stacking the deck for compatibility

Here's the post I mentioned about William Glasser's book, Staying Together. It seems to be out of print, but from what I can gather, it's been updated and morphed into sort of a newer edition, called Getting Together and Staying Together: Solving the Mystery of Marriage. As always, this post is about my interpretation of his work, so please read his book for a completely accurate representation of his theories.

William Glasser is the founder of Control Theory, sometimes called Choice Theory, which suggests that we really only have control over ourselves and no one else. So if we think changes need to be made in a relationship, we are the one who is responsible for making them. He suggests that all human behavior is an attempt to satisfy these five basic needs: survival, love, power, freedom, and fun.

My colleague and I created our own parenting model, Inspiring Connections, which parallels his theory in a way that is sort of spooky. We also identified what we call Five Core Needs: Autonomy, Basic Survival, Connection, Contribution, and Creativity. In our workshops, we teach parents how to help their children learn constructive and socially appropriate strategies for meeting these needs. So his theory makes a lot of sense to me.

What I learned from Glasser is that this model can provide significant insight into relationship dynamics when we realize that each of us prioritize these needs differently. He suggests rating the importance of each need for each person on a scale of 1-5, and then comparing them to determine whether a partnership seems to have genuine long term potential.

It was pretty enlightening for me to map out my priorities and compare them with my best estimate of the priorities of my past relationship partners. I could see pretty clearly what I had missed while I was blinded by love -- that some priorities are inherently more compatible than others. Although there are always exceptions, in most cases love is simply not enough to overcome deeply mismatched need priorities.

For example, I have a very high survival need, so I won't be a good match for someone who doesn't. I'm just not a big physical risk taker. Odds are I would be constantly freaked out and scared by driving fast, high risk sports, or traveling through a foreign country without reservations. I would feel destabilized in those situations, whereas a man who enjoys that kind of adventure and ranks fun as a higher priority than survival would probably feel stifled by my need for security. And indeed, that is exactly what happened in one of my past relationships.

Other examples:

- Someone who doesn't need a lot of love and affection is likely to feel smothered by a partner who is physically expressive and prefers a lot of contact and communication.

- Two people who prioritize freedom fairly equally can be a good match, whereas a major difference in this area can lead to a pursuer/distancer dynamic that is painful and frustrating.

- A high need for power and a low need for power can work well together. Put two equally high needs for power in a relationship, and things can turn ugly very quickly.

As I mapped out my own priorities, it became very obvious what priorities would be most compatible in a mate. Now my next challenge will be to remind myself to investigate this issue before I get too deeply involved with anyone.

I'd like to think that I've experienced enough painful mismatches to have gathered the motivation to do my homework first. Only time will tell ...

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