But it doesn’t take long for a second reaction to unfold—how they feel about being required to have their spouse’s agreement before they can do anything: “It would be ridiculous to let Lisa keep me from doing what I have to do. Sometimes she just doesn’t understand, and so I have to make decisions she doesn’t like. I don’t think her ‘feelings’ should keep me from achieving my personal goals.”

This introduces the problem of empathy. We all want our spouse to be considerate of our feelings because we feel what our spouse does to us. But we tend to be inconsiderate of our spouse’s feelings because we don’t feel what we do to them. If we were emotion- ally connected to each other so that we would feel what each of us does to the other, we’d behave very differently. We’d want to know how our behavior would affect each other—in advance—so we would avoid any discomfort to ourselves.

Without such an emotional connection, the POJA is the next best thing. It forces us to give advance notice of how we will be affecting each other. While we can’t actually feel our effect on each other, it makes us behave as if we did.

“How Do You Feel?”

The Policy of Joint Agreement helps you to become sensitive to each other’s feelings, especially when you don’t feel like doing so. Since you’re required to have each other’s enthusiastic agreement before you do anything, it forces you to ask each other a very important question: How do you feel about what I would like to do (or what I would like you to do for me)?

That simple question and its answer helps you build a crucial understanding of each other. You may not actually feel what your spouse feels, but at least you give your spouse the opportunity to tell you how he or she feels. And then, even when you find yourself in a thoughtless mood, the POJA forces you to be thoughtful.

You are now a team, no longer two independent individuals. As life partners, you should work together to achieve objectives that benefit both of you simultaneously. Why should one of you consider your own interests to be so important that you can run roughshod over the interests of the other? That’s a formula for marital disaster. A team can’t survive if each member is pulling against the other.

When I first see a couple in marital crisis, they are usually living their lives as if the other hardly exists, making thoughtless decisions regularly because they don’t care how the other feels. As a result, when I introduce the Policy of Joint Agreement, it seems totally irrational to them. Their way of life is based on so many inconsiderate habits that the policy seems to threaten their very existence.

At first, neither spouse wants to abandon their thoughtless and insensitive lifestyle. But I challenge them to try it for just a few weeks, and the more they try following the policy, the easier it becomes to reach agreement. They replace thoughtless decisions with those that take each other’s feelings into account. And they develop real compatibility—building a way of life that is comfort- able for both of them.

I think you can see why thoughtless behavior ruins a marriage. It not only creates massive Love Bank withdrawals, destroying romantic love, but it also proves that spouses don’t really care about each other. If they did care, they would be thoughtful of each other—they would make decisions that take each other’s feelings into account.

No wonder so many people are disillusioned by marriage. I’d be disillusioned too if Joyce were to ignore my feelings when she makes decisions. But that’s not the way it has to be. It’s certainly not the way it’s been in our marriage. By making our decisions together, Joyce and I demonstrate our care for each other, and as a result, our marriage continues to be very fulfilling for both of us.