Sunday, February 18, 2007

Question of the Week #26: Irreconcilable Differences

I’m sure we have all heard the term “irreconcilable differences” used in reference to couples who are breaking up, but I recently heard someone use the term in a different way. They claimed many couples have such differences and we tend to find ways to thrive in spite of them.

How about the regular church-goer married to the agnostic? Is such a marriage necessarily doomed? Of course not. They could make trouble for themselves if they constantly argued the merits of their respective beliefs and tried to convert their partner to their way of thinking. A better strategy would be to leave that debate alone and accept that two people don’t have to be identical to enjoy each other’s company and share their lives together.

I can think of plenty of circumstances that fit this mold. Perhaps the wife is close friends with her cousin, with whom the husband has never seen eye-to-eye. Or he is a die-hard Republican and no one in her family has voted that way in two hundred years. In cases like these, successful couples often simply agree to disagree.

Perhaps another way to say this is that couples can thrive if each person respects their partner’s differences.

How about you? Have you seen this dynamic in action? What differences do you and your partner have? Have you learned not to press each other’s hot buttons on these topics? Have you seen couples who implode because the can’t seem to leave their differences alone?

I'm interested to hear what you think. I’ll post a summary of the comments next week.


  1. Respecting someone else's right to make their own choices, as long as they are doing the same for you, is an essential way to nourish relationships with those you love.

    With mutual tolerance, compassion and understanding, (knowing that this is just a difference of opinion rather than a difference in ethics)you can keep a relationship you value intact.

  2. HIIIIIIIIII!!!! JUST got back home and so am on a running blogging greeting spree!! its great to be back in the blogsphere!!

  3. I suspect that anyone with strong opinions on religion and/or politics would have a hard time dredging up enough tolerance to sustain a close relationship with someone of very different or opposing views. I know I would!
    I'd be surprised if such a couple were attracted in the first place, sufficiently to commit to a long-term relationship

    Lesser differences of taste or opinion, though, can easily and often be subject to mutual understanding. These tend to add spice, in fact.

  4. Hi Andrew,

    I agree with you - couples can thrive despite differences. In fact, I think a large part of sexual chemistry is created by the differences that make our partners more interesting to us.

    On the other hand, if the differences relate to 'big' topics, such as parenting approaches, or ethics, then I think the differences can divide. I think it's good to be fairly well aligned on how to try to live a good, generous life, and on how to raise your kids to do the same - no matter your religious beliefs or political persuasion.

  5. LOL Love this subject!!!! Not that it's prompted serious compromise, but my DH is a big sports fanatic (Hockey = Red Wings, Football = Packers, Nascar = Dale Jr.) where as I couldn't generally care less, but I LOVE a good book (and he's not much of a reader). I support him by buying him books on his favorite athletes (or sometimes the sport in general) and going to occasional local hockey games with him & the DD. He doesn't grumble TOO much when I buy new books, and lets me have loads of bookshelves. We work around it, and I just try not to have too deep of conversations regarding books I've read with him, while he doesn't get peeved when I repeatedly ask what number Jeff Gordon is again (or similarly clueless sports questions).

  6. It IS okay for couples to agree to disagree. I always put by clothes in the husband leaves his socks where he takes them off. I squeeze the toothpaste "from the bottom and flatten as you go up" (per directions)...he squeezes it in the middle. He loves to watch TV in bed...I have to have the room dark and quiet. (Now THIS causes some real conflict, because I don't feel like I am resting until the TV goes off. Which means I am really tired a lot of mornings.)

    And here's another pearl of wisdom: It's OKAY to go to bed angry. If you don't, you end up both TIRED and angry. If you give yourself permission to "sleep on it", then sometimes, when you wake up, you are "over it".

  7. Oh boy do me and my man fit this bill! Don't get me wrong, we have a lot in common, but the differences are still being "worked out". He is a free spirited small business owner that comes and goes as he pleases. Never really sticks to ONE thing or a time for anything. Me, I grew up in a military home, joined the military and even though I am out now...I still live by the same structure that I have always had. This has causes SEVERAL MAJOR blow outs. But now, we are realizing that neither of us are changing and to just deal with it instead of continually harping on the other to change. It's who we are. We've had the religious fight too. That one has gone by the way side. I guess it is working now because we are trying to show interest in each other's interests and trying not to let the little things bother us anymore.

  8. The other day, I was telling my 12 year old brother that the younger sister of a friend of mine is perfect for him! They seem to be identical in personality. He looked at me very seriously and said, "Brianne, don't you know, OPPOSITES attract." It was cute and so true.

    It is interesting that the same behaviors that attract us to eachother later repel us. I think that the key is a mutual respect and understanding of eachother. That way, even fundamental differences can be relished.

  9. I think i go with what 'jellyhead' said--as long as the differences are not on key issues--like ethics & parenting ways--if one can just accept that people are different, it's not too hard. You'll be surprised too that sometimes, after you have been married along while, there are some things in which you find you become much more like each other, something which may seem an impossible thought earlier on!