Relationship chemistry: What is it? How does it work?

What is personal chemistry?

My dictionary defines personal chemistry as the emotional and psychological way two people relate to each other, especially when experienced as a powerful mutual attraction. Example: “Their intense sexual chemistry almost tempted them into an affair.” When you’re not attracted to someone, that’s “no chemistry,” and when you dislike them on sight, that’s “bad chemistry.”

Take a moment now to vividly recall 3 experiences:

  1. A time you met someone with whom you had great chemistry.
  2. An interaction where you expected good chemistry, perhaps because the other person was smart or physically attractive, but instead you felt no chemistry.
  3. A time when you had bad chemistry with someone. You immediately felt uncomfortable or disliked them — perhaps before either of you spoke!

Now compare: How easy was it to get and stay in rapport with each person?

Personal chemistry = rapport

In “good chemistry,” people have good rapport. Because their communication styles match or complement each other, and they make similar assumptions, it’s easy to create rapport, and they rarely bump each other out of rapport.

In “no chemistry,” people have a much harder time establishing rapport. Because of differing communication styles, habits, and assumptions, these people tend to disrupt what rapport they have.

In “bad chemistry,” people may be drastically out of rapport. Or they might be deep in negative rapport, where each person’s behavior triggers conflicting responses in the other.

Types of relationship chemistry

If you have taken NLP training, you know that there are many ways to get in rapport with people. Personally, I like to think of chemistry in terms of:

  • Sexual chemistry — physical attraction and rapport, which can occur with or without emotional rapport. Sexual chemistry alone can produce attraction to someone you don’t even like. (I disliked the first boy I had a crush on. What a weird, creepy feeling!)
  • Romantic chemistry — a special type of emotional rapport that generates feelings of romantic love. When romantic and sexual chemistry occur together, people often refer to it as couple chemistry, dating chemistry, or marriage chemistry. Romantic love can also occur in platonic friendships without sexual chemistry or physical desire.
  • Emotional chemistry — the kind of emotional rapport you have with people you immediately like and want to be friends with.
  • Activity chemistry — you want to do particular activities with this person, even if you don’t have much else in common. This is your favorite hiking partner or gaming buddy.
  • Team performance chemistry — great sports teams and music groups have physical rapport that helps the players play synergistically. In business, great teams have functional rapport that helps them perform at their best.
  • Creative chemistry — you work well creating together. Every great jazz ensemble has this. So do synergistic inventors, engineers, programmers, artists, and improv theater groups.
  • Intellectual chemistry — something I share with my NLP development buddies. When I work with equally talented people with whom I don’t have good intellectual rapport, we don’t accomplish nearly as much.
  • Empowerment chemistry — you could also call this spiritual chemistry, though I dislike the term because it implies a belief in spirits that not everyone shares. When you interact with someone on this level, the two of you empower each other and help each other develop as human beings.

What kinds of chemistry work for you?

As you think back to your best, worst, and ho-hum relationships, notice what patterns of chemistry (or lack of it) work best for you:

  • What kinds of chemistry work well in your romantic relationships? Friendships? Work relationships?
  • Where is it important to not have certain kinds of chemistry? Since my father did intellectual work, he enjoyed not having deep intellectual rapport with my mother. It gave him a chance to rest his mind and reconnect emotionally.

Even sexual chemistry is largely a learned skill. If you’d like more chemistry in your life and relationships (or you’d like to disrupt some chemistry that causes you problems), cultivate and apply your NLP rapport skills.

And if you have clients complaining of “lack of chemistry” in their relationships, it might be that all they need is to learn better rapport skills.

Joy

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Relationship chemistry: What is it? How does it work? — 16 Comments

  1. I meet a lady for a coffee having contacted via a singles website. I thought the chat was going well, we both had a lot in common, same age, children etc. However later she said we did not have the right chemistry. How can a person decided that after an hour. I’m a sort of person who is guarded on first meetings. So how can a person make such remarks after a very short time. We live in an age of instant, likes and dislikes so I guess this par for the course.

  2. Hi Malcolm,

    That’s a tough one, all right.

    Like you, I have experienced that chemistry can take time to build. People who bail after one or two dates because the magic isn’t happening instantly may reject partners with whom they could have had great long-term relationships.

