaining about situations in which your incompatibilities made things awkward.

People who make it a habit to be happy, also know how to share happiness. The dislikes of happy spouses may never disappear, but in time they will be remembered less and less.

Photo by Peter van der Sluijs
Photo by Peter van der Sluijs | Source

(3) Agree to Disagree

The Serenity Prayer is fitting for every situation in life, and most fitting for marriage. In essence, the spouses who pray this prayer believe that the reasons for disharmony can remain, without making them miserable.

God grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change;
Courage to change the things I can;
And wisdom to know the difference.4

In marriage, it is wise to pray this prayer in stages. First, as individuals, for the serenity to accept the things he and she can and cannot change; then together when they seek courage to change the things they can and the wisdom to know the difference.

It is not enough to clarify thoughts and intentions with God, and leave the spouse guessing. Praying together, whether it be the Serenity or any other prayer, helps to foster a spirit of unity, and makes it easier for spouses who agree to disagree.

Try a Check-Up Exercise

Created by Emma K. Viglucci, Founder of Metropolitan Marriage & Family Therapy, PLLC, this exercise measures marriage health and detects areas which need attention.6

(4) Take Regular Relationship Check-Ups

"Couples are usually most compatible the day of their marriage, and things go downhill from there. . . Trouble is, most couples stop trying to be compatible as soon as they're married."5

Therefore whether or not a couple begins the marriage being compatible, it is wise to take regular relationship checkups.

There are various other check-up tools accessible online which can be used occasionally to identify areas which need to be improved, and areas in which there is growth.

People who choose to be in relationships might as well choose to stay happy in them. Happiness is not automatic. A little guidance helps.

Do you think that marriage can survive incompatibilty?

See results without voting


Many divorces happen because the spouses want an easier marriage. The spouses cite incompatibility, discord, conflict of personalities, irreconcilable differences only to find that there are many marriages with similar elements which survive happily.

Happiness in marriage begins with the knowledge that inner peace or harmony is an individual responsibility. Individuals who pursue personal happiness also focus on supporting happiness in others. Marriages remain happy because the spouses are wise and intentional in sharing happiness, not because discord is absent.

References Online

1. Oxford Dictionaries: compatible - © 2014 Oxford University Press

2. Keller, Timothy: Relevant Magazine; You Never Marry the Right Person (January 5, 2012)

3. Lavner, Justin A.; Bradbury, Thomas N: APA PsycNET; Why do even satisfied newlyweds eventually go on to divorce? Journal of Family Psychology, Record Display Vol26(1) February 2012

4. Neibuhr, Reinhold: Urban Connection, The Serenity Prayer

5. Harley, Dr. Willard F. Jr.: Marriage Builders,Inc. How to Survive Incompatibility (© 1995-2014)

6. Viglucci, Emma K: Metropolitan Marriage and Family Therapy, How Does Your Marriage Rate? (© 2006)

7. Olson, David H. Ph.D.: Fireproof Couples Quiz (© 2005 - 2014 Life Innovations, Inc.)

8. Arizona Family Therapy and Wellness Center, Inc.: Relationship Check-Up Quiz (© 2012)

© 2014 Dora Isaac Weithers

More by this Author

Comments 70 comments

Purpose Embraced profile image

Purpose Embraced 2 years ago from Jamaica

This is an insightful article for married couples, with some wonderful suggestions. I really believe and practice magnifying the likes in my own marriage, this attitude makes such a difference. Thanks for sharing MsDora.

Faith Reaper profile image

Faith Reaper 2 years ago from southern USA

Wonderful hub here MsDora! You have presented great points to ponder when and if a marriage turns into an incompatible one, either gradually or all of a sudden for the reasons you stated. I believe marriage is worth fighting for and would try anything and everything to stay married, as I made that covenant before God so long ago.

Up and more and away!

Blessings for a lovely week

crayonbrains profile image

crayonbrains 2 years ago from The World Is Mine !

A very informative and helpful hub.It may help some to understand a lot about marriage and compatibility Thanks for sharing .

Jodah profile image

Jodah 2 years ago from Queensland Australia

Very good advice MsDora. Thanks for sharing this. Voted up.

MsDora profile image

MsDora 2 years ago from The Caribbean Author

Doc Purpose, thank you for affirming that point of maximizing the likes. All happiness to you and yours going forward!

MsDora profile image

MsDora 2 years ago from The Caribbean Author

Yes, Faith. The alternative to keeping your marriage is more heartache than giving up on it. Praying happiness for you in your marriage.

