The phrase “irreconcilable differences” has traditionally sparked the idea that divorce is imminent. It has meant that you and your spouse cannot agree on basic fundamental issues related to your marriage and your family. Dr. John Gottman, who is well known for his more than 35 years of research on what makes or breaks a marriage, can predict with nearly 90% accuracy what will happen to a relationship in the first 3 years. Contrary to what we once accepted, it is not the irreconcilable differences that are actually problematic; it is how those differences are communicated and managed that is the deciding factor as to whether a long and happy marriage will ensue.
Dr. Gottman’s position is that all happy marriages include at least 10 irreconcilable differences, and that they are to be embraced, not eliminated. To eliminate them is simply to give up on the relationship and label the couple as incompatible. No two people think alike, have the same opinions or have been parented the same, which all affect how they communicate with each other. All couples have disagreements, most of them related to these irreconcilable differences:
- financial matters
- sexual intimacy
- child rearing
- career vs. home
- household chores
- extended family and in-laws
- communication style
- personal habits
In learning to decipher and discuss our differences, we must avoid the damaging patterns of criticism, contempt, blame and withdrawal. These forms of ineffective communication will certainly be the beginning of the end if the couple continues to attack one another’s character, project disgust, act defensively and stonewall each other, without the ability to embrace and redirect their differences.
Effective communication begins with respect and affection, listening and discussing differences, and honoring each other’s aspirations and dreams. A couple working together as a team, each respecting the other’s perspective, can use their differences as a cornerstone on which to build their relationship, rather than using their differences as a wrecking ball. A long and happy marriage is possible if love truly exists, and with the tools to effectively communicate and resolve our differences.