Policy of Joint Agreement
Be Violated When Trying to Meet
Your Spouse's Emotional Needs?
By Willard F. Harley, Jr., Ph.D.
Never do anything without an enthusiastic agreement between you and your spouse.
For many who hear the Policy of Joint Agreement (POJA) for the first time, they consider it to be impossible to follow and ridiculous to try. But the more a couple thinks about its advantages in marriage, the more they see that its disadvantages pale in comparison.
The POJA is simply a rule to help couples remember that just about everything they do affects each other. And their wisest choices are those that take each other's feelings and interests into account. In other words, win-win outcomes in marital problem-solving are far superior to win-lose outcomes. The POJA reminds couples of that fact.
True, some freedom to make personal choices is restricted by this rule. It prevents one spouse from making choices that might be personally helpful, but harmful to the other spouse. So freedom is restricted only when thoughtless choices are contemplated. When a couple limits their decisions to thoughtful choices, those that are mutually beneficial, they demonstrate their care for each other by refusing to gain at the other's expense. They're following the POJA.
When a mutually enthusiastic agreement is reached, everyone would agree that a couple has discovered an ideal outcome. But anyone who has had a marital conflict knows all too well that enthusiastic agreements are often difficult to reach. And the default condition, never do anything, can have very unpleasant, if not disastrous, consequences. With this in mind, I have recommended a sensible exception: The POJA should not be followed if the health and safety of a spouse is at risk. When a spouse is being subjected to physical and emotional abuse, infidelity, or abandonment, it makes no sense to follow this rule. Self protection trumps thoughtfulness in those cases.
For example, if a spouse is the victim of physical abuse, that spouse should report the abuse to authorities and separate for his or her protection, even if the abusing spouse does not agree to that response. The same can be said for infidelity. I recommend exposure of an affair by the betrayed spouse, something usually opposed by the unfaithful spouse.
But there is another situation in marriage where a temporary suspension of the POJA can make sense: Meeting each other's most important emotional needs.
What should you do when your spouse has an emotional need that you do not enjoy meeting? If you are not enthusiastic about meeting it, does the POJA get you off the hook? Or are you obligated to meet each other's important emotional needs even if you do not enjoy meeting them?
The answers to these questions are found in understanding the purpose of the Policy of Joint Agreement. It's a rule to help you resolve conflicts with mutual care and consideration. The default condition, don't do anything, is not designed to be a permanent solution to any marital problem. It is what you do while you are trying to discover a solution.
If you've read my book, His Needs, Her Needs, you already know that I put a great deal of emphasis on spouses meeting each other's most important emotional needs. Failing to do so should not be an option in marriage. But I also emphasize the importance of meeting each other's emotional needs with mutual enthusiastic agreement. So what should a spouse do when he or she does not enjoy meeting an emotional need? The solution may require doing something reluctantly on a trial basis as part of a plan to find an enjoyable outcome. But the trial should not persist very long. Either it should show promise almost immediately, or the couple should go back to brainstorming for other methods.
I once had a job stuffing envelopes. It was such a mundane and repetitive task that at first I could hardly wait until it was finished. But when the project ended after about three weeks, I actually missed the job. I had modified my envelope-stuffing technique until I did it quickly and almost effortlessly. And I had also made friends with associates while we worked together. In fact, I was able to figure out how to enjoy most of the jobs I had while finishing college.
The same thing can be true in learning how to meet emotional needs. Let's take sex and conversation as examples. Most men have a craving for sex and women have a craving for affection and conversation. Men can't understand why their wives would give up an opportunity to have sex. What's so tough about making love? And their wives wonder why their husbands resist being affectionate and talking to them. What's so exhausting about giving me a hug and talking to me for a while?
The problem, of course, is that men and women differ in what they enjoy most. It's not that women don't ever enjoy sex or that men don't ever enjoy affection and conversation. It's just that they don't usually enjoy it as much.
So if a wife is not enthusiastic about having sex with a husband who is craving it, should she violate the POJA to meet his need? And what about a wife who needs her husband's affection and conversation? Should he try to meet her need when he doesn't feel like doing it? Is the spouse who wants their emotional needs met at all costs being selfish and uncaring?
The problem with violations of the POJA in meeting emotional needs goes beyond the issue of selfishness -- one spouse gaining at the other's expense. It also inhibits the ability of the reluctant spouse to meet that emotional need in the future. The less you enjoy doing something, the less likely you'll do it again. If a husband or wife want their emotional needs met often, their spouse must do it with enthusiasm. They must enjoy doing something that they don't crave in the same way. They must learn to do what I did to enjoy stuffing envelopes when I didn't have a need to do it.