MsDora profile image

MsDora 2 years ago from The Caribbean Author

Crayonbrains, thank you for your kind comment. Alwys hoping to be helpful.

MsDora profile image

MsDora 2 years ago from The Caribbean Author

Jodah, I pray that those who need this advice will act on it. Marrige is precious.

billybuc profile image

billybuc 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

Your suggestions are all good ones, Dora! It would take a ton of work to make such a marriage last, and a ton of willingness to do the work.

DDE profile image

DDE 2 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

Incompatible says it all and I so agree no couple can perfect and your reasons are explained in detail.

MsDora profile image

MsDora 2 years ago from The Caribbean Author

Bill, thanks for your input. Sometimes starting the effort is the hardest part. Also, it might take less effort than a second relationship. It is worth the try.

MsDora profile image

MsDora 2 years ago from The Caribbean Author

Thanks Devika. If no individual is perfect, then there will be no perfect couple.

RonElFran profile image

RonElFran 2 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

"They can, not because they become compatible; but because they make the effort to live happily despite their incompatibility." I love that! I don't think I've ever known a couple who were not "incompatible" in some major ways. So the issue is not the incompatibility - that's a given - but the commitment to make the effort to learn and change and adjust in the relationship. Good word!

MsDora profile image

MsDora 2 years ago from The Caribbean Author

Ron, thank you for your wise input. Incompatibility is over-rated in its power to destroy marriage. I appreciate your affirmation.

sallybea profile image

sallybea 2 years ago from Norfolk

MsDora - the cost of giving up is probably far greater than is the hard work required to keep a marriage together. It is just such a shame that so few people realize that divorce is the easy part, living with the pain of separation from one's children and a life together living as a family is a very painful choice indeed.

MsDora profile image

MsDora 2 years ago from The Caribbean Author

Sallybea, good to see you. You're right. It truly is a shame to see how much effort we put into less important issues. We need to get our priorities straight. Thank you for your input.

parrster profile image

parrster 2 years ago from Oz

Great article MsDora. Always struck me that no one ever gets rid of their children using the incomparability argument. They love them unconditionally and put every effort into making it work. We need to adopt that attitude always toward our marriage partners. Voted up

MsDora profile image

MsDora 2 years ago from The Caribbean Author

Parrster, you make a compelling argument in favor of keeping the marriage together. Thank you so much for your contribution.

epbooks profile image

epbooks 2 years ago from Las Vegas, NV

Great advice. I think every relationship at one point or another will have ups and downs, but all relationships are a lot of work. This hub is definitely helpful!

Treasuresofheaven profile image

Treasuresofheaven 2 years ago from Michigan

Great content MsDora. You have shed light on a very important topic "compatibility" in marriage. This is very helpful information. My husband and I have been married 28 (29 years next month), and I can use this. Married life goes through stages. Voted UP, Beautiful...

Michael-Milec profile image

Michael-Milec 2 years ago


Hello MsDora.

Wow. All your hubs are so well composed, documented and informative and highly educational, uncompromisingly truthful- so is this one. A straight forward guideline for all marriages infected by wily popularized and welcomed disease called divorce. A very good question "Why…" of the particular article's title has put on alarm attention the one whose English isn't firs language. As always, I've reached for the Dictionary to check for myself, trusting that your point on the term is valid. What puzzled me most is one of the explanation "Not capable of forming successful graft." Hmm. Meanwhile a scientific observation came with the theory " spouses CAN stay happily married. Correct! They can entering into the matrimony fully persuaded "until we both live " and then from the very first second focus on working together toward a long, healthy, prosperous and productive life to the Glory of the Creator, displaying joy and happiness to everyone pleasure they know. It's a decision to want succeed and be happy , both of us goal is perfecting the imperfection of two strangers, whose life under the same roof and the same name is never known before. How are you prepared , and whose advice you follow as a role model?

Once upon a time, as a marriage license holder, while " counseling " future couple I have advised them always give that hat you like and want the best to your spouse - this way you both will enjoy the best. Urging them that "love" is hard work and the first one hundred years in marriage is a trying,testing or putting to proof period of time to accommodate to each other will. Then saying, I never been there yet… ( I was much younger that time) , now well past a half of that journey I can say, it is getting much easier everyday , we both accept only one of two decision applicable at the time, no need for compromise; it's a good idea, let's do it, when you win we both celebrate the victory.

Voted useful, beautiful and interesting.

Have a blessed week.

