There are lots of things that determine a couple’s long-term compatibility — their values, their goals, their idea of fun, their commitment to work.
Add to that list “how they respond to expectations.” It’s a rather nebulous and highly unsexy term that turns out to be a big predictor of who you’ll be attracted to.
That’s according to Gretchen Rubin, the bestselling author of multiple books including, most recently, “The Four Tendencies.”
“How do you respond to expectations?” is the question Rubin uses to divide people into four tendencies, or personality types. (You can take Rubin’s quiz to figure out which tendency you fall into.) There are obligers — the biggest category — plus upholders, questioners, and rebels.
Upholders generally meet both inner and outer expectations, meaning they don’t let others or themselves down. Questioners meet inner expectations; they will only do something if they think it makes sense.
Obligers meet outer expectations but don’t always meet inner ones; they usually need some form of external accountability. Rebels resist both inner and outer expectations; if you ask a rebel to do something, they will likely resist.
Based on the anecdotal evidence she gathered from talking to different couples, Rubin noticed a curious pattern: Rebels tend to pair up with obligers.
When she visited the Business Insider office in September, Rubin said that’s largely because obligers can stomach rebels’ constant resistance — and even enjoy it — whereas questioners and upholders would go nuts.
Ultimately, rebels and obligers have something in common. Rubin said: “There’s a deep affinity between obligers and rebels. Both have this resistance to inner expectation and this gives them this feeling that the world is pushing on them and they want to push back.”
Pushing back is harder for obligers than for rebels, Rubin said — which means the rebel partner can help the obliger partner do what they’d really like to.
Here’s an example, from Rubin, of how this dynamic might play out. The obliger will tell the rebel about her demanding family. The rebel will respond, “Oh my gosh, you do so much for them! Let’s just go off for the weekend and they can figure things out for themselves.” That’s somewhat freeing and reassuring for the obliger.
Rubin admitted that a rebel-obliger relationship can seem a little “exploitative,” because the obliger is taking care of all the housework and boring stuff, while the rebel is off having fun. But she said: “If this works for you — if in your relationship, both people feel like they’re getting a great deal — then that’s fine.”
Yes, your tendency isn’t the only factor that determines the success of your relationship. But it’s probably an under-appreciated one.
We tend not to think enough about how our day-to-day with our partner will unfold: who’ll do the laundry and who’ll say “no” to another PTA meeting. Rubin’s framework is an easy way to take that into account.
Watch the full interview:
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