Monday, June 15, 2009

Policy of Joint Agreement Challenge: Are You In?

This weekend we attended the wedding of Nolan and Sophia, both of who were former staff when I was director at Beaver Creek Bible Camp. Nolan was also one of the students in my youth group and we really enjoyed seeing them tie the knot, as well as hang out with friends from Mennville and the Interlake. Good times.

Anyway, of the many cool things about their wedding one stood out to me. On every tables was a little card with a looping on it" was to be filled out. The MC explained that this was for giving the couple "advice," "encouragement," "well wishes," "or techniques" (yes, he really said that last one). Anyway, I wrote on my mine that if they wished to avoid about 80% of their fights that they should agree to follow the Policy of Joint Agreement. I've blogged about it here and you can get more info from the source here. Essentially this is what it is:

The Policy of Joint Agreement: Never do anything without an enthusiastic agreement between you and your spouse

I use this alot with couples in my counseling as it teaches (forces?) them to learn how to negotiate, avoid bad feelings towards another, stamps out bad habits, reduce power struggles, and best of all helps increase the feeling of love. I mentioned my advice to another of my former students that evening and challenged him and wife to try it for 30 days. I was surprised when they immediately accepted! This gave me an idea, why not find a group of couples willing to try it and then get them to report back to me on how it went for them? So yes, I'm looking for some couples who are both enthusiastically willing to try following the Policy for 30 days. You can be newly married or married for 40 years - it doesn't matter. All that matters is that you try the policy for 30 days and fill out a short questionnaire afterwards. The results will benefit me and especially my future clients in marital therapy. If you are willing to do try this, please leave a comment here (make sure you OK it with your spouse first!) or email me directly at markwestman at Also, if you have any questions, concerns, or outright critiques, feel free to post them in the comments section. Have a great day!


Jay Boaz said...

If I can ask Mark, have you and Jobina given this a try? I can't recall if your previous posts said you had or not.

Mark said...

Hey Jay, excellent question. I think in my comments section on of my past posts on the subject I said that we do it about 95% on the "big stuff" and about 80% on the day to day stuff. I showed your comment to Jobina and she felt about the same but she was "enthusiastic" to do it more intentionally, starting today. And of course I'm up for it so we will be one of the test couples. Are you and Sarah in?

A good example of the policy in action - a couple going to counseling in the evening. They go - but she under duress. She had had a bad day at home with the kids and was burn out but he doesn't want to cancel and pay the cancellation fee as they have limited finances. They end up going but she feels hurt that money is more important to him then her well being. At first glance it appears someone has to win and someone has to lose. If they went, she would be upset and if they didn't, he would be upset.

So their counselor talks with them - how they could negotiate so they would both be enthusiastic? Possible solutions from brainstorming: He could be enthusiastic about not going if she would give him an hour long massage later in the week (hour long massage trumps loss of money). She could have been enthusiastic if he would picked her up a coffee from Starbucks before the session (one of her great pleasures). These are only a few possibilities, creative couples could come up with many more. Once you decide not to move forward until you are both enthusiastic, your creativity and negotiation skills (instead of control skills) come out of the closet . . .

Jobina said...

Hmmm, does this mean I might get more Starbucks??!! :o)
I'm in!

Mark said...

If I can be enthusiastic it, absolutely!

Terry L said...

Maybe I don't understand this concept fully, but if you don't do anything unless you both enthusiastically agree, doesn't that mean you end up doing a whole lot of nothing most of the time? And based on my experience, inaction can be costly at times...

Based on my experience, often decisions need to be agreed to based on trust. Financial decisions in our house for instance, where I tend to be the one pulling the strings because I have an aptitude for these types of things. My wife has no desire to be 'in the details' of these decisions. How do you get enthusiastic agreement in that situation? Our finances are an open book ,and I try to communicate where we're at and when we need to 'tighten the pursestrings', how much we can spend, and she communicates what she needs so I can ensure its part of the larger plan.

Maybe I'm being too literal. My initial thought after reading the mantra was 'where's the trust?'. What if you or your spouse are the kind of person that has a hard time making a definitive decision?

Also, the definition of big stuff vs day to day can be another source of disagreement.

After re-reading my thoughts above, I realized it makes it sound like my wife and I may not agree on a lot... not true, but we've come up with different ways to make decisions, like I said its more trust based, and about lots of thought and discussion beforehand.


Mark said...

Hey Terry, good question. You'd think that people would spend a whole lot of time doing nothing - but this rarely how it works. Because both people are motivated to make each other happy, people end up negotiating (and doing it well). Of course sometimes doing nothing (or waiting) is the best option for the marriage in the short term.

As for your example of finances, you are already adhering to The Policy. Your wife is enthusiastically in agreement that you will handle the finances - no problem. The problem (which happens with many) is that both people are in agreement.

I like your thoughts on trust. What builds it? If you believe that your spouse won't do something that you would not like - unless absolutely necessary - trust naturally builds. It does not mean that you have to check in with your spouse on every single decision you make - although in crisis couples often have to do this for awhile to save their marriage - but it does mean that you respect the person that if you are not sure, you will check in with them first.

No worries, Terry, I don't think you have a major problem at all - it sounds like you two are quite far along in using the Policy!

Lindsey Dueck said...

Eric and I are willing to try it! I am interested in it, but Eric is VERY skeptical about it. He is not sure it will work in all situations. He says something about it bugs him and he wants to prove it wrong. (Don't worry, he enthusiastically agreed that I share that with you)

We will probably have tonnes of questions for you throughout. :)

Mark said...

Lindsey: Excellent! If you and Eric come to a situation where you think the Policy won't work, let me know. Of course now that you are committed you realize that the Policy also pertains to current issues as well as future ones, right? I suggest you both read the links in the article (as well as the questions others have had) to give you a good foundation. But yes, email/call me anytime if you have any questions/concerns.

Tell Eric I enjoy hearing about his skepticism! It makes me smile. The idea sounds very radical, perhaps even impossible, but really you two will be showing the highest level of respect for the other that you ever had - if you uphold to the Policy faithfully. Also, you will be obeying the Golden Rule so you will be acting Biblically as well. Have fun and I look forward to hearing how it goes for you!