FlourishAnyway profile image

FlourishAnyway 2 years ago from USA

These are good suggestions Dora! Over the coure of decades, people change, sometimes quite dramatically. Emphasizing the common values, similarities, likes, history, common experiences, can at least bring continuity. It is okay to grow and change. We are never the same person we were at 25, so why should we expect our partner to be?

Elearn4Life profile image

Elearn4Life 2 years ago

I believe a happy marriage is one that has perfect commitment and respect for one another. Everyone changes and grows as years and circumstances affect their lives.

We stay committed to our children and family when they change; why not your spouse? You did it again Ms Dora...Thought provoking topic.

mathira profile image

mathira 2 years ago from chennai


There is no such thing as easy married as most couples dream of when they marry. It is hard work all the way! Excellent tips and suggestions for a good relationship.

tirelesstraveler profile image

tirelesstraveler 2 years ago from California

Voted up useful awesome and beautiful. Beautiful because a marriage everyone decides is made up of flawed people is indeed beautiful. Periodically I write down what I like about my husband. One like for each year we have been married. The trials of the last few years have brought some new likes which I never expected. Who would have thought there would be new things to like in years 34-38, but there have been.

This is one of the best articles ever about marriage. Going to link it to my marriage advice hub.

MsDora profile image

MsDora 2 years ago from The Caribbean Author

EP, thank you for weighing in. It is wise for couples to realize that every situation, including marriage, will have its share of ups and downs. That's just life!

MsDora profile image

MsDora 2 years ago from The Caribbean Author

Treasures, so good to hear from you. Congratulations on your upcoming 29th wedding anniversary. The God who helped you through so far, can help you through another 29. Thanks for your comment.

MsDora profile image

MsDora 2 years ago from The Caribbean Author

Michael, there are so many valid points in your comment. Thank you. You and your wife are being good examples of commitment to the marriage vows. More blessings and happiness today and in the future!

MsDora profile image

MsDora 2 years ago from The Caribbean Author

Flourish, you nailed it. Happiness in marriage is understanding the changes which occur in each other as they both grow. Thank you.

MsDora profile image

MsDora 2 years ago from The Caribbean Author

Elearn, thanks for your input! I agree that commitment is the important focus.

MsDora profile image

MsDora 2 years ago from The Caribbean Author

Mathi, I really appreciate your comment, realizing that you have been writing extensively on marriage. Thanks for your encouragement.

MsDora profile image

MsDora 2 years ago from The Caribbean Author

Tireless, thank you for your kind comment and for sharing your beautiful marriage experience. "Who would have thought there would be new things to like in years 34-38, but there have been." Please be sure to share this marriage builder somewhere.

CraftytotheCore profile image

CraftytotheCore 2 years ago

This is a lovely Hub MsDora. I am re-married now to a wonderful man, but one time I was married to someone who just couldn't compromise on anything. Everything had to be his way. It was an awful experience and one that I look back on now as a way to appreciate my new husband even more.

MsDora profile image

MsDora 2 years ago from The Caribbean Author

Crafty, I'm also divorced; some of my insights are hindsight, and I'm sure they would be effective if I were to remarry. Happy for you that you found someone with whom you can live happily. Please continue to treasure the relationship and enjoy your second chance.

Jackie Lynnley profile image

Jackie Lynnley 2 years ago from The Beautiful South

Marriage is not an easy thing and certainly there should be required classes on it. I personally think we are none perfect and should do our best to make our marriages work out but I think we should put God first above our spouse and that in that case we should be firm. God wants our marriages to work certainly but none are to come before Him. Many hang onto spouses thinking they can change them when it can ruin our own lives if we are not very careful.

Frank Atanacio profile image

Frank Atanacio 2 years ago from Shelton

Msdora your hubs teach, educate and make you think.. I love how you started this hub off: A square peg and a round hole are incompatible; so are oil and water, also day and night. overlooked but so true

sujaya venkatesh profile image

sujaya venkatesh 2 years ago

a good thought do

MsDora profile image

MsDora 2 years ago from The Caribbean Author

Jackie, thanks for your input. Loving God first is surely the best thing, because it is He who teaches us to love each other. You're right on!

MsDora profile image

MsDora 2 years ago from The Caribbean Author

Frank, thank you for your kind remark. My articles are lessons for me too; glad when others learn from them.

