Having Trouble with the
Policy of Joint Agreement?

Letter #4

Dear Dr. Harley,

I have read your book, Fall in Love, Stay in Love, and found that the Policy of Joint Agreement has worked wonderfully for us. It has also helped us with our teenage children, since now we present a unified "front" to them. It has helped our son to have to deal with his drug problem since we are no longer divided on what we say and do with him.

I have one question about an issue that has not come up yet, but may in the future. Let's say that I want to do something and my wife doesn't want me to do it. And let's say that what I want to do is so black and white that there are no gray areas to negotiate. According to the Policy of Joint Agreement we would do nothing. Since it can't be negotiated, my wife would have her way by default, since doing nothing is what she wanted. I can see me doing the same thing to her once the tables are turned at a later date. Maybe the issue will never come up, but I would like to know how you suggest handling it.

D.R.

Dear D.R.,

The Policy of Joint Agreement achieves two important objectives in marriage. First, it helps eliminate behavior that benefits one spouse at the expense of the other, and second, it helps create substitute behavior that benefits both spouses.

What you are proposing is a situation where the first objective is achieved, but the second one isn't. You have eliminated incompatible behavior, but have failed to create a compatible replacement.

You've noticed that in your own experience, you have not found such an example. That is the experience of most people who have learned to follow the policy correctly. As it turns out, when couples are incompatible and have not been following the Policy of Joint Agreement, almost everything is "black and white." Decisions are often intentionally made to punish the other spouse for the last insensitive decision.

But when a couple learns how to negotiate in good faith, these areas of black and white fade into shades of grey. Spouses learn to respect their conflicting point of view, but also learn how to persuade each other without recrimination. They see each other's perspectives in a new and compelling light.

If you hit one of these "black and white" issues, let me know about it and I will try to help you get through it. But as you and your wife learn to follow the Policy of Joint Agreement in all the decisions you make, I don't think that those issues will ever arise.

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