    Sometimes people are platonic friends for years before something changes and they develop sexual and romantic chemistry. I’ve been in 2 relationships like that, both wonderful.

    Or people might start by dating, and still take a while to figure out where and how they really mesh. I’m in a relationship now that started that way. Fortunately, both of us were willing to keep going in the absence of deal-breakers long enough to discover and build amazing chemistry.

    Unfortunately there’s a lot of mythology and bad advice about dating and romance that leads people to make snap decisions about romantic partners.

    Snap decisions are sometimes appropriate, for instance when someone displays behaviors that are deal-breakers. If someone annoys me repeatedly on the first date, I know I don’t want to go out with them no matter how wonderful they are otherwise.

    Best of luck in your dating adventures. I hope you quickly find someone with staying power who is happy to take the time to get to know you and appreciates your good qualities.

  3. Hi, I have a story that I would like to share and maybe get some insight on. At work there’s this really great guy. He’s charming to everyone he meets and is a nice person, also very attractive. We get along really well and I enjoy being around him and having conversations, etc. The only problem is there’s no sexual chemistry, that I can detect. I’m into him and find him attractive but if we accidentally brush by each other or touch hands I don’t feel a spark.

    Does it take time for the spark to grow? I mean I’ve only known him a few weeks and told him tonight that I was into him. But I really want to be sexually attracted to him? Does it take time to develop or no?

  4. Hi Jody,

    What a great question! Here’s my 2¢:

    1. Attraction seems like it “happens to you” (because it’s mostly created unconsciously), but it’s actually something you do. That means attraction patterns are pretty individual. Your best predictor is probably your own previous experience, but…
    2. Most people are terrible at predicting what they will like or dislike. I’m sure you can think of a time you were certain you would like an experience, and didn’t… and a time you were certain you wouldn’t like an experience, and did.
    3. That means that the best way to learn what will happen in a situation like this is usually to try it. Date this guy. Go in with an open mind, minimal expectations, and an attitude of curious discovery. You don’t know what is going to happen. Enjoy the ride.
    4. Chemistry often takes time to build, so unless you encounter a serious deal-breaker, keep going. Some of my best relationships and friendships have been with people I took awhile to develop chemistry with. If you don’t generate a spark with this guy right away, don’t give up; try other activities, hang out together, get to know each other. Create opportunities and time to grow something special with each other.

    HTH, and best of luck!

  5. Ive been seeing this guy for about 9 months, off and on. We dated for about 3 months and he told me there was no chemistry. He broke up with me. We never stopped talking and texting. I convinced him to get back together and give it another try. We were together for a few more months and then on Valentine’s day he went to the trouble to send me flowers at work, balloons were waiting for me when i got home and he took me to dinner. Then at the end of the evening, he broke up with me. No chemistry. Again. I was devastated. But again i convinced him to give it another try. This time it waa going great. So i thought. Let me add that we have a fantastic time when we’re hanging out together. A lot of laughter happens. Sex is good. Not great but decent. At least i enjoy him. I dont know about him because he want voice anything. Anyway he just did it again. My head tells me to move on but my heart wont let me. I dont know what to do. We are still talking but he is refussing to stay together based on the chemistry thing. He says he loves me and he thinks im beautiful and sexy. Theres just no chemistry. Should i just say screw it and move on or fight for what i believe in?

  6. I have recently met with and old friend, he is familiar for many reasons, being from the area i grew up and shares that sense of humour. Although i never got to know him well, i think the familiarity has had an effect on me. I am in my late twenties, i left home 10 years ago, just after i had got to know him. Now later, he has come into my lofe and i have been in great need. after a short amount of time we have become very close. Due to the failure of my relationships over the years, I wonder if this is real or illusory.
    Anyway, we have slept together, and it was pleasant experience. We decided to make a go at a relationship and have had wonderful conversations. He is a great comfort. But the attraction from me is strange and im not sure of it. Sometimes i feel repulsed by him. I wish to be attracted to him because he really does care for me and he is desperately attracted to me, which i think is desirable in a partner. Having read this, i am wondering if the guy i fell in love with last year is affeceting me. I had an intense love for this guy who is still in my social circle, and well, i feel for this guy what the new guy feels for me. The love was unreciprocated. So boy from the past is sensible, we also get along great. this is waffly but any advice/experience???????

