Living with Irreconcilable Differences: The Choice to Minimize or Maximize the Impact on Your Kids?

I read the other day that Larry King and his wife were filing for divorce, citing “Irreconcilable Differences.” That was yet another reminder to me to write this post about living with irreconcilable differences . I realize that some couples exist who have melded enough to not feel that they have any irreconcilable differences. Gay and Katie Hendricks come to mind as an example of a couple who are probably so fine with each others differences, and so similar in their values that they don’t have any major areas of contention. For most of us though, we have at least some areas where we do not see eye to eye.

I came up with a powerful tool a few years ago to help me live with the irreconcilable differences that my husband and I have. I love him truly, madly and deeply. That hasn’t stopped me from having some major, key philosophical and behavioral differences with him. Sometimes when I am faced with those differences, especially in the early years, I wanted to take the kids and run so that he won’t pass on those traits or values to my kids. If I hadn’t come up with the coping mechanism that I did, divorce would have been much more likely.

To understand my coping mechanism better, it may help to understand the logic behind it. I realized that if Rob and I ever were to get a divorce, chances are great that the impact of the very traits I don’t like in him would become magnified. For example, I don’t agree with how much tv Rob watches. As the kids get older and can watch shows with him, they are watching more tv than I would allow if I was the only one who had a say . I grew up with a mom who had the say on most things, and as a parenting educator, I find it particularly irksome to have to flex on how to raise the kids. Nevertheless, I do have to flex. Rob doesn’t care what I do for a living; he is an active co-parent and refuses to relinquish all of the control to me.

I should add that he feels that he flexes equally much on the amount of media time consumed in our household. If it weren’t for me, tv would go on first thing on a weekend, and probably even before school and work. So when I feel like he isn’t giving me enough say, I know he also is compromising. Also when the kids were younger I had much more control. As they hit the teen years, he is asserting some control, which I believe is fairly natural, even if I don’t always like it.

The Tool: Change Your Perspective

What I say to myself now if I am getting worked up about something, such as when he let our daughter watch a show that I thought had too much sexual reference for her age, is that if we were divorced, I would likely have little or no control over choices like this. That is a sobering thought. As it is I know what is going on and can counter any messages she is receiving with my own thoughts and values. I also can talk to Rob and see if we can come to an agreement. I can and do put my foot down at times too, which I certainly couldn’t do if the kids were over at his house.

So, instead of getting too choked up about my kids being influenced in ways that I don’t like, I say to myself, “If we were divorced, I’d have little or no control over the kids when they were with him. This way I have a lot of say, although not the complete say that I often would like to have.

Stephen Covey talks about focusing on your sphere of influence. If you use this tool to calm you down, you will be more able to discuss issues with your partner and your influence will grow. If you stormed out of your marriage because you can’t have your way all the time, which believe me I want to have, your influence could actually shrink. If your kids ended up with you, your influence could grow, although at a potentially high cost to your kids and their relationship with their father. If, as so often happens to women I know, the kids chose to live with their father full-time, your influence would dramatically decrease.

I’ve comforted many a mother who is desperately sad at the choices she sees her children make while living with their fathers. If you don’t think your husband is making great choices now, if he becomes the main parent in your children’s lives, through forces you can’t control, the results could be tragic.

My issues with my husband are not near as major. He is a great dad, and he would do a good job of raising our kids. However, some of the strengths that I bring to the relationship, like keeping us active instead of in front of the tv so much, would suffer if I wasn’t around. Our kids need both of us, and sometimes that means me learning to cope with the things Rob does that I just plain don’t agree with.

I know that many parents struggle with this issue. Many times it seems like if we could get rid of our partner, we’d get rid of having to live with the irreconcilable difference. Yet so often what happens instead is you have to sit back powerless while your mate does pretty much whatever he or she wants when your kids are with them. That is pretty huge control to lose. As well, you lose all of the benefits that you have when you are married. For me those benefits include the many areas where I do agree with Rob, our companionship which I enjoy deeply, our shared love of our children, the fun we have together as a couple and with the kids, etc.

I often think when I am see couples who are on their second or third marriage how lucky Rob and I are because we don’t have the complications of a blended family. I understand that sometimes divorce is the best choice, and that many people aren’t given the choice to stay married. For those of you who are married, whether for the first or fifth time, I hope it helps the next time your spouse is driving you mad to remember that if you were apart, your influence and control over this issue and the impacts on your children could easily decrease, not increase as you’d like.

I still turn off the water that he leaves running non-stop for rinsing when he does dishes. On my good days I do so with a nice smile, and he lets me do it. On my not-so-good days I do so grumpily and he tells me he’s a big boy and can decide whether or not to run the water! We do have some issues that I suspect we’ll take to our graves, but irreconcilable differences is just part of the mix that makes our marriage a great one.

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