Mark Jones Discusses Irreconcilable Differences

Mark Jones

Mark earned his Master’s Degree in Christian Education in 1992 from Dallas Theological Seminary. He is a Board-Certified, Faith-Based Clinical Counselor. He has taught and lead worship around the country and ministered in North America, Africa and India. He serves as Chairman of the Board for Shabby Chic Ministries,, based in Dallas, Texas. He has been in full-time pastoral ministry for 27 years. Mark has been married to his beautiful wife Rebecca for over 23 years and together they have 4 wonderful children, ranging in ages from 21 years old to 2 years old. As pastor on the Staff at Trinity Bible Church in Richardson, Texas, Mark serves as the pastor of Worship and Prayer and has a growing ministry in counseling, both to members of the church and the community at large.

SUMMARY: Mark Jones of Life Tree Counseling talks about reconciling differences in a variety of situations.

Episode #49 | Mark Jones | Irreconcilable/Reconcilable Differences

Kathleen Mills-Proprietor, Counselor at Life Tree Counseling
Phillip Crum-The Content Marketing Coach
Mark Jones-Life Tree Counselor


Phillip Crum: The coffee’s dripping and we’re on for episode number 49 of It’s Just Coffee, which is your – Kathleen Mills’ – weekly foray into the minds and mentality –

Kathleen Mills: Mentality?

PC: – The things that people think about in the mental health world and how to fix them.

KM: How are you doing, Phillip?

PC: I’m darn good. It’s Thursday, it’s not Friday yet, but I can see it from here.

KM: Can you? Good.

PC: I can. I can. I can. The boss is out of town.

KM: This is good.

PC: Cat’s away and the mouse do play.

KM: (Laughs) So you’re looking forward to today and tomorrow.

PC: The mouse has plans.

KM: There you go.

PC: Yes, I am. I’m going to a trade show all day today and see what I can see. And then here comes the weekend, right?

KM: There you go.

PC: Tomorrow will be a planning day – I like that. Nice and quiet, shut the door and get something done. You?

KM: Just doing what I usually do and running the practice and seeing people and talking with Pastor Mark today.

PC: Well, back by popular demand. Introduce Pastor Mark. Tell us a little bit about him and then let’s pull him in here.

KM: Pastor Mark, how are you?

Mark Jones: I’m doing well, Kathleen. How are you?

KM: I’m great. It’s so good to see you.

MJ: It’s great to be here.

KM: I never see you anymore.

MJ: I know.

KM: We’re going like ships in the night.

MJ: Two ships in the night.

KM: Yeah, there you go. But I know you’re here.

MJ: Yes.

KM: And I know you’re there.

MJ: Yes.

KM: And everywhere.

PC: Leaves a trail of candy wrappers.

KM: He does! (Laughs)

MJ: I do.

KM: He does.

MJ: My office is full of chocolate.

KM: I like it when Mark’s door is closed. It means he’s here but I don’t get to say, “Hi.” That’s the tragedy of it all.

PC: What’s on your mind today?

MJ: Oh well I’ve got a lot on my mind today and I guess one of the things and topics that I’ve been talking to people about recently is the whole idea of irreconcilable differences. And I hear that a lot – I’ve sat in divorce courts where I’ve heard the judge say, “Well because of irreconcilable differences…” and I’ve found over the years that I kind of have a different view point on it, meaning that I really don’t believe there’s anything such as irreconcilable differences. I believe that there are only people who are unwilling to reconcile.

PC: All right. So nothing qualifies in your mind, right?

