Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ (Ephesians 5:21 NIV).
Couples seeking a divorce often list "irreconcilable differences" as their reason for dissolving their marriage. They have issues between them that they feel cannot be resolved; therefore, they seek a permanent separation.
What are some of these "irreconcilable differences"?
Sometimes the issues are trivial. It is not uncommon for some people to fight and split over issues of not getting to buy all the personal items they want, such as clothing or cars. I actually read about a couple divorcing because they cheered for different football teams.
Usually the issues are more serious. One of the partners might have an addiction that is disrupting the marriage and family. One might be a big spender and drives the family into debt. One partner might be very aggressive, intimidating the more subdued partner. Sometimes one of the spouses is very critical of the other spouse, making him or her feel devalued and unappreciated. These problems that seem irreconcilable are pretty serious, and frequently hurt the feelings or self esteem of the other partner.
What does it mean that the problems are irreconcilable? It means that the couple has, presumably, worked on the problems, but has not been able to achieve any kind of resolution. Talking to each other, visiting with church leaders, prayer, and even counseling have not stopped the offending behavior. One party in the marriage continues to practice their addiction, spend carelessly, be overly aggressive, criticize too much or whatever the "differences" are. What is a couple to do?
At this point, some couples divorce. In fairness to people who profess irreconcilable differences, some of these people have suffered greatly. They have genuinely tried to work on their problems. They have taken inventory of their own lives and contributions to their marital problems, talked to their spouses, read books and sought help from professionals. Still the problems persist. What else can they do? Divorce seems to be a reasonable option.
But consider two things. One, every marriage has irreconcilable differences. Every couple I have ever spoken to admits to having some issues that they just can't resolve to the satisfaction of both parties. They learn to accept the other person, they live with the inconvenience of their differences, they even learn to change their expectations so the intensity of the differences lessens. Think about it: don't you have differences with nearly every significant person in your life? Why should marriage be any different?
Secondly, no matter how stressful the differences are, God wants us to hold our marriages together. About marriage Jesus said, "... The two will become one flesh. So, they are no longer two, but one. Therefore, what God has joined together, let man not separate" (Matthew 19:6). In many marriages, a man and woman find a way to overcome, overlook, or even rise above their irreconcilable differences. They create a union that becomes bigger than their personal choices and desires. They live for their partner. They stay together.*
I've seen too many husbands and wives walk away from each other because of differences they did not believe they could survive. Yet, millions of other couples survive those same difficulties and end up building strong homes. When couples divorce, then remarry, they often find that the same problems they fled in their previous marriage existing in their next one. Differences are impossible to avoid because they are the stuff of life! The best suggestion for a couple struggling with irreconcilable differences, the biblical call, is to stay in your marriage and continue to work on it. I'm simply asking that we encourage folks to seek God and stay together if at all possible. It won't be easy, but if you BOTH seek to place God first and respect each other, the Lord will somehow see you through and will bless your commitment and covenant.
* Let me point out that physical or emotional abuse is in another category than differences. There are laws to protect people from abuse, even husbands and wives from each other. Even in cases of abuse, though, I've known of couples getting counseling and working their marriages out. [Editor's Note: We encourage couples that are impacted by one of the three A's — Abuse, Addiction, and Adultery — to seek help of an experienced Christian counselor to help them deal safely and redemptively with the serious situations they face.]