How to Deal with Irreconcilable Differences in Marriage

Good marriages go through these 3 stages.

Irreconcilable differences are often cited as “grounds for divorce.” Obviously, some couples really struggle in this arena. That makes sense to me, but not completely. Carolyn and I were married on August 4, 1979—so we’re about to celebrate 38 years of marriage. Over the years, we’ve learned how to cope with and even appreciate our differences.

Talking with my friend Eric Helmbold a while back, we agreed that the best marriages go through three stages of dealing with their differences. Going through these three stages can make our differences grounds for a great marriage instead of divorce.

Here are 3 stages to go through to deal with irreconcilable differences and create a great marriage:

1. Learning the differences.

Early in relationships there is a lot of learning. We find out that our values and upbringings were different. We learn about differences in personalities, perceptions, and preferences.

Here are some of Carolyn’s and my irreconcilable differences. See if you can guess which of us is which preference:

  • One of us likes the temperature pleasingly moderate—the other likes it boiling hot!
  • One likes to arrive on time or early—the other likes to be rude and arrive late.
  • One likes to ride the fun thrill rides at amusement parks—the other likes the little kiddie rides.
  • One likes documentaries and sports on TV — the other likes “Say ‘Yes’ to the Dress!”

The key in this stage is to focus on learning instead of judging because we’re thinking MY values are obviously better, more intelligent, etc.

Early in our marriage one of Carolyn’s legitimate complaints was that I had to be right and I didn’t appreciate that she had a different point of view. I felt that what I was trying to do was obviously the right way since I was smarter—which is proof of how stupid I was!

Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way.” (1 Peter 3:7 ESV)

2. Laughing at the differences.

As soon as possible, it is great to get a giggle out of your irreconcilable differences.

I am NOT saying we laugh at our spouse or make fun of their differences or values. But learn to chuckle about things like how one likes the covers off and the other freezes if they’re not piled high.

Examples for us:

  • Cleaning the house: Carolyn vacuums the carpet three times before company comes over. We laugh about that and how she likes to virtually comb the carpet.
  • Museums: I looked it up and the definition of muse is: “to reflect deeply on something.” Carolyn thinks a museum is a jogging track—or “speed walking” venue. She’s ready to leave about the time I get finished reading the first display!
  • Tuna Fish Sandwiches: Our classic giggle is tuna fish sandwiches. At least that’s what I call them, due to my upbringing in the Midwest. But Carolyn thinks that’s dumb. Tuna fish is redundant. Like saying, “I’d like a chicken MEAT sandwich.” So, we “play fight” about it, and have a laugh. We’ve been “fighting” about tuna fish sandwiches for years!

A joyful heart is good medicine…” (Proverbs 17:22 ESV)

3. Loving the differences.

A mature marriage is one where both spouses realize that part of the strength of marriage is in the irreconcilable differences. We learn from each other, we balance each other, we are stronger when two minds with different vantage points combine to find the best outcome.

In many ways, I’ve come to love how Carolyn is different from me, even if we disagree strongly.

For example, I love the fact that Carolyn wants our house spotless if we’re having company. My mom wasn’t that particular—she figured, “Ya’ll come over, we’ll throw in some extra fish sticks. The house is a little messy, but that okay. Just overlook it.”

But nowadays, because I’m married to Carolyn, I like a spotless house when people come over. Recently I even thanked Carolyn for having me dust my office!

IMPORTANT: Sometimes it seems a conflict is too difficult to be funny, and there is an impasse. In those cases, to resolve conflict it’s helpful to gauge who’s the one that feels most strongly about something and why. When we figure that out, then the other spouse can hopefully bend to accommodate the one who feels strongly.

The wisdom from above is first of all pure, then peaceful, courteous, not self-willed, full of compassion and kind actions, free from favouritism and from all insincerity.” (James 3:17 WEY)

Over the years Carolyn and I have learned to enjoy and celebrate our irreconcilable differences. They are not problems, they are strengths.

In summary, here are three stages to deal with irreconcilable differences:

  1. Learning the differences.
  2. Laughing at the differences.
  3. Loving the differences.

How have you learned to cope with irreconcilable differences in your marriage?

Your thoughts are welcome! Please leave your comment below.

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  • Don Buhl

    So right on and good and simple but so hard to apply!
    best quote “she is always right because she is right for me”
    what a miss I would be on my own!

    • Don Buhl

      So right on and good and simple but so hard to apply!
      best quote “she is always right because she is right for me”
      what a miss I would be on my own!
      Don

  • Don Buhl

    One thought on “How to Deal with Irreconcilable Differences in Marriage”
    Don’s reply
    So right on and good and simple but so hard to apply!
    Best quote “she is always right because she is right for me”.
    What a mess I would be on my own!