MJ: Only people that are willing to do the work that it takes to reconcile a situation. So whatever situation you find yourself in, whether it’s something that’s imposed on you or whether it’s something that you imposed on somebody else, if two people are willing to do whatever it takes, there is nothing that can’t be reconciled. And part of that has to do with… I look at it and call it, “Keys to reconciliation.” And there’s many of them. But four of the top ones that I really key on are the willingness by two. If you just have one person that’s willing to do it, then it’s difficult or next to impossible. But I always look at couples and I say face-to-face before we get started, if they’re in a situation that would qualify as, “irreconcilable,” I ask them straight up, “Are you willing to do whatever it takes to work this out?” I qualify that as well, not only by yourself, but with God’s help: “Are you willing to do whatever it takes to reconcile this relationship?” And then so, the willingness by two. And then secondly: communication. Are you willing to learn, maybe for the first time, how to truly communicate? How to become an active listener in your relationship maybe for the very first time? And then thirdly, the whole idea of forgiveness. Are you willing to forgive? Forgiveness not only breaks down a wall for the other person but it sets you free as well in that relationship. So we talk about the whole area of forgiveness as well. And then also, the fourth thing would be patience. It’s not going to happen overnight. You can’t expect to have a Hiroshima in your relationship and then expect that to change overnight. Or you can’t expect to do something to your spouse and then even after you’ve asked for forgiveness, even after you said I’m sorry, even after you had that communication, you can’t expect them, “Okay, it’s been a week, let’s move on.” You’re the one that messed up so you can’t expect them to work on your timetable. You’ve got to have patience and it takes time to heal. It takes time to turn things around. So irreconcilable differences, I don’t believe that there is anything such as that, but if two people are willing to reconcile then I am so encouraged because I’ve seen it happen but also I believe that with God’s help any two people can turn any situation around.

PC: Even a pick ax murder?

MJ: If that’s what happens, absolutely.

PC: Manslaughter?

MJ: Absolutely.

PC: Armed robbery?

MJ: Absolutely.

PC: Hm. As long as they both agree.

MJ: As long as they’re both willing to do what it takes.

KM: Participating.

MJ: Absolutely. Yeah, because you could have somebody do something really awful to you and it really wrecks the relationship. But if you’re willing to go through the steps, you can come to a point where you can forgive. People have forgiven people of murder. People have forgiven people of adultery. People have forgiven people of robbery, of –

PC: Cruelty to animals?

MJ: Cruelty- go down the list. You can reconcile with some-

PC: So it’s not about changing the past, it’s about forgiving the past and moving on.

MJ: And doing what it takes to reconcile that relationship, sure. There have been daughters that have reconciled to fathers that have done awful things to them. Whereas most people would say, “Move on. Get that out of your life.” That doesn’t mean that there’s not going to be consequences to people’s choices, but there can still be reconciliation. There can still be forgiveness. There can still be- it’s not that your relationship will ever be the same, but it could be different which is better than it was before, just on a different level.

PC: So what’s the biggest snag you run into in step one – the willingness by two? Who’s the bigger problem usually? And what’s the speed bump?

MJ: It really all depends because depending on what the situation is, there are some times in relationships where the offended party is pretty much- they’re done. They were hurt. And their main goal in the relationship sometimes is that they feel a couple things; they feel that they deserve better. Secondly, the feel that they deserve to be happy. And what just happened to them isn’t fair. They think they deserve better.

PC: And they ain’t happy.

MJ: And they’re not happy. And so because of that, because it’s a, “I feel I deserve better. I feel I’m supposed to be happy. That’s my greatest goal in this relationship.” If you feel that way, then you’re looking at it in a way that doesn’t lend itself towards reconciliation. It lends itself more to taking care of me and protecting me. And there’s some aspects of that that you have to sometimes do in a relationships as far as setting boundaries and things like that. But as far as reconciliation, sometimes we have to set those things aside because the main goal in a relationship is not to be happy.

PC: Communication. What’s involved in that step?

MJ: Well, active communication goes like this: You and I are talking and you have to become a listener first of all. I say to you, I express my feelings to you. Now you might be boiling. You might want to react very quickly. You may want to tell me what’s on your mind. But as an active listener, after I’ve let it out, told you what I thought, your first response is, “So, what I hear you saying is…” and you kind of tell me what you thought you heard me saying and kind of bring it back to me. And then I have the opportunity to say, “Yes, that’s exactly what I meant,” or I have the opportunity to say, “No, let me explain it this way.” And you keep going back and forth. And you say back, “Okay, so then what you’re really trying to say is this.” And you go back and forth calmly without expressing your own opinions. Without getting angry. Without expressing any type of protection. You’re basically both trying to get to really what is being said so that you can hear that other person. Not that you agree with them, but so you can understand where they’re coming from – and then you can start breaking it down and kind of getting on the same playing field. And then once we figure out what we’re really saying, then we can work on how to deal with that particular situation. Because what happens a lot of times is I’ll tell you exactly what’s on my mind, and defenses go up and then we start spewing back in defense because we want to be right. We want to be the victor in this situation. And if you just said something that hurts me or offends me, I’m going to protect myself because nobody else is protecting me and I’ve been hurt enough so I’m not going to let anybody else hurt me. I’m not going to let you hurt me. Instead of saying, “What’s the goal of our conversation right here?” The goal of our conversation is to come to an understanding towards reconciliation, not just protecting ourselves. Because if you and I are always protecting ourselves, our relationship is going to go nowhere. And that can happen on both sides. That can be either spouse.

