Having Trouble with the
Policy of Joint Agreement?

Letter #1

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 suffer.

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?

A.J.

Dear A.J.,

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 might violate your commitment to love and cherish each other if doing it would offend you. The Policy of Joint Agreement is nothing more than a rule that says you will consider each other's feelings with every decision you make. If you can't enthusiastically agree, you don't do it in respect for each other reactions. Over time, by making mutually agreeable decisions, you create a compatible lifestyle, making deposits into both of your Love Banks with everything you do.

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 present compatibility, because every time you can't enthusiastically agree to a decision, you have identified an area of weakness for you to overcome.

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.

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