By Francis Ewherido
You must have heard or seen divorced or separated couples cite “irreconcilable differences.” But most times, differences are only irreconcilable because of ego, poor management of the differences and rigidity (in marriage there is nothing like it must be my way always. Sometimes you must shift ground, especially if your spouse’s position or line of thought is better). Ideally, irreconcilable differences should not arise after marriage because all such core issues should have been dealt with during courtship.
But you find out that many courtships are poorly handled. Many people who are courting focus on ephemerals and the mundane, like sex, physical appearance, money, etc., instead of directing the courtship towards answering that fundamental question: am I ready to spend the rest of my life with this person, come rain, come sun?
Some other time, courting pairs prefer to get married now and deal with their differences later, aka putting the cart before the horse. The outcome is that people who have no business being husband and wife to each other in the first place end up getting married. Divorce or separation becomes inevitable even before married life starts.
But when spouses share common values, especially core values, and go into marriage, knowing full well what they are getting themselves into and much of what to expect, there is great understanding and compatibility. But, no matter how compatible you are with your spouse, there must be areas of divergence. These areas of divergence can become huge advantages or gargantuan disadvantages; they can stabilize or destabilize your marriage; you can complement each other or become fierce competitors; your differences can strengthen or strain your marriage.
For instance, one spouse easily trusts other people, while the other is very suspicious of strangers and other people’s intentions generally. For him/her, you are guilty until you prove yourself innocent, but the other spouse gives you the benefit of the doubt until you mess up yourself. These are two great qualities. In our society, people who trust others are usually taken advantage of. They fall victim to all kinds of scams.
So a spouse who trusts others easily needs a suspicious spouse. Otherwise, his/her wholesale and non-discriminatory trust will put the whole family in a mess. In times of danger, the disposition of the spouse who suspects easily can save the family from danger. But the trusting spouse should know when to convince the suspicious spouse that his/her suspicion is misplaced. It takes a lot of experience and maturity to get to that stage, though.
Two, one spouse believes in the strict application of the rod and discipline in the family. The other is permissive. Sometimes, some disciplinarians forget the thin-dividing line between cruelty and discipline, especially when they are angry. At such times, the other spouse can come to ensure his/her other half does not go overboard and do something stupid. Extreme discipline or cruelty drives children to resentment and things can easily go awry.
Beyond that, we need the balance of very strict parents and lenient parents for the balanced upbringing and development of the child. Both characters have an important and complementary role to play. When both parents are harsh, a child can become timid, hardened or resentful. Where both parents are permissive, the results are spoilt, and sometimes wayward children.
Third, one spouse is very rigid while the other is flexible. This can be dynamite if poorly handled. But if it is well handled, it brings a lot of stability and balance to the family, because sometimes firmness helps; at other times, you need to be flexible and dynamic.
Four, one spouse is very generous with money and gifts; the other is very strict with finances. Money causes huge fights in marriages and money matters are thought to be responsible for half of the divorces in America. If generosity makes your spouse happy, by all means give him/her some breathing space.
But the spouse who is strict with money must know when to put his/her foot down and the other spouse should defer at such times. Otherwise, he/she will either create problems in the marriage or the unbridled generosity will wreck the family finances. There is a popular cliché that: “Givers never lack,” but every giver, including Bill Gates, must watch his expenditure, if not he will go bankrupt.
What should couples, especially young ones, do to ensure that their differences do not strain or wreck their marriages? What makes the critical difference is something I said some time ago:”there should be self-mastery and victory over self, because as Steven Covey rightly observed, ‘private victories must precede public victories,’ and only independent people should go into marriage because ‘interdependence is a decision only independent people can make.’
The trouble with many marriages today is that dependent (immature and insecure) people went into an interdependent relationship that marriage is” (https://www.vanguardngr.com/2016/04/marriage-not-bed-roses/). Immature spouses simply need to grow up instead of engaging in blame game. The other important issue is marital communication. Once couples talk empathically, there is virtually nothing that cannot be resolved to move the marriage forward and better.
These done, it becomes easy to come up with modalities on which a spouse should have his/her way at any particular time. It helps when couples are sincere and know their limitations. Having been together for a while, couples ought to know each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Once strengths are identified, the issues or projects should be discussed and agreed on and the spouse who is good in that area can go on and implement.