The Marriage Agreement Process

The Goal:
Your goal is to solve problems, eliminate circumstances which may lead to problems, and to avoid future problems where you can.

Follow the process the way it is intended. Do not jump to a step further along without finishing the current step. If you change the process it may not work for you, and you may not accomplish what you hope for.

To begin with, let’s suggest some rules to follow for this process:

1. Make time to discuss the process and get started. This means do not try to work on this process while dealing with children, household duties, and/or in a hurry. You will need to be able to concentrate patiently with each other. Do not schedule time for this right before or after another event, such as a football game.

2. DO NOT try to come up with all the agreements that you think you will need in one sitting. Pick an issue or two, or just one topic, and find agreements for those; then stop for the day.

3. Agreement may not be aimed at one or another, like saying “We agree that HE may not do this or that,” or “We agree that SHE has to do this or that.” All agreements must be applicable to both spouses. The wording should be, “We agree that we will, or will not, or both of us this or that, or neither of us this or that, and so on.”

4. It is okay to disagree with each other, but getting angry only means you don’t want to work on the process and want to stop it.

5. While you will have to bