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Is It an “Irreconcilable Difference” or Just Good Old-Fashioned (and Biblical) “Trouble”? Part 1

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Relationship Differences

I’m sure you’ve heard of the term “irreconcilable differences.” But have you ever thought about what exactly people mean when they use this term to describe their marriages? I mean, if such “irreconcilable differences” are causing the destruction of families everywhere, it must be really serious, right? After all, to say something is “irreconcilable” means that it is impossible to repair. 

Well, one website regarding divorce and other legal matters lists the following as examples of  irreconcilable differences: 

  • Unwanted involvement from in-laws
  • Failing to find a balance between a work and a home life
  • Personal habits/idiosyncrasies
  • Lack of participation in household responsibilities
  • Political views
  • Differences in disciplining the children
1 Corinthians 7:28, “But if you marry, you have not sinned

Are these really “irreconcilable differences”—impossible to repair—or are they all just great examples of what the apostle Paul had in mind when he said in 1 Corinthians 7:28, “But if you marry, you have not sinned . . . yet such will have trouble in this life”? Marriage is a gift from God, yes. But as many gifts we opened on Christmas when we were young said “Batteries included,” this gift comes with “Trouble included” printed where all can see it. But that does not mean these troubles are irreconcilable.    

I wonder if you can relate to this one wife who wrote me recently:

When I ask my husband to do something and he doesn't do it, it frustrates me beyond belief. Like when I ask him to pick up his shoes and junk laying around the house, he says twice that he will do it, then never does. It just leaves me frustrated because I'm constantly picking up after him. But, he's also admitted to just telling me what I want to hear, then doesn't do what he says he will do. I've mentioned this several times to him how much it frustrates me and the point isn't getting across. How do I change the crazy cycle in this area? I love a clean and orderly house . . . he could care less. I don't want to keep nagging at him, so WHAT DO I DO?

Remember one of the reasons listed above: “Lack of participation in household responsibilities”? Families are being torn apart for reasons like what this wife wrote to me about! Because sadly, if she were to post this exact message on Facebook, she’d get a thousand women screaming, “This is abuse! You shouldn’t have to put up with that!” Because in our culture today, whatever is important to a woman should be important to all, and if a man doesn’t agree that it’s important, he’s wrong, and probably abusive.

And the thing is, we can relate with this woman, can’t we? None of us can throw stones at this wife concerning her particulars for cleanliness. We all have our idiosyncrasies that we try to push upon others. It is infuriating when we ask, and ask, and ask someone to respond to something that is important to us and they don’t. After a while, we explode. 

I remember people saying to me earlier in life, “You are wired way too tight. Chill out. This isn’t the end of the world. Get a life.” For example, at military school, when I was seventeen, the barber cut my hair way too short . . . again. Returning to my room with three other cadets, I was livid. One of my roommates looked at me and said, “Grow up. Get over it. It will grow back.”

Of course, I did not respond to this wife, “Grow up. Get over it.” As I said, this is a genuine issue that we can all relate to in one way or another. Instead, I asked her (and now you):

1. Should I conclude that your husband does not care about you as a human being and his untidiness evidences that he does not care for you because he is an uncaring person?

2. Is he a manipulator and a liar who tells you what you want to hear but has no intention of responding to your domestic concerns?

My point with these questions, which she thankfully confirmed, was that an untidy husband does not make an uncaring husband. As well, because he may have a tendency to make empty promises to her in order to move past the conflict, this doesn’t make him a master manipulator who she can no longer trust in other matters.

Relationship Realizations

This is the first of two extremely important realizations that we all must come to in times like these when our spouse leaves his dirty clothes on the bathroom floor, or is easier on the kids than we are, or discusses more of your marital struggles with her mom than you wish she would. In these things, we must remember that a) this does not mean our spouse is an uncaring person, and b) our spouse is not a master manipulator or liar.

“In these things, we must remember that a) this does not mean our spouse is an uncaring person, and b) our spouse is not a master manipulator or liar.”  

In fact, the opposite still holds true—you married a goodwilled person! He may be sloppy. She may not ever be on time. But they are goodwilled, and your marriage is not suffering from “irreconcilable differences”! 

I recommend we chill out and gain some perspective. Most of these “irreconcilable differences” are not the end of the world, nor do they constitute abuse. This doesn’t mean that things like a wife wanting things cleaner than her husband does is unimportant, only that it isn’t a moral issue. In all marriages there will be different ways of doing domestic stuff, and oftentimes differing viewpoints will expose some of the “trouble” that 1 Corinthians 7 is referring to. But by no means is it “irreconcilable” trouble!

In part 2, we will revisit the story of the wife and her untidy husband and see that not only is he goodwilled but he actually agrees a great deal more than she realizes on the importance of cleanliness. He simply has a different perspective!

Emerson Eggerichs, Ph.D.
Author, Speaker, Pastor

Questions to Consider

  1. What are some examples of “irreconcilable differences” you’ve heard or read about that led to couples getting a divorce? Which of these would you categorize as more like the “trouble” that the apostle Paul was referring to?
  2. In what ways does our social media culture today help make mountains out of mole hills when it comes to women voicing some of their marital frustrations?
  3. Think back to one of your more recent arguments with your spouse, perhaps even a major one. How would you answer Emerson’s two questions about: 1) Should you conclude that your spouse does not care about you and is an uncaring person? 2) Is your spouse a manipulator and a liar who only tells you what you want to hear?
  4. How should keeping at the front of all marital disagreements the reassurance that your spouse is a goodwilled person help you navigate through the conflict?