KM: Staying cerebral at all times when you’re having the dialogue – neck up – to get inside the other guy’s head so you have that good communication understanding. And then we can feel later. But right now we’re just trying to be diplomatic and try to hear what the other guy’s trying to say.

MJ: Exactly. And too in a relationship, when we’re doing that, we have to realize that we are not each other’s enemy. My wife and I have had to have that conversation over 25 years. We haven’t done it right. We haven’t had that conversation in the right way. Either one of us at any particular point have had to look at each other and say, “Hold on a second. We’re not each other’s enemy. I’m your greatest fan. We shouldn’t be doing it this way.” And when you realize that this person loves you and cares for you and that there was a point that they were drawn to you, you may have been long away from that years ago. You haven’t visited that in a long time, but there was a point that that was true, so let’s get back to that. Or let’s get to a better place than we were before, than we’ve ever been before by mutual understanding and mutual respect and mutual listening to each other to grow to a different/higher level.

PC: I read a short story one time by Mark Twain. It was about, it was probably based on an actual experience when he was a riverboat captain and the riverboat owner was interviewing two different guys for the riverboat captain position – the guy that actually steers the ship. And one of them had 20 years of experience. Never had an accident. Never ran into a sandbar. Never had any problem on the water. Never got a ticket. The other guy had been at it for 20 years, run into every sandbar there was. Scraped every rock. Ran over every tree that was out there, submerged trees. And anything else that could happen to you, he’s bumped into it. And after the owner thought about it for a while, he hired the second guy. And the first guy couldn’t believe it. He said, “I’ve got an unblemished record – what is your thinking here?” And he says, “Well, the guy I hired knows where everything is. He’s been there, done that. He knows where to avoid.” And that is probably something that makes a good marriage counselor, as long as his head’s on straight now of course.

MJ: Absolutely. That’s what difficulties are not bad things. The difficulties responded to in a proper way are really good things.

KM: Lessons learned.

MJ: Lessons learned. I mean, yeah if people tell me, come and see me, or I hear, “We’ve never had a fight.” I don’t know if I’m too happy about that. Anybody that lives together, any two humans that spend any time together, are going to have disagreements. They’re going to have fights. How do you fight well? How do you fight properly? How do you have disagreements properly? And where you can grow in that relationship and not tear that relationship down.

PC: Fight to a win/win conclusion.

MJ: Right. I’ve heard one person say, “Would you rather be right or would you rather be married?” Because if you want to stand your ground all the time, that’s not going to get you anywhere. But there is a proper way to fight. There is a proper way to… and kids need to see this, too, because if your kids never see you deal with difficulties – now there’s merit in not having a knock-down-drag-out in front of your children, that’s not healthy. But if you have a disagreement, it’s healthy for your children to see how you deal with that. “Okay, mom and dad had a disagreement. They’re on their heels. How are they going to deal with that?”

KM: Or, “Life has really come through our door and my parents are having a hard time dealing with it and they’re not afraid of dealing with it but I’m seeing what’s happening.” It’s real-life events.

PC: They’re modeling.

MJ: Because life’s going to happen.

KM: Life’s going to happen.

MJ: Teach me how to deal with it.

KM: Welcome to the world, son.

MJ: Exactly. Or they have a situation, they grow up and they start dating and then they have a situation with the person they’re dating. How do you deal with that? Well, we have a great opportunity to show that in our homes with our spouses how to do that in a healthy way.

PC: We did an entire conversation on the subject of forgiveness. So what part does that play in what we’re talking about?

