WTF is irreconcilable differences?

Posted Thursday, September 22nd, 2016 by Gregory Forman
Filed under Divorce and Marriage, Not South Carolina Specific, Of Interest to General Public

A friend and colleague of mine suggested I blog about Angelina Jolie’s recent filing for divorce from Brad Pitt on the ground of “irreconcilable differences,” noting that South Carolina does not allow divorce on that ground. Instead, South Carolina allows a “no fault” divorce after one year’s continuous separation along with three fault grounds for divorce (there is actually a fourth fault ground, one year’s desertion, that fell into disuse after South Carolina reduced the waiting period for a no-fault divorce from three years to one year).

Many states have a divorce ground of irreconcilable differences. One assumes legislators from these states believe that if spouses cannot reconcile their differences they should be allowed to divorce. The culture, especially the therapeutic culture, believes that all differences are reconcilable through mutual understanding and compromise. Thus, if differences cannot be reconciled, spouses must be incompatible.

That belief is mistaken. For a marriage to succeed many differences must be finessed or ignored rather than reconciled. Perhaps a wife overlooks a husband’s occasional crazy boys-night-out and a husband overlooks a wife’s occasional “unnecessary” shoe purchase. Neither has to like–let alone approve of–the other’s behavior, they merely need to tolerate it.

Most folks enter marriage with the belief that, if they are truly in love and their marriage is meant-to-be, they will be able to resolve all their differences. Many folks enter marriage with a list of “intolerables,” things they simply cannot accept in their spouse. “I cannot stay with him if he resumes smoking marijuana.” “I cannot stay with her if she cannot stay within the budget.” Within a few years most marriages have shredded that list. We learn to tolerate what we didn’t believe we could tolerate. Some of us even manage to forgive the occasional adultery or domestic violence.

Perhaps the most common irreconcilable difference regards sex. So long as couples have mismatched libidos, and so long as the culture sees monogamy as a defining feature of marriage, there will be conflicts over sexual frequency within marriage. The counseling industry would have folks believe such conflicts can be resolved through compassion and compromise. They’re half right. Compassion can ameliorate the problem. Compromise cannot resolve it–often it can exacerbate it. Asking the low desire spouse to have sex more often than he or she feels desire leaves neither partner happy. The low desire spouse now sees sex as a chore–something to be avoided. Unless the high desire spouse is oblivious, he or she cannot help but see that his or her partner is coming to the marital bed less-than-enthusiastically–which, in itself, can be a real libido killer.

The irreconcilable difference of sexual desire is a paradox to be managed, not a problem to be solved. A low desire spouse might ignore his or her partner’s mastabatory habits. The high desire partner might remember to clear the browser history. The low desire partner might approach the other when he or she isn’t in the mood and make an effort to be fully present. The high desire partner might appreciate such effort rather than focus on the low desire partner’s lack of response.

A culture that tells us that a successful marriage will resolve all differences is a culture that is lying to married couples. Marriage is unsustainable if all differences must be reconciled. Living with irreconcilable differences is the gravamen of successful marriage. This may be a paradox but it remains a truth.

7 thoughts on WTF is irreconcilable differences?

  1. A spouse who votes Republican is an irreconcilable difference.

    I use desertion as a fault ground for divorce so the trial judge will understand my client did everything possible to make the marriage work and the other side abandoned my client and all duties and responsibility.

  2. Nancy Jo Thomason says:

    Your quotation marks do not reduce the significant error in your post. There is no such thing as an unnecessary shoe purchase!!!

  3. Ted Skinner says:

    It seems to me the year waiting period should be considered cruel and unusual punishment. It makes sense to me to have irreconcilable differences as a justification.

  4. Kathleen Ferri says:

    Very wise! I am always amazed and perplexed over why some marriages survive, while other fail. Usually the couples’ ability to turn a blind eye to the negative and focus on the good qualities of their spouse is the key to success!

  5. Gorilla says:

    Your post is common sense to me, but it seems a foreign idea today.
    I am curious as to sex/adultery when the adulterous spouse was using hormone creams like estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone which were adjusted by a pharmacist rather than a doctor, and of a work environment which fosters and enables adultery among employees. I realize it’s Hollywood, but these can be factors in an average person’s divorce. Any thoughts?

  6. In the United States, irreconcilable differences are one of the several possible grounds. They were Hollywood’s premier power couple. Perhaps no two people in the world were photographed more often than Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt during their 12 years together. But just a month after their second wedding anniversary, Jolie has filed for divorce citing irreconcilable differences. While Jolie cited irreconcilable differences as the reason for the filing of the divorce, sources close to the couple also claim Pitt’s infidelity as a major factor.

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