How to enjoy meeting an emotional need that you don't have?
There are two primary motivators in life. The most powerful is to enjoy doing something, and the next most powerful is to enjoy its consequences -- the closer to doing it the better.
So whether the desired behavior is sex, affection, or conversation, if one spouse does not have a very strong emotional need for it, it's incumbent on the other spouse to be sure that it's enjoyable and that the consequences are enjoyable. Otherwise, the spouse with the lesser need will come up with a host of excuses to avoid it.
Let's get back to the POJA. Suppose your spouse wants sex and you are too tired to even think about it? Should you meet your spouse's need even if it violates the rule or should you wait until you are enthusiastic about doing it?
The POJA can be temporarily violated if it's part of a plan to discover an enjoyable solution to the problem. But would having sex when you can hardly stay awake be a part of that temporary plan? I doubt it. It's more likely that it would be a way of getting your spouse to stop bothering you or to stop trying to make you feel guilty.
But if you were to help your spouse understand what you enjoy most about making love, and the conditions that are most favorable for you, you may agree enthusiastically to try making love that way to see if you eventually enjoy it.
The goal should be to meet each other's important emotional needs with mutual enthusiastic agreement. But the path to that final outcome may temporarily require you to be less than happy as you are trying to discover the best way to meet each other's needs with enthusiasm
How do conflicts regarding emotional needs arise? Why are you failing to meet each other's emotional needs? It's because you have not been motivated. You do not enjoy meeting those needs, and you do not enjoy the consequences of meeting them.
Take sex, for example. In the past, when your spouse needed sex and you were tired, you found it to be unpleasant for you. You could not respond sexually so you didn't enjoy the act itself. Then, when it was over, he rolled over and went to sleep, hardly a reward for your effort. The next morning you may have found him to be somewhat distant. His need for sex was met and so he didn't pay much attention to you. Instead of being rewarded for having sex with him, you were punished.
How about conversation? When did your spouse want to have a deep conversation with you last? Was it before you were about to go to sleep? Was it in the morning as you were trying to get ready for work? Was it during the day when you were in the middle of a project? And what was the topic of conversation? Was it about something that interested you, or was it all about your spouse? And when the conversation was ended, was there any reward for your effort? Did your spouse do something for you that made the conversation worthwhile?
Such reasoning is insulting to many spouses. Why should I reward my spouse for making love to me? Or having a conversation with me? Or being affectionate with me? If my spouse really cares about me, wouldn't he or she want to meet my needs without being rewarded?
Can you see how that way of thinking will make it harder for you to meet each other's emotional needs regardless of how caring you might be? Short-term sacrifice to reach long-term mutual enjoyment makes sense. But unless your ultimate plan is to create mutual enjoyment, and mutual reward, your plan will not work. Temporary sacrifice will turn into permanent sacrifice. And that will lead to an aversion to meet each other's emotional needs. You will hate the very thought of it.
What are the best rewards for meeting each other's emotional needs? It's meeting each other's emotional needs. If one of you has a craving for sex and the other has a craving for affection and conversation, combine them. Make sex the reward for affection and conversation. Make affection and conversation the reward for sex.
Another essential consideration is how you make love and express your affection, and what you talk about. The one with the lowest need should be given preference because if your need is to be met, you must make the experience enjoyable to the one meeting that need.
In most cases, it's the wife who has the lowest need for sex, and the husband with the lowest need for affection and conversation. So if the husband wants more sex, and the wife wants more affection and conversation, they must both commit themselves to meeting those needs which may mean a temporary violation of the POJA. But during that trial period of time, it's incumbent upon the spouse with the greatest need to learn to make the experience enjoyable to the spouse with the lesser need. When they have it figured out, they will be meeting each other's emotional needs with enthusiastic agreement.
When you find yourselves failing to meet each other's emotional needs, don't let another week go by without addressing this problem. Think of a plan that will lead to a solution. Remember that if you want your emotional needs met, your spouse must come to enjoy meeting those needs, and be rewarded for doing it. Don't get bogged down with the illusion that your spouse owes it to you, or that you shouldn't have to consider rewards. And also remember that if meeting your needs is at all unpleasant, it's the quickest way to squelch your spouse's willingness to meet them.
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