MsDora profile image

MsDora 2 years ago from The Caribbean Author

Sujaya, thank you for reading. I appreciate your comment.

grand old lady profile image

grand old lady 2 years ago from Philippines

This is a lovely hub, Ms. Dora. I tend to agree with you, the first four years define what the marriage will be like. But then, sometimes I say if you survive five years, you can make it. And then there's the saying of the seven year itch. The bottom line is, as you say, an incompatible couple can make their marriage work if they put effort to it. The same is true with compatible couples. Marriage takes work and commitment. If both sides are committed, over time they appreciate each other's loyalty, and they have each other's back. And then they get old and look forward to spending the years that they have left together, taking care of each other and waiting for the grandchildren. Marriage is great when it's good.

MsDora profile image

MsDora 2 years ago from The Caribbean Author

Hi Mona. Thank you for your observation on the possibilities for lasting marriages whether or not the spouses are compatible. I totally agree.

ologsinquito profile image

ologsinquito 2 years ago from USA

This is excellent advice. Of course there's going to be conflict in a marriage, because neither partner is perfect. Voted up and shared.

The Dirt Farmer profile image

The Dirt Farmer 2 years ago from United States

You always give your readers something to think about! I agree that people with different preferences can be happily married, but to me a difference in core values creates true incompatibility. For instance, marriage to a man who is dishonest with money would cause suffering (on many levels) to a woman who values honesty. I think it would lead to disrespect, and that would kill the relationship.

MsDora profile image

MsDora 2 years ago from The Caribbean Author

Ologsinquito, well said. Thank you for your comment and votes.

MsDora profile image

MsDora 2 years ago from The Caribbean Author

Dirt Farmer, I thoroughly agree that differences in values can be disastrous.

If the couple intends to be happy, that would be one of the areas to which they apply the serenity prayer, "God . . . grant me the courage to change the things I can (value system for the sake of personal growth and improvement in the marriage)" and act on it. Not easy, but also not impossible.

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to include that.

Eiddwen profile image

Eiddwen 2 years ago from Wales

Some great suggestions in this very interesting hub.

Voted up and shared.


MsDora profile image

MsDora 2 years ago from The Caribbean Author

Eiddwen,thank you for stopping by, and for the votes. I appreciate you.

Romeos Quill profile image

Romeos Quill 2 years ago from Lincolnshire, England

A good Hub MsDora. So many reasons for divorce; cause and effect, namely:-

Losing a child, unable to have a child, poor sex life, violence, selfishness, unfaithfulness etc... It seems a small miracle that so many do survive and last the long haul.

You really went to town on this article; great job. ( Love the new profile pic! ).

Best Wishes;


MsDora profile image

MsDora 2 years ago from The Caribbean Author

Romeos, surely glad to see you. I appreciate your input. Thanks for the kind remarks on the article as well as the picture.

MarleneB profile image

MarleneB 2 years ago from Northern California, USA

Very nice. Informative. Lots of excellent lessons. My husband and I have been married since 1987. We are complete opposites. We disagree on just about everything. But, early in our marriage we identified who would be responsible for certain aspects of household decisions and agreed that it was OK to disagree with each other, but ultimately, the person responsible for a particular issue could assert their decision and that's that. We wholeheartedly hear the other person's side and if we still disagree, oh well... It doesn't mean we can't get along.

MsDora profile image

MsDora 2 years ago from The Caribbean Author

Marlene, thank you for this perfect illustration to my title. I appreciate your input.

Thelma Alberts profile image

Thelma Alberts 2 years ago from Germany

A thought provoking hub with lots of advices. I´m almost 33 years married to the same man. People thought we were incompatible to each other due to our different cultures and traditions. We work for the success of our marriage and we respect each others opinion.

MsDora profile image

MsDora 2 years ago from The Caribbean Author

Thelma, thanks for your input. Happy that you and your husband had the wisdom to work on your happiness and not be distracted by differences in culture and traditions--major inconveniences.

MartieCoetser profile image

MartieCoetser 2 years ago from South Africa

It takes two to tango....

Too often only one of two is willing to create harmony, and sooner or later this one simply flies away to create harmony elsewhere. Of course, blaming the phenomenon called 'incompatibility'.

Great hub, MsDora :)

MsDora profile image

MsDora 2 years ago from The Caribbean Author

Martie, that scenrio is all too common. What a pity, because there is no guarantee that the new relationship would be any better. Oh, well. Thanks for weighing in.

rajan jolly profile image

rajan jolly 2 years ago from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar,INDIA.

I think you sum up the essence of a happy marriage in the last sentence. Inspite of discord it is the desire to intentionally share happiness that does the trick.

Excellent points here Dora and I love the Serenity prayer.

