Having Trouble with the
Policy of Joint Agreement?
Introduction: Almost every day I receive letters from people who are having difficulty
implementing the Policy of Joint Agreement. In most cases, they don't quite understand
how the policy is supposed to work, but once the misunderstanding is cleared up, they
usually find that it helps them resolve their marital conflicts.
This week's column will clear up
some common misconceptions about the Policy of Joint Agreement. I include four letters
this week because my answers are shorter than usual. Another Q&A column on
the Policy of Joint Agreement, Following the Policy of Joint Agreement When You're VERY Incompatible, may also be of interest to you.
Dear Dr Harley,
My girlfriend and I are both divorced, and want this relationship to turn out better
than our previous relationships. But we are in total disagreement with each other
regarding the value of your Policy of Joint Agreement.
My girlfriend has read and believes in Dr. Wayne Dyer's "Your Erroneous Zones"
and holds the position that her "right to independence and personal space" means that she
can do whatever she wants without considering its affect on me and our relationship.
I feel strongly that the principles expressed in Dr Dyer's book prevent the
development of intimacy, because while they promote independence and space, they fail
to take into consideration the feelings, desires and reactions of one's partner. I agree with
your Policy of Joint Agreement; and feel that if we do not follow it, are relationship will
As an example, my girlfriend feels it is her right, according to Dr Dyer, to take a
vacation with her girlfriend instead of me. We have limited resources, and she plans to
spend what little money she has on a trip to Northern California, seeing plays and visiting
wineries. This is a trip that I would like to share with her.
Is it reasonable to ask for limitations or constraints in being "independent" or in
"preserving personal space"? That is, can one respect his or her partner's feelings and
desires while maintaining their independence?
You have managed to do something that very few unmarried couples do: Discuss
the rules you would live by if you were to marry. Perhaps your own divorce has helped
you understand that rules can make a difference in marriage.
After years helping couples avoid divorce, I have found the
Policy of Joint Agreement to be essential in preserving marriage because it's a rule that guarantees
marital adjustment. As you have witnessed, though, there are many popular philosophies that
conflict with my policy and lead married couples to lifestyles that create incompatibility,
and ultimately divorce. Your girlfriend may have followed one of these philosophies of
independence during her first marriage, and still doesn't realize that it's the philosophy,
and not her husband, that led to divorce.
On the other hand, people like you and your girlfriend cannot be expected to follow
the Policy of Joint Agreement just yet. The rules of dating and the rules of marriage are
quite different because dating couples have not made a commitment to "love and cherish
until death." Your girlfriend certainly has the right to go on a vacation with her
friend because you and she have not yet made a commitment of marriage to each other.
If your wife chooses to vacation without you after marriage, however, it would
violate your commitment to love and cherish each other. The Policy of Joint Agreement
is nothing more than a rule that says you will care for each other with every decision you
make, and taking separate vacations does not usually reflect such care.
Your girlfriend is probably still trying to make up her mind who she wants to
commit her life to. Right now, she may not feel like committing to anyone. Her first
marriage may have convinced her that men cannot be trusted, and if she tries to
accommodate them, they will take advantage of her generosity. She may like writers like
Dyer because they give her permission to take care of herself even if she must ignore the
feelings of the men in her life.
If your girlfriend decides to marry you, her decision may depend on how well you
can adjust to the lifestyle she enjoys.
Any effort you make to force her to live according to your wishes may remind her of the
way her husband treated her and discourage her from marrying you.
Besides, for a woman, a vacation with a girlfriend or husband is much different
than a vacation with a boyfriend. If your girlfriend is still suffering from the pain of her
divorce, she would find the company of her girlfriend much more relaxing and non-threatening than the vacation with you. The same thing is usually true of a vacation with
a spouse. You are simply not in the same category as a girlfriend or husband.
Suppose you and she agree to marry. Then, during your engagement, I would
suggest that you try following the Policy of Joint Agreement, because it's the rule you
should live by for the rest of your married lives. When you are engaged, try it on for size
to see if it fits. It will help you determine your compatibility, because every time you can't
enthusiastically agree to a decision, you have identified an area of weakness for you to
Until you are engaged, your girlfriend can make up her own rules, and you can
make up yours. Neither of you are obliged to keep them because it's a time for you
determine whether or not this person you're dating is worth accommodating the rest of
your life. But once you make the decision to "cherish and care for" each other, then there
is one rule you will need to follow to fulfill your commitment: The Policy of Joint Agreement.