Having Trouble with the
Policy of Joint Agreement?

Letter #2

Dear Dr. Harley,

I feel like I'm a victim of the Policy of Joint Agreement! I've been married five years to a woman that is very incompatible with me. She tries to control everything about me, and we often fight.

Our first conflict was about when to have children. She wanted children right away, and I wanted to wait. We had children right away. Then there was golf, the game that I LOVE. She wanted me to give it up, along with all my previous friendships. As a result, I have played golf about four times in the past five years, and I've given up all of my friends. I feel like I've completely lost my identity.

But I do have a total commitment to my marriage. At first, I lied to her about what I was doing in an effort to enjoy myself and yet make her happy too. But I was caught too many times, and eventually I promised that I would be honest, and also that I wouldn't do anything without her prior approval. I've been miserable ever since.

How do you comply with the olicy of Joint Agreement if your spouse will never agree to anything? I'm afraid I am destined to rot away if I follow it much longer.

More specifically, how can I comply with the Policy of Joint Agreement if it's over a matter as important as attending church, setting a financial budget together, and having friends?


Dear J.R.,

I'm not sure you have actually been following the Policy of Joint Agreement. You must do more than just give something up, you must also try to negotiate a solution that meets with the enthusiastic agreement of both you and your wife.

Remember, the Policy of Joint Agreement says you can't do anything until you both agree enthusiastically -- that includes you! You have stopped doing some things that have bothered your wife, but you have not learned to follow a procedure that leads to a solution to your conflicts. That's a very important part of the policy. The procedure I recommend to help couples come to an enthusiastic agreement is as follows:

1. Set ground rules to make negotiations pleasant and safe.

Before you start to negotiate, agree with each other that you will both follow these rules: (a) be pleasant and cheerful throughout your discussion of the issue, (b) put safety first--do not threaten to cause pain or suffering when you negotiate, even if your spouse makes threatening remarks or if the negotiations fail, and (c) if you reach an impasse, stop for a while and come back to the issue later.

Under no conditions should you be disrespectful or judgmental of your spouse's opinions or desires. Your negotiations should accept and respect your differences. Otherwise, you will fail to make them pleasant and safe.

2. Identify the problem from the perspectives of both you and your wife.

Be able to state your wife's position, and be sure she can state your position before you go on to find a solution to the conflict.

3. Brainstorm solutions with abandon.

Spend some time thinking of all sorts of ways to handle the problem, and don't correct each other when you hear of a plan that you don't like -- you'll have a chance to do that later. Give your intelligence a chance to flex its muscle, and you will have arrived at a long list of solutions.

4. Choose the solution that is appealing to both of you.

From your list of solutions, some will satisfy only one of you but not both. However, scattered within the list will be solutions that both of you would find attractive. Among those solutions that are mutually satisfactory, select the one that you both like the most.

Granted, your wife may be in the states of withdrawal or conflict much of the time, making it difficult for you to negotiate with her at all. But if you keep your conversations with her safe and pleasant, you will find her to be increasingly flexible, and willing to consider solutions that benefit you. After all, she wants a good marriage too, and when she sees you caring for her, it will encourage her to care for you.

I applaud your decision to give up golf and friends that upset your wife. But that was only the first step toward creating compatibility. The next, and crucial step is to agree to alternative activities and friends that your wife will enjoy with you. Until you take that step, you have not followed the Policy of Joint Agreement.

The Policy of Joint Agreement identifies issues that create incompatibility in marriage. When you can't enthusiastically agree on a decision, it is an issue that has come between you. If you brainstorm solutions, you give your mind a chance to break the barrier, and create compatibility. Regardless of the importance of the issue -- church, finances, friends, you should not make any decisions without your wife's enthusiastic agreement. In fact, the more important the issue, the more essential it is to have agreement.

Compatibility is very difficult for any couple to create. There is always a force that pulls you away from the comfort zone of your spouse, and if you yield to it, your marriage will suffer greatly. But there are many adventures that are within your wife's comfort zone and you can't do them all anyway. So why not focus on those she can share with you? Why not choose those that your wife can enjoy and appreciate, too. You will enjoy those experiences just as much, and you will have a sensational marriage besides.

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