I’m a big believer in marriage, and I’m pretty sure most people go into marriage with the belief that their marriage will succeed.
Yet roughly 50% or all first marriages fail.
And in the vast majority of divorces is North America (and presumably more of the world), the reason given for the divorce is irreconcilable differences.
So, what exactly are irreconcilable differences?
Yeah, the words tell you this means the couple has differences they can’t figure out, but what does that even mean?
I tried to find a good explanation for irreconcilable differences, and at this site (a divorce law site of course) I found the following:
What that this means is that you and your spouse’s basic fundamental differences make it impossible to stay married. For some couples, arguments over child discipline, politics, finances, or religion are severe enough to drive a permanent wedge in the marriage. Other couples may want a divorce because they fight a lot, have personality conflicts, or simply don’t trust each other. Whatever your differences with your spouse, they must be permanent enough that your marriage has become irretrievably broken.
So basically, at some point in time a couple comes to a determination that they aren’t compatible, and this incompatibility is significant enough that they can’t handle being together anymore.
How Does Compatibility Break Down?
You know, I’ve never gone to a wedding where the couple said things like “I’m looking forward to the start of our next few years together, until we realize our differences are so significant we have to hire lawyers to break down the life we will be building together.”
Guys supposedly aren’t very good at listening though, so that could be on me.
Realistically though, when a couple gets married they believe they are compatible. I’m pretty sure they know they have differences, but when they stand up there and pledge forever to each other, they believe they have what it takes to make it.
Yet almost 50% of marriages fail.
What the hell are we doing wrong?
How does compatible become irreconcilable?
I guess at least part of it is change.
People are constantly growing and evolving, so the couple who stands there and exchanges vows is likely quite a bit different from the couple who later find themselves dealing with divorce lawyers and legal fees.
They may have believed they were compatible on the marriage day, but as the years went by they were no longer those same people.
Another problem could be they knew they had differences, but thought they could “get past” them. On the wedding day they figured those differences weren’t a problem, but over time they were proven wrong.
Thing is, people are different, and people change. Those two things are among the few constants in life. So unless we are willing to accept the idea that the institute of marriage is broken (and I’m not willing to accept that), we need to figure out how we can do a better job of accepting change, and find ways to stay happy together in spite of it.
A little over a year ago I wrote a post called Accepting Influence, and although my thoughts on it have changed a bit in the past year I think accepting influence is probably the most important thing you can do in order to have a successful relationship.
In fact, I think accepting influence is what relationships are really all about.
A marriage isn’t just a way of sharing living expenses, or having someone there to take care of you. A marriage is not just about having your needs fulfilled. In fact, it’s not about a “me”, and it’s not about a “you”.
It’s about an “us”.
When two people meet, it’s often some of their shared interests that bring them together. They have some things in common, and these common interests give them things to talk about and experiences to share.
When talking about compatibility it is often these common interests that are talked about.
Hey, we both like to travel, we both like similar foods, movies, music… whatever it is.
But no matter how similar you are, people also have differences. AND, they change over time.
Accepting influence is all about learning to navigate those differences, and expanding your world so that you start to care about things you normally wouldn’t have – BECAUSE they matter to your partner!
At a superficial level this can be things like activities and hobbies. You aren’t trying to become your partner, or force yourself into all aspects of their life. But you ARE trying to understand them, and have more common ground to share with them. Maybe to be able to hold a conversation with them about one of their passions, even if you don’t share it.
At a deeper level this is something as important as love languages. Couples don’t always share the same love languages – the things that make one person feel loved and valued don’t necessarily match their partners. But it’s important to try and understand what matters to your partner and give them what they need to feel loved – even (and perhaps especially) when it doesn’t match your own.
This is a form of accepting influence. Really, it’s about saying to your partner YOU matter to me. I care about you.
On the flip side, refusing to accept influence is kind of like saying “Sure I care about you and your needs – as long as they line up with mine”.
Relationships shouldn’t be just about your needs. You should derive happiness from seeing your partner happy and from contributing to that happiness, even when it doesn’t line up with something you personally need.
What if the happiness of your partner doesn’t matter to you? Well, if that’s the case you probably shouldn’t be in a relationship.
The reason given for most divorces is “irreconcilable differences”. Aka “we weren’t compatible anymore”.
However compatibility doesn’t just happen, it’s something you build into the relationship every day. Every time you accept influence from your partner by putting their needs at the same level as your own and trying to do things for them, you are building compatibility.
And every time you put me ahead of we, you are building in incompatibility. I’m not saying you should do everything together or never have time to yourself, as individual time and space is important to the health of a relationship. But the needs of your partner should always matter.
When people cite irreconcilable differences, I think what they are REALLY saying is “I was no longer willing to work with you and try to meet your needs. I was no longer willing to try and find a solution that works for both of us.”
Personal boundaries are good, and are a healthy part of relationships. When those personal boundaries collide however, often the inability to find a solution together is more a testament to one or both sides wanting things their way. To putting me before we.
Sure, they want to get to forever and they want the happy ending. But they want it on their terms, and aren’t willing to move their position to meet their partner and find a place where both people can be happy.
And if you are in a relationship for you? Then you’ve already failed.
Successful relationships aren’t about you, and they aren’t about me. In successful relationships there is a recognition that both you and me matter, and the only way to do that is by putting we first.
If requires communication, negotiation, and accepting influence.
I think it’s best summed up by a line in this article:
Compatibility is an achievement of love; it must not be its precondition.
We start with a certain degree of compatibility, but after that it doesn’t just happen on it’s own. It’s up to us to maintain it, and it’s up to us to build it.
So irreconcilable differences doesn’t mean there was an inherent problem with the couple. A lack of compatibility really means the couple couldn’t, or wouldn’t, build it in.