Irreconcilable Differences

Last time I addressed what really happens when we try to avoid conflict in our relationships.  The inescapable conclusion of conflict avoidance is what’s known in family law as irreconcilable differences.  We see this term all the time in pop culture magazines when two celebrities split after being together for a short period of time, often only a matter of months.  But what does it really mean and is it possible to avoid.  I wrote an article recently titled Marriage is for Adults (http://www.balancedfamily.com/) in which I focused on one’s ability to put aside one’s own needs and desires for the betterment of the relationship.  In my opinion, this ability, or more to the point, the lack of this ability is at the heart of these so called irreconcilable differences.  The fact that these lead to the end of many marriages is only the beginning of their effect.  If the couple has children, the issues that led to the divorce will continue to dominate the co-parenting relationship.  It is not only the marriage that pays the price, it will be the children who pay for it as well.

Right fighting

Amy and Don have been together for eight years and have a seven year old daughter.  While not quite a honeymoon baby, she was conceived within the first three months of the marriage.  Needless to say, Amy and Don didn’t have much time to be spouses before they became parents.  Through several moves and job changes the focus of their lives has been themselves individually or their daughter.  They came to my office looking for assistance in helping their daughter through what they saw as their inevitable divorce.  On the surface, both Amy and Don seemed in harmony about this being the best choice for all concerned and they wanted to have a “good divorce”.  After asking each to identify what an ideal relationship would be and whether their relationship resembled that ideal in anyway, they came to the conclusion there was no hope for resurrecting the marriage.  As we continued to talk about what would be necessary to have in place to protect their child’s security, it became obvious that their inability to resolve issues in the marriage would carry right over to the divorce.  Amy and Don had very different perspectives on what was best and they began “right fighting” immediately.  Despite my best efforts to get them to see the other one’s position neither would give an inch.  The ongoing problem is that what they were arguing about was opinion and viewpoint, not fact.  Each had drawn a line in the sand about what was “right” and both seemed willing to fight to the bitter end, completely unaware of their child as collateral damage.

It’s my way or no way

What couples like Amy and Don are doing is based on the fear of having a deep, meaningful relationship.  People often feel they will cease to exist as individuals if they really become part of a couple.  The result is a knee-jerk opposition to anything that feels as if they are giving in.  Compromise is seen as surrender so each person rigidly holds onto his/her independence and autonomy.  They maintain positions at odds with forming a trusting and secure relationship and blame the other for inflexibility and control.  If one partner makes a reasonable request to have a need met, the other responds as though a frontal assault has been launched and reacts as if his/her very life was at stake.  It becomes a high stakes game of chicken with a win-at-all-cost mentality.  The very idea that one’s partner has a legitimate position or point of view is inconceivable.

Unfortunately this is a very common yet immature approach to relationships.  It is not necessary to lose your identity when you become part of a couple.  The way to ensure this doesn’t happen is to know who you are and what you can afford to give.  People who look to others to fulfill every desire are bound to be disappointed.  If they want others to fulfill their needs but are not willing to give in return, the ground is laid for those ubiquitous irreconcilable differences.  What people are really doing is adopting a position of wanting to have everything their own way and rejecting any position which requires them to accommodate to anyone else.  This spells disaster no matter how you look at it and the children end up paying the price.

If you would like to submit comments or questions about this or other topics, send e-mail to lesli@balancedfamily.com

© 2008 Cary Home Times

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