How to Solve Irreconcilable Differences in a Marriage

It's not too late.

unhappy couple

 Getty Images/Cavan Images

If you or your friends have gone through a divorce, you've likely heard the term irreconcilable differences thrown around. The idea is that some problems are so unsolvable that divorce is the only option. In other words, a court will grant a divorce on the grounds of irreconcilable differences if they determine that the spouses can’t agree on certain basic issues.

What Are Irreconciliable Differences?

Irreconcilable differences mean that two spouses cannot get along with one another and therefore cannot keep their marriage intact. It is a reason used when filing for a no-fault divorce.

There are seven main factors that courts use to determine whether or not a marriage suffers from irreconcilable differences. These include things as simple as differences in personality to elements as complicated as aggressive feelings and behaviors.

Although it's clear that something like aggressive feelings and behaviors should be grounds for a divorce, some of the other factors may actually be reconciled if you and your spouse are prepared to put in the work and are interested in avoiding divorce.

Learn how you may be able to save a marriage that is affected by these six factors that qualify as irreconcilable differences.

couple hugging
 Getty Images/Sofie Delauw

Differences in Personality

No two people have the same personality and the personality traits that first attracted you to a person may end up being the ones that irritate you the most down the line. However, you may consider asking yourself whether or not being irritated by someone's personality traits is a good reason to get a divorce.

Normally these differences are magnified during times of stress like the birth of a child or when you have financial difficulties. For instance, if you fell in love with someone because they were easy going and laid back, these same qualities may grow to annoy you if they cause your significant other to come home late and forget about things that are important to you.

So how do you reconcile this difference? You can try letting your spouse take care of the issues they are good at handling while you take on the tasks you are good at. Just be sure that you're both able to communicate what works for you. It's about playing off of each other’s strengths instead of focusing on your differences.

Unmet Emotional Needs

Many people deal with childhood wounds or issues from the past. If this is the case for you or your spouse, you may find yourself looking to one another to fill a need that isn't yours to fill. This can lead to placing unrealistic expectations on your partner.

In this case, you can try seeking marriage counseling or working with a marriage educator to help you and your S.O. identify how to best meet your emotional needs. For example, if you need more touch, you have to ask for it; if you need words of affirmation, you have to express your desire. "It is easy to get stuck in a mindset of expectation, especially when you've been in a partnership for a while and expect your partner should know what you want and need, when you want and need it," Kate Balestrieri, Psy.D., CSAT-S, tells MindBodyGreen. "Reiterate to your partner that you have a need, and do not expect them to read your mind."

More often than not, when one spouse is not getting their emotional needs met, the other isn’t either.

Financial Problems

If you or your spouse begin to make financial decisions without considering the overall needs of your marriage, then your relationship may suffer because of this. However, this situation is not necessarily irreconcilable.

The key is to be open and honest about your finances, regarding both what's coming in and what's going out. Rather than hide major purchases, it's always best to make those decisions together. If you're on the same page, even if financial troubles arise, you can work through them together. Also, consider each party's relationship with money for context. "When you and your partner hold different views about money, you have to take the time to explain to each other why you approach your finances the way you do," says Marni Kinrys, a relationship coach in Los Angeles, founder of The Wing Girl Method and author of e-book That's Not How Men Work, in an interview with Prevention.

Built-Up Anger and Resentment

Built-up anger and resentment tend to occur when a couple has a long-term inability to communicate their feelings with each other. It's easy to enter a marriage with high and even unreasonable expectations, and if those expectations aren't met it can be difficult to communicate this disappointment to your spouse.

While it's inevitable that each marriage will face its share of problems, it becomes destructive when you're not able to openly discuss these problems as they come up. Surely, if enough anger builds up over time, it can feel irreconcilable. However, by opening the lines of communication, perhaps with a counselor or therapist, you can address your issues head-on and move forward.

Lack of Trust

Trust is one of the core pillars of any strong relationship. When trust is lost—no matter the circumstances—it can be a challenge to recover, but it's not impossible. It's really up to you to identify what it will take to regain trust in your spouse.

If our spouse is willing to admit to their mistakes, make honest changes in themselves, and share information with you that you need, you can begin to take steps forward. When your heart is in the marriage and the relationship is a priority for both you and your partner, trust can be rebuilt so long as you're both willing and able to put in the work.

Squabbling and Bickering

Although some degree of bickering and arguing can be expected in any long-term relationship, it can quickly get out of hand when it becomes the norm.

If you and your spouse are caught up in the cycle, the only way to move forward is to learn the relationship skills needed to help you put an end to the unnecessary squabbling. "Fighting about who pays the bills, cleans, does lawn work or laundry, is more about feeling appreciated and getting credit than doing the actual task," Melissa Cohen, LCSW, a couples counselor in private practice in Westfield, NJ, tells Prevention. If so, a concerted effort to say thank you and communicate appreciation for each other might turn the tide. Alternatively, a counselor or therapist can help you identify why you both feel the need to communicate in such a way, which can help you deal with problems more effectively in the future.

For some couples, these irreconcilable differences are reason enough to end a marriage (and that's okay). However, if you and your spouse are both invested in maintaining your relationship, there are ways to reconcile certain differences. The key is to be ready and willing to put in the work and to be open to seeking help from a professional if necessary.

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