Relationships and Marriage: A Perceptual Styles Perspective

The Perceptual Styles Theory (PST) describes six distinct ways that different people see the world, what they value, and how they communicate, so—as one of the originators of this psychological theory—it’s only natural that people often ask me which style would make the best match for them in a romantic relationship.

Gary M. Jordon, Ph.D.

Gary M. Jordon, Ph.D.

Alas, the mysteries of love are too deep for any one factor to determine success or failure. The truth is, two people with any of the possible Perceptual Style (PS) combinations can and do fall in love, stay in love, and create lasting and meaningful relationships.

That said, all relationships face challenges, and PST can provide useful insights into the challenges any two styles are likely to encounter. These challenges fall into four major categories:

1. Birds of a feather flock together.
2. Since Since we’re neighbors, lets be friends.
3. Opposites attract.
4. I understand the words you are speaking, but I have no idea what you mean.

Birds of a Feather Flock Together

People with the same PS are often attracted to each other, and with good reason. Two people with the same PS often don’t have to explain to each other what they mean or are trying to say. Because they perceive the world in a similar way, they understand the thought process behind both the verbal and non-verbal communication that occurs between them. They bond quickly and enjoy each other’s company immensely.

My three best, life-long friends and I all have the same PS. When we get together, the conversation picks right up where it left off, as though we had never been apart. (This is true even if it has been months or years between visits.)

So where’s the problem, in terms of long-term compatibility? First of all, being with these friends is so intense that I am usually worn out by visiting with them and need time away to recover. Secondly, our discussions are great fun, enormously stimulating, and very validating, but rarely challenging or demanding.

I go to these friends for the experience of “yeah, I agree, now let me tell you a similar story.” I do not go to them for a new or challenging perspective, and this is generally the issue for two people with the same PS in a romantic relationship. Couples with the same PS often say that while they love each other and enjoy each other’s company, they sometimes get bored.

So if you find yourself partnered with someone with the same PS as you, you will both likely need to develop sources for challenge and debate outside of your relationship.

Since We’re Neighbors, Let’s Be Friends

Every PS has two neighboring styles. Although each style has a unique world-view, there are definite similarities between neighboring styles. This neighbor combination seems to occur frequently in romantic partnerships—probably because there is enough in common to feel connected, and enough contrast to allow for creative tension.

On the surface, neighboring styles will appear fairly similar, but conflicts arise when what appeared to be a similarity turns out to be a difference. My wife has the Flow PS; mine is Activity. Both of us are fascinated by people, relationships, and the emotional world, but I move at a frenzied pace compared to her ‘flow’, and she focuses more on community while my focus is on individuals.

Neighboring styles will also use different words when the meaning they want to convey is the same. This creates a conflict of style where you argue from different perspectives for the same thing. My wife and I have discovered that this is the greatest source of conflict for us.

So if you and your partner have neighboring styles, you need to be prepared for these conflicts that will seemingly come out of nowhere and disrupt things. There is no ‘resolving’ these irritations because what they’re really about is differences in perception. It’s like arguing about the meaning of a piece of art—there is no right or wrong answer because everyone sees and reacts to it differently.

Understanding this and being aware of the signs—e.g., a seemingly stupid argument that arises suddenly and then disappears—can help couples with neighboring styles catch such conflicts before they escalate into something that appears more serious than it really is.

Curious about the second two categories? Watch for the second article in this series.

Gary Jordan, Ph.D., has over 27 years of experience in clinical psychology, behavioral assessment, individual development, and coaching. He earned his doctorate in Clinical Psychology from the California School of Professional Psychology – Berkeley.  He is co-creator of Perceptual Style Theory, a revolutionary psychological assessment system that teaches people how to unleash their deepest potentials for success. He’s a partner at Vega Behavioral Consulting, Ltd., a consulting firm that specializes in helping people discover their true skills and talents.  For more information, visit

This entry was posted in Activity, Flow, Perceptual Style, Relationships. Bookmark the permalink.

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