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What to do About Irreconcilable Differences

written by Linda & Charlie Bloom March 26, 2020
What to do About Irreconcilable Differences

Even the most successful marriages contain irreconcilable differences — those differences that cannot be resolved completely. Some differences can be deal-breakers if one or both partners can’t tolerate them. But when there is a foundation of love and respect, this situation is less likely to occur.

Only a small portion of the differences that most couples start out with are actually solvable. The presence of differences isn’t necessarily problematic; it’s when they become a conflict that there is trouble. When we appreciate the value of our differences, we begin to see them not as a threat but as an enhancement to our relationship.

An Interview with Leah and Jason

Leah:

Before Jason and I got married, I thought that couples became more harmonious over time. Boy, was I wrong! Not only did our different points of view not go away, they actually became inflamed. For a while, it really seemed like they would end our marriage.


Jason:

Things looked pretty hopeless for a while. I’ve always had a thing about being controlled and I reacted like crazy every time Leah tried to get me to do something that I didn’t feel right about.

Leah: “And that just triggered my fear that Jason didn’t love me. I thought that if he did, he would be more open to my input.”

Jason: “We kept getting locked into these horrible patterns that kept squeezing the life out of our marriage. To say that it was a nightmare would be an understatement.”

Leah: “We finally got help, which we should have done much earlier in the process. But that was one of the issues that we couldn’t agree on. I wanted to get counseling and Jason didn’t.”

Jason: “I’ve always believed that if you put your mind to something and worked hard to straighten out your problems, you should be able to handle things on your own.”

Seeking Help

Leah: “We literally had nothing to lose by going to counseling. Our relationship was completely trashed, we were living like enemies, we hadn’t had sex in months, and things were just getting worse.”

Jason: “The counselor really helped us. I had a lot more to learn about relationships than Leah.”

Leah: “Fortunately Jason’s a very good student. If there’s something that he wants to learn, he throws himself into it; and that’s the way he engaged in the counseling process.”

Jason: “The counselor helped me to see how I was getting in my own way. He pointed out alternatives to my negative behaviors. He also helped me to see that underneath my anger was a lot of fear that Leah might see me as weak if I didn’t stand up to her. I hadn’t seen that I was a big part of the problem. It wasn’t just Leah being stubborn and unreasonable.”

Leah: “I had to learn to manage my fears of losing Jason that caused me to try to control him. One of the most important things that I learned was that it wasn’t our differences that were the problem. It was our efforts to convert each other to our perspective. As we began to trust that the differences didn’t need to go away, we both relaxed our need to get the other person on the same page.”

“These days, we each just communicate our preferences without the feeling that we need to get the other person to agree. Amazingly, we usually come to a workable understanding almost every single time because we never try to pressure each other into anything… well, hardly ever.”

Putting it to Practice

Jason: “It’s taken a lot of practice. Our counselor got us started but then it was up to us to practice the things that we learned from him. Changing old habits isn’t easy; we had plenty of ‘learning opportunities.’ In the process, we’ve each become more appreciative of our differences, and more committed to accepting influence from each other.”

Leah: “We’ve also developed more tolerance, patience, and forgiveness. For a couple of recovering hotheads, we live a remarkably harmonious and peaceful life now.”

Jason: “We still have the same preferences that we had when we first met 19 years ago, but we’re learning to live with them.”

Leah: “We love each other, we value family, we both strive to live with integrity and honesty, we both value the learning process, and we both love to have fun!”

Leah and Jason salvaged a marriage that was on life support by being willing to make something more important than playing out life-long patterns of control and manipulation. They were willing to risk it all to go for the real gold that is available in committed partnerships. They put their relationship at the top of their priority list. There is an old saying, that “you can be right or you can have a relationship.” The key word is “or.” You can’t have it both ways. What’s your choice?

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