Dating after Marriage
Phoenix Rising from the Ashes
Willard F. Harley, Jr.
Peter and Wanda both came to my office right on schedule, even though their week had ended in disaster. She was still living with her parents, and had refused to talk with him until their appointment with me. I had spoken to both of them by telephone, so I knew what had happened, and I knew why it had happened.
After making love on Friday night, Peter decided that another date on Saturday night would not be necessary for him, so he cancelled his date to watch a hockey game with his friends. He was surprised to see Wanda gone when he returned home from the game, but argued that he had a right to change his schedule if he wanted to do it.
I had already explained the Love Bank to them, and the importance of breaching the romantic love threshold so that they could be in love with each other. I had also explained that the fastest way to make Love Bank deposits was by meeting the four intimate emotional needs. That’s why I helped them schedule 25 hours a week of undivided attention. It was to give them an opportunity to be in love as quickly as possible.
But making deposits into each other’s Love Bank accounts is only half of what it takes to be in love. The other half is to avoid making Love Bank withdrawals. If deposits are accompanied by withdrawals, what hope would there ever be to breach the romantic love threshold? A step forward would be followed by a step backward. Or, in Peter’s case, two steps backward.
I told Peter that everything he did made Love Bank deposits or withdrawals into his account in Wanda’s Love Bank. If he did something to make Wanda happy, he made a deposit. But if he did something to make her unhappy, he made a withdrawal. Going to a hockey game instead of taking her out on a date made a huge withdrawal.
I call all the ways that spouses hurt each other, Love Busters, because that what they do – they destroy the feeling of love that a husband and wife should have for each other.
The particular Love Buster that Peter had engaged in was Independent Behavior, the behavior of one spouse that ignores the feelings and interests of the other spouse. It’s behavior that’s planned and executed as if the other spouse doesn’t exist. Since independent behavior is usually scheduled and requires some thought to execute, the simplest way to overcome it is to take it off the schedule if the other spouse objects to it.
When I had advised Wanda and Peter to schedule time to meet each other’s intimate emotional needs, I had introduced them to the Policy of Undivided Attention, one of my rules for a successful marriage.
Now was the time to introduce a second rule to them. It was the Policy of Joint Agreement: Never do anything without an enthusiastic agreement between you and your spouse. By following that rule, they would eliminate the very destructive Love Buster, Independent Behavior.
If spouses want to avoid hurting each other in this way, all they need to do is ask how the other spouse feels about their plan. If Peter had asked Wanda how she would feel about skipping the date for one night, she would have told him that going to games with his friends was a very sensitive issue for her. It represented a particularly painful example to her of how he had disregarded her feelings by doing whatever he pleased. She would have been anything but enthusiastic about the plan.
So, if Peter had been following the Policy of Joint Agreement, he would have ditched the plan and discussed alternative ways of spending the evening. In the end, he probably would have enthusiastically agreed to their Saturday night date.
That brings up the question, what if Peter wasn’t enthusiastic about that Saturday night date? The Policy of Joint Agreement would have let him off the hook. But he couldn’t have done anything else until he and Wanda had come to an enthusiastic agreement about some other way to spend the evening.
Peter thought about it for a minute, and asked, why do we need to be enthusiastic about it. Why isn’t a simple agreement enough?
I explained to Peter that, all too often, a spouse reluctantly agrees to a decision because they want the other spouse to be happy. They’re willing to sacrifice their own interests because they care about the other spouse. But that decision fails to accommodate the sacrificing spouse’s interests. Instead of making deposits into both Love Banks, deposits are only made in one. I want a couple to come to agreements that make them both happy simultaneously, and only enthusiastic agreement achieves that objective.
Another reason that a spouse will reluctantly agree is to avoid an argument. They’re willing to lose so that an even greater loss can be avoided. If Peter had asked Wanda if it was okay with her to break their date, she might have told him that she was in agreement, when she was actually very disappointed. But she would not have been enthusiastic about the decision.
Peter gave a sigh and said, Okay, I’ll try the Policy of Joint Agreement this week. I’ll let you know how it turns out, but I’m not very optimistic.