MsDora profile image

MsDora 2 years ago from The Caribbean Author

Rajan, glad you like it. Thank you for letting me know.

joedolphin88 profile image

joedolphin88 2 years ago from north miami FL

People can work things out even if they are different. It just takes love and a desire to make it work, great hub.

MsDora profile image

MsDora 2 years ago from The Caribbean Author

Joe, thanks for your input. You got that right.

C.V.Rajan profile image

C.V.Rajan 2 years ago from Kerala, India

Good analysis and suggestions!

MsDora profile image

MsDora 2 years ago from The Caribbean Author

CV, I appreciate your comment. Thank you.

Crystal Marie 2 years ago

Your article hit on some good points, and I definitely believe it will inspire married people to continuously work things out despite the challenges that might arise. But it also makes me beg the question, if it's not so much about incompatibility, but more so about the effort to be happy, then what is the measuring stick guide to knowing if you should marry a certain person in the 1st place? Am I supposed to marry someone who I feel just "okay" with (even if I do love them) believing the goal is to work things out anyway in hopes I'll be content the marriage? I hope I'm making sense. I guess what I'm trying to say is that I don't think it's a good idea to marry anyone where there's constant friction, controlling, emotional abuse, stress, or manipulation in the relationship. I believe some things just aren't meant to be, because it isn't healthy for anybody to tolerate such things. There has to be an unbreakable compatibility/connection SOMEWHERE at the core rooted in like, love, respect and trust - before "I do" is uttered.

MsDora profile image

MsDora 2 years ago from The Caribbean Author

Crystal. I think I understand your comment. "There has to be an unbreakable compatibility/connection SOMEWHERE ." That is true, and sometimes the compatibility lies in the fact that both people agree not to have "constant friction, controlling, emotional abuse, stress, or manipulation in the relationship." They focus on their few, enjoyable similarities and they live in peace despite their many non-similarities. They choose happiness. I am agreeing with you, as long as you realize that incompatibility does not mean friction. I appreciate your input.

crystal 2 years ago

Thank you for responding MsDora. I understand you. I do not mean to bore you further, but there's a situation with a friend that truly has me worried. He has been dating a woman about 9months. She has placed an ultimatum on him to marry her within this month or next. From speaking with him, he does not want to marry her and he sounded scared. Sadly, he feels he has to give in, due to the fact that she has heavily connected herself to the business he's growing, thus making him fearful of the brand's reputation being adversely affected if they broke up. To me, it's like he's trapped. I don't believe he truly loves her (he declined to answer when I asked if he does), and he has vented his frustrations with her behaviors as of late. I can see that they definitely have issues to work out b4 entering marriage, just based on the things he's shared with me. He's already been married/divorced 4times. Wouldn't you want to go into your next marriage confident, excited, in love, and with a solid/healthy foundation?? Maybe I shouldn't worry too much about it. But when you love and care about a friend, you simply want the best for them. It just does not sit right in my spirit and I'm concerned that he could possibly face another divorce. If he does marry, yes I will support him and wish him well. It just seems like they are not on the same page. If they do wed, do you believe they truly have a shot?? I personally think they should seek premarital counseling if so..I am wishing him the best

MsDora profile image

MsDora 2 years ago from The Caribbean Author

Crystal, it seems that these two are already in bed; hence the ultimatum. If that is the case, yes, he's trapped. I share your concern about him. Now he has to choose: marry against his will or give up the loveless relationship as well as his business investments. Without knowing all the details, it appears that he ought to put everything on hold and work on himself. You are right to suggest counseling, but first for him--then for the relationship if he still wants it.

ologsinquito profile image

ologsinquito 2 years ago from USA

I really do like this message in an age when people are so quick to end a marriage. Thanks for writing this.

MsDora profile image

MsDora 2 years ago from The Caribbean Author

Ologsinquito, glad you share my perspective. Thanks for your feedback.

aminebombom profile image

aminebombom 2 years ago from Doha, Qatar

Why Incompatible Spouses Can Stay Happily Married?

about a year ago i saw an article of couple they have been married more than 60 years, somebody asked them what is your secret the answer was we fight everyday, but before we go to sleep at night we both apologize to each other.

this story reminds me of another story of this husband who used to give his wife each day a rose since they have been married.

MsDora profile image

MsDora 2 years ago from The Caribbean Author

Amine, I appreciate you sharing these stories. Thanks for your valuable input.

    Sign in or sign up and post using a HubPages Network account.

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No HTML is allowed in comments, but URLs will be hyperlinked. Comments are not for promoting your articles or other sites.

    Click to Rate This Article