  7. Hi cindy,

    9 months and 3 breakups is enough experience for him, at least, to know pretty well whether things are going to work or not.

    It sounds like you two have great chemistry as friends, but not as lovers.

    You may even be in love as friends. In romantic friendships, the emotional part is great and you fall in love with each other emotionally, but the sexual attraction doesn’t exist or doesn’t work. You may be dealing with that situation.

    The simple solution to this is to stop trying to hook this guy romantically, and concentrate on building a good, lasting friendship with a person you enjoy. IOW, go with what works and stop trying to make your relationship into something it’s not.

    Meanwhile, start looking for a romantic/sexual partner with whom you have a great mutual connection, both emotionally and physically.

    Remember, your goal here is not a mediocre relationship, or a relationship with a reluctant partner who keeps breaking up with you. Your goal is to have a great relationship, and for that you need across-the-board compatibility you and this fellow simply don’t have.

    HTH,
    Joy

  8. Hi steph,

    It’s often challenging how much of attraction is about the other person’s actual qualities and the closeness of the match, and how much of attraction or lack of it is stuff that you’re doing that creates the feelings.

    You might experiment with tracking what happens before you feel especially attracted or repulsed. It may have nothing to do with your guy’s behavior. OTOH, it may be triggered by something subtle that he’s doing. Sometimes our subconscious mind grasps patterns the conscious mind doesn’t, and communicates those via feelings and hunches.

    HTH,
    Joy

  9. Hi Joy,
    I am middle age, about 2 monts I met a guy via dating site, he is atractive to me, when we kiss I don’t feel any spark,
    but in my last two relationship from first kiss I had that strong connection.

    also we had so much in common, I recently broke up from three years old relationship that chemistray was great.

    this guy is not talktive, we go out ,eat exchange some kisses and go home.

    do you think spark may come later or i just don’t have that connection with him, thank you for your help.

    Nancy,

  10. I’m 25 years old college grad and I was dating this guy whom I thought was the one And had a good chemistry with, everything was going great we went out to movies, dinner, and we got to know each other very well, but from the start I knew he didn’t like the fact that I’m joining the U.S Navy, and he will always tell me that he supports me, I wanted to believe him, but I never felt he was being sincere. So anyways we dated for a year and one month until he asked me to make a choice between my career and him, and I picked my career over him, next thing I know he’s breaking up with me the following week, he said and I quote” we shouldn’t be together, we don’t have chemistry, and your leaving soon. I’m not going to lay but I was a bit shocked, because I thought we had a good thing yeah our communication was not great but we were okay so I thought.

    Honesty I think the reason he broke up with me was because I working on my military career and because I wouldn’t let him control me.

    I’ll find my soulmate someday, but for now I’m in a committed relationship with my career.

  11. I am a young man of 24yrs n a graduate from the polytechnic.am in a serious relationship with a lady who has 2children.it comes to a time the way and manner this lady treats me is bad and i inform her about it and she was able to tell me nothing can make our relationship strong cos she is a muslim and am a christian.these makes her to cheat on me cos when there is chemistry between us ,she wil not do all she doing.

  12. Hi Joy,

    My problem is I don’t really feel sexual attraction to anyone. It made it very difficult even to decide whether to date guys or girls. Overall I find guys more physically attractive, so I started dating guys about a year ago. I wound up in an 8 month relationship with a guy I really liked. We were super compatible and always had an amazing time. He never seemed to have an issue with my low sex drive. Last week, however, he broke up with me citing “no chemistry” and “lack of mutal romantic feelings.” It broke my heart, especially because I thought things had been going so well. Now I’m worried again that my low sex drive will make it difficult for me to find a lasting romantic relationship. Any advice?

  13. I had an one n a half year relationship with an awesome man . We had great connection , spark n sex . However , thing turn badly when I have constant emotional break up . He decided to leave with the reason the passion gone n he realized there is no intellectual chemistry between us although we are still connected to each other strongly in physical chemistry . I have never found someone that have so stron connection with me. Should I give it a try n get him back ? Or I should just let it go since the interlectual chemistry is not something that can develop over night n that seem so important to him .

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