I reminded him again that the goal was more than just avoiding a divorce. It was to restore the romantic love that they once had for each other. The purpose of the Policy of Undivided Attention and the Policy of Joint Agreement is to keep Love Bank balances above the romantic love threshold. If they are followed, it won’t be long before romantic love is restored.
Wanda was very encouraged by what I had told Peter. So, in spite of her deep disappointment with the results of the past week’s assignment, she agreed to try it again for another week – this time armed with the Policy of Joint Agreement.
She told Peter that she would move back in with him since he had agreed to follow the new policy, but she’d move right out again the moment he broke that agreement. He told her that he would make every effort to try to do it, at least for the week.
I asked them if there was anything in their previous week's dating schedule that needed to be changed, and they both agreed that it worked out fine while it was being followed. But Peter felt that more accommodation should be made for his need to be with his friends on Saturday.
This was their previous schedule for Saturday:
5:30 to Noon – Sleep in if desired, cuddle in bed together when awake, shower, prepare and have breakfast together, and share domestic chores with each other so that by noon they are all completed.
Noon to 5:00 – Schedule any personal projects or activities that are done alone that are mutually agreeable. Watch TV, take a nap, surf the Internet, or be with friends as long as it is mutually acceptable.
5:00 – 9:00 – Date which includes exercising together and making love after they return home.
9:00 – 10:30 – Continue the date at home by watching TV together while cuddling as bonus time together, or use the time to wind down individually.
10:30 – In bed and asleep.
As we discussed that schedule, Wanda announced that she was not in enthusiastic agreement with Peter being with his friends at all. They had ridiculed him for going out on so many dates that week, and used vulgar language to describe how she was taking control over his life. She felt that they threatened their marriage and didn’t want Peter to be with them on Saturday afternoon or any afternoon.
So, it turned out that Peter would have violated the Policy of Joint Agreement if he had been with his friends.
What! You’re telling me that I can’t be with my friends at all? I wanted to be able to spend more time with them, not less, and I’m certainly not willing to stop seeing them altogether.
It was Peter’s first test of whether he would be willing to follow the Policy of Joint Agreement. The choice was Wanda or his friends. He had to decide. She would not move back with him if he saw his friends on Saturday.
All of this was quite a shock to Peter, and his first reaction was to get up and leave the office. But he thought better of it, and stayed seated long enough for me to explain to him that his friends were one of the reasons that their dating schedule had not worked.
I suggested that maybe he needed a week to think about what was more important to him, his friends, or Wanda.
It didn’t take a week. It only took a minute for him to decide that Wanda was more important to him. He had thought he could have Wanda and his friends, but if he had to choose between them, he would choose Wanda. So he finally agreed to avoid seeing his friends that following Saturday.
The new dating schedule was the same as the old one, except that he didn’t have the option of being with his friends on Saturday afternoon. He could do anything else with his personal time, but Wanda had to enthusiastically agree to it in advance.
Again, I offered them the opportunity to contact me if they had questions before I was to see them again the following week.
A Much Better Outcome
This time, Peter and Wanda were able to follow the dating schedule without incident. They both knew that if they followed it, their marriage would thrive. If they didn’t, it would probably end in divorce.
Peter’s commitment to follow the Policy of Joint Agreement was crucial in making their dates possible. If he had insisted on doing anything without Wanda’s enthusiastic agreement, she would not have dated him at all. She had felt deep resentment about the entire issue of his independent behavior, and when he broke their date to be with his friends, it helped showcase this problem in full living color.
When first married, they had both felt that marriage should not keep either of them from making independent choices, and didn’t see the danger in it. But Peter’s Independent Behavior started to take a toll on Wanda. She knew that it wasn’t working out for her, but didn’t know what to do about it. Now, faced with proof that Independent Behavior was ruining their marriage, they both began to see the value in coming to joint agreements.
Having been married for such a short period of time, and with no children, their conflicts were rather simple. Money was not tight, they both enjoyed their jobs, and they liked where they lived and the opportunities that were available to them. Later in their lives, when children would arrive, their conflicts would become much more difficult to resolve, and there would be many more of them. So, now was the best time for them to develop skills in negotiating win-win outcomes, the ones that make deposits into both of their Love Bank accounts.