MJ: Well, forgiveness is always a vital thing in relationships. And as far as differences and the irreconcilable differences, forgiveness is huge. So many times we have to forgive what’s done against us. What forgiveness does- if we don’t forgive somebody, whatever that offense is, that person – and this could be a marriage relationship or any relationship – you get offended, somebody hurts you. And if you are unable or unwilling to forgive that person, that offense continues to hurt you day after day after day. That person may totally have forgotten what they did. They’re moving on with their life but you’re still in your jail cell getting beat up by that offense every single day. What forgiveness does is – and forgiveness isn’t dependent on how they respond to it. Forgiveness is something that you offer to them.

PC: Forgiveness is unilateral.

MJ: Right. And when I say, “I forgive you,” I offer you-

PC: That’s my big word for the day.

MJ: (Laughs)

PC: You had, “cerebral.” I get, “unilateral.”

MJ: So when I say, “I forgive you,” that not only offers you an opportunity to receive that, but it sets me free. I am freed from your offense. So forgiveness is huge in this respect. But it also gives that opportunity for the walls to be broken down on both sides. So yeah, forgiveness is vital in any type of reconciliation.

PC: Step four is patience. Talk about that, but we’re running out of time so hurry up.

MJ: Okay. Yeah, patience is basically just saying, just realize-

PC: He didn’t catch it, did he?

KM: (Laughing) I did.

MJ: Just hurry up- oh I got it. I got it.

PC: I got to explain this stuff to you, Mark. It’s not going to work.

KM: You’re right about that.

PC: It may not work anyway.

KM: I’ve been- and you said that a little bit ago, I’m sorry to interrupt. I’ve been good for the last two weeks after the blow up or after the egregious whatever it was. And it’s going to take a long time to repair that and sometimes couples think, “Well, I’ve been good. It should be over, right?”

MJ: Right.

KM: So talk about the patience part.

MJ: And that’s lessening… that means I don’t realize what I really did. When I say… if I offend my wife and I say, “I’m sorry,” and say she just not able to relate to me fully right now in whatever way. And two weeks later, I tow the line and I, for two weeks, I’m doing really great. And I expect her to be happy like nothing ever happened, just to relate to me the way nothing ever happened. For me to do that not only lessens or realizes that I don’t understand the offense, but it also says that you need to work on my time. I said I’m sorry, now you need to catch up to me. You need to get to where everything’s okay. So what we need to do as far as that patience is just realize if I’m the offender, I messed up so I can’t control when you’re going to be able to come back towards me in this way. So what I have to do is realize number one: I was the offender. Number two: I’ve got to do the right thing, not just to get you to come back, not just to get you to relate to me; I’ve got to do the right thing because it’s the right thing.

PC: So there’s no such thing as an irreconcilable difference unless somebody wants there to be one?

MJ: Unless you’re unwilling to reconcile.

PC: All right. So there’s fixing the problem afterwards – counseling. What about dealing with the problem before it rears its head? What are the – not so much solutions, but – what are the… what can you do ahead of time?

KM: Prevention?

PC: Yeah, the prevention measures. What prevention measures are out there?

MJ: Well, that really depends on what the offense is. I mean, if we were talking about a particular offense, there’s all types of things.

PC: In terms of counseling. I mean, let’s rule out incarceration. It’s only a 30 minute gig here, so. If somebody, without turning this into a commercial, but if somebody wanted to take preventive measures towards bad things that happen in marriages and come see you, what do you offer in the way of – let’s call it a program – programs to deal with that? Address it.

MJ: Yeah, that’s great. Well as far as couples that are not yet married, pre-marital counseling. Even now I’m able to work with – I got a call the other day from a young lady who said that, “We’re not engaged yet and we’re just dating but I really want to take some steps before we get engaged to see if that’s what I’m supposed to do.” And that’s golden because we can start talking about issues. We can start talking about things that relate to what’s going to happen once you get engaged, once you get married, and start talking about those issues and see if there’s red flags. Should you even go to the next step? Or if you should, okay here’s some things you can start doing, some counseling you can start doing. So there’s pre-engagement counseling. There’s pre-marital counseling when you get to the point where you are engaged that we start going deeper into, “Okay, you’re coming from this family. You’re coming from this family. Let’s realize that you’re going to be bringing both trunks together.”

PC: The inlaws and the outlaws.

MJ: What’s in those trunks, not only from your families, but your own experience? I have couples do what’s called a life map and basically that is a big poster board. I have them take them home and I have them start at the year they were born and go all the way to the present year. And I have them, across that line, have them put arrows pointing up and those are significant, really great memories from the time they were born all the way to today that they write down. Then on the bottom arrows pointing down, those are really difficult times throughout their life – the really tragic things that they can remember throughout their lives. And we walk through all of that, because every single one of those arrows – be it good or bad – informs who they are today. But it also informs who you’re going into a relationship with. And you’re going to be living with that the rest of your life. So are there things that could be issues because of that. If you had this tragedy over here, could this affect the way you relate to your future spouse? Could this tragedy affect the way that you relate to your children? All those different things. So from A to Z, we try to break down as many of those things as possible and talk about them and try to come up with tools that they can use to prevent things.

PC: So you have a program in place just to determine whether you ought to even move on?

MJ: Yes.

PC: Okay, well let’s move on from there. So we’re engaged. The date is set. But you know I’ve already had the talk – my mother gave me the talk. Should I come see you for premarital counseling? Is it a good idea to see somebody?

MJ: Yes, it’s always good to get a third non-interested party to be able to not only-

PC: But I love my mom.

MJ: And that’s great. And that’s great. But your mom knows you in a certain way and your mom- which is great, and it’s great you have that kind of relationship with your mom- but you also want somebody who doesn’t have allegiances to you in certain ways. In other words, your mom might not be able to tell you, “Don’t do this.” She may love your fiancé and she may be able to overlook things that maybe certain red flags or things that you’re not saying, so it’s good to have somebody else come in that doesn’t have those allegiances that can kind of look at everything fair and balances and be able to give other opinions or give other viewpoints from a higher level.

PC: She’ll tell you things that your mom won’t.

MJ: Exactly.

PC: Interesting. All right. So I’ve decided to make the call. I looked up Mark Jones on the website. I scheduled something. I’m interested in premarital counseling program. I’ve talked her into it, or him into it, or whatever. And what am I looking at? What can I expect in terms of the program?

MJ: What we do for premarital counseling, we work with a program called Prepare Enrich. And it’s an assessment that you take online and you and your significant other go ahead and take that online assessment that comes back to me that I take it and I further evaluate it and then we set up eight sessions that I walk you through all those different things. Everything from family background to finances to sexual relationship to- it covers pretty much everything. It’s a wonderful assessment. And we take eight sessions – eight one-hour sessions – to walk through that. And what I do as well is I do eight session and I do six with the couple together and then I do the last two individually. So I do one one-on-one with each of the individuals just to be able to… just to sit down and say, “Okay, are there other things that we need to talk about? Are there things that you maybe couldn’t say that you want to say that we need to go deeper into?”

KM: This is a very structured program. It’s very concrete, sequential, which is very different than probably just a counseling format.

MJ: Right. And I also stress this: So many times when you go through premarital counseling, you’re preparing for the wedding day. This is much more than that.

KM: This is a life thing.

MJ: This is preparing for a life of rich marriage. Now, we do talk about the wedding and we walk through and talk about all those details, but-

PC: Do I have to be there for that one?

MJ: No. You mean, you individually? (Laughs)

KM: You might want to.

MJ: If this were you, yeah. It’s great. It’s a fun time. It’s a fun time because it’s a celebration of everything we’ve just went through and everything we just talked about and what it can be and your wedding day is the culmination of that. And you’re able to stand before each other saying, “You know what, we have some tools to really make this happen.”

PC: And these are one-hour sessions?

MJ: Yes. Sometimes, depending on the situation, it may turn into longer. I’ve had them turn into longer because of the issues that we face. But that’s the minimum – eight hours.

PC: Okay, so they’re eight one-hour sessions and I have to be at all of them except the one-on-one at the end. We can’t just skip right ahead to the sex session and that’s the only one I’ve got to show up for?

MJ: No.

PC: You got to be there for all of them?

MJ: You got to be there for all of them, yeah.

PC: Okay, all right.

MJ: That’s the prize one, though.

PC: How much does this cost?

MJ: It is $300 for the entire-

KM: For eight sessions.

MJ: For eight sessions. For all eight sessions.

PC: Hmm. Wow. That’s $300 bucks. That’s $300 bucks I could spend on a ring. That’s $300 bucks I could spend on flowers at my wedding.

MJ: Well I like to remind people that this is an investment, and the most important human decision that you will ever make. People will spend a whole lot more on things that really don’t matter, things that just don’t last. They spend more on dinners. They spend more on their cars. They spend more on piano lessons. I mean, my daughter, her voice lessons were $60 for 45 minutes. That was great, it was a great investment, but when you think about your marriage the small investment. And then when you look at $300 for marriage counseling and then I know of people who have spent $100,000 on their wedding. You look at the two, for those few hours, and then you’re comparing it to an entire lifetime. It’s not about the money. It’s really just about taking the time to make the investment to learn some tools that are going to help you grow in your marriage and grow in your relationship more and more each and every day. And that’s our goal.

KM: I just calculated it – it’s $37.50 for eight sessions.

PC: No, it’s not.

KM: Well, there you go. We’ve got another.

PC: Why not, Phillip? Go ahead.

MJ: Well, also one of the great things about our great state of Texas – shout out! – is that Texas offers part of what’s called Together In Texas and I’m a member of that. And so at the end of our eight sessions, I supply you with a certificate that you’re able to take in to the courthouse where you get your marriage license and it all but pays for the entire marriage license. So it’s pretty much waived for you, which is another perk.

KM: So it reduces it to maybe $30 a session.

MJ: Yes.

PC: I spend that much every week on pizza.

KM: Like Starbucks right there.

PC: Starbucks, yeah.

MJ: Absolutely.

PC: So it’s cheap.

MJ: Absolutely.

PC: You know, if I was a guy, I would… let me try that again. If I was the guy-


KM: You’re ready for the weekend.

MJ: That’s a different radio show.

PC: It’s like I’m interviewing Bruce Jenner or something. If I was getting married again and I was the fella in the relationship, I would tell her that I want to do this because I value her that much.

MJ: That’s amazing. That is, may your tribe increase.

PC: I’m that kind of guy. Interesting. All right, do you take insurance?

MJ: No, I do not.

PC: Okay.

MJ: It will be self-pay.

PC: All right. I get to pay it out or do I have to come up with it all at one time? How does that work?

MJ: They come up with a pay at the end of the session but also if there is a financial struggle, and we need to do a sliding scale, I’m more than willing to do that because this is so important. Because this is such an amazing investment – investment into your relationship – and we need more and more couples that take time before they get married to do this. We will work with you and make it happen.

PC: Well, I know things are tough in some circles, but if you can’t find $30 bucks for a session, net $30 dollars for a session, that’s going to produce some very interesting excuses.

KM: You know many couples these days, and just going back to the money thing, that’s probably part of the inventory that you’re doing – the financial.

MJ: Yes, we talk about budgeting and all types of things.

KM: But many weddings are anywhere to $15-25,000 and they don’t blink an eye about that.

PC: Get daddy to pay for it. There you go.

KM: And they’re paying a lot of it, too, so $300 is just a couple of less flowers.

PC: Leave the booze out of the punch bowl.

KM: Or part of the excel spread sheet.

MJ: And it’s not begrudging any of those things. All those things are beautiful. And people will not blink an eye and pay a DJ $1,000. They’ll not blink an eye and pay a photographer $2,000-$3,000 for their pictures.

PC: Or blow a bunch of money on the – what do you call it? – the honeymoon.

KM: The candy bar.

MJ: I remember my dad played for a wedding years ago and I’ll never remember this as a teenager, and he shared with me that the couple not having any premarital counseling – loved each other, got marries and paid $100,000 for their wedding day. In one year they were divorced.

KM: What?

PC: But that debt goes away with the divorce, doesn’t it?

MJ: (Laughing)

PC: We’re out of time, folks, so tell me where we can find you, Mark.

MJ: Well, you can find me at Life Tree Counseling Center. You can call me at 972-234-6634 or you can reach me by emailing at

PC: We going to do this again, yes we are. Kathleen, where do people find you?

KM: Same place:, 972-234-6634 ext. 104. I do return my calls. Pastor Mark, pleasure always.

MJ: Thank you, Kathleen. It’s been my pleasure.

PC: I’m still Phillip Crum, the Content Marketing Coach,

KM: And I’m still glad you’re Phillip Crum.

PC: Call me. Find me. I don’t care. For a good time, call 214-264-6297. We’ll see everybody next week. Thanks for listening.

KM: Thank you, Phillip.

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