When they came for their next appointment, Peter had a few questions for me about the week. He agreed that it went very well, and that he could feel the difference. But he was still concerned about having to give up being with his friends for the sake of his marriage. It just didn’t seem right to him.
I’ve known these guys most of my life. I can’t just toss them to the side of the road. What do I tell them? What will they think?
I explained that his friends had offended Wanda, and were making it impossible for her to do what it would take to be in love with him. Each time he was with them instead of being with her, her resentment grew. Regardless of how hard he would try to meet her intimate emotional needs, her resentment would block his efforts. He could not succeed in breaching the romantic love threshold as long as his friends were coming between them.
Over then next few weeks, Peter came to understand the damage that had been done to his marriage by his Independent Behavior, especially by being with his single friends. New friends had to be found who respected Wanda and his marriage.
By following the Policy of Joint Agreement, Wanda gave Peter the opportunity to change her feelings from disliking him to liking him. Their dates helped him come to like her as well. As soon as they started liking each other, it was much easier for them to meet each other’s intimate emotional needs, and within a few more weeks of dating, they were in love with each other again.
They both decided to stay with their 25 hour a week schedule until they had their first child. After that, they would probably reduce their dates to 15 hours with the extra time being with their child. But they promised each other that they would never spend less than 15 hours a week for undivided attention for the rest of their lives together. And they would follow the Policy of Joint Agreement with every decision they made.
I’ve written an article that helps explain the damage done by Independent Behavior: Why Women Leave Men. I use the analogy of a man being like a house with many rooms, each room representing a role he plays in life. If his wife does not have access to each room through the Policy of Joint Agreement, she feels shut out of his life. But gaining access not only provides for her fulfillment, but it also helps them both make wiser decisions.
Where Have We Been, and Where Are We Going?
Before their marriage, Wanda and Peter’s Love Bank accounts had breached the romantic love threshold. They were in love with each other. But after marriage, his failure to meet her emotional needs, as he had when they were working together, didn’t keep his account balance high enough for her to stay in love with him. Remember, the Love Bank leaks. Unless you keep making deposits, romantic love cannot be sustained.
Failing to meet Wanda’s emotional needs was bad enough. But by engaging in Independent Behavior, especially when he was with his friends almost every Saturday, he greatly increased Love Bank withdrawals until there was none left. Then, his thoughtless behavior kept making withdrawals until his account in Wanda’s Love Bank was in the red. That’s when she felt her marriage had been a mistake.
They disliked each other when they first came to my office, but their Love Bank balances were not very far below zero. In fact, Wanda’s account in Peter’s Love Bank was well above zero just before she announced her dissatisfaction with him.
So, while it was difficult at first for me to motivate them to start dating for 25 hours each week, and teach them what to do with that time, within a few weeks of dating their accounts were well into positive territory. Their assignment became much easier for them to follow.
By then, I was able to counsel them over the telephone, as I had done with Norah and Jason, to provide encouragement and a reminder to keep following the Policy of Joint Agreement. But when their accounts breached the romantic love threshold, and they were in love, their dating was almost effortless for them. They were on their own.
I have used Norah and Jason, and Wanda and Peter, as reference couples to give you a general idea of how dating can restore romantic love. But both of these couples were relatively easy for me to counsel.
Norah and Jason followed my plan immediately because they liked each other, and wanted to restore their passion for each other. There was no resistance to my plan.
Wanda and Peter, on the other hand, were difficult for me to motivate at first because they didn’t like each other when they first came to my office. I had to do a bit of arm-twisting to get them started on their road to recovery. In the end, however, they decided that their marriage was worth the effort, and followed my dating plan in spite of their negative feelings toward each other.
I have to admit, however, that these two couples do not represent the typical couple that comes to me for help. In most cases, it’s much more difficult for me to help a couple establish the kind of dating schedule that leads to romantic love.
The next few couples I introduce to you will be more typical of my experience. Each of them will present a special challenge to me.
I’ll begin with Sherry and Troy. They didn’t just dislike each other. They hated each other. Their Love Bank account balances had gone so far below zero that they fell below the hate threshold. How can spouses who hate each other ever restore the feeling of love to their marriage? And should they even try?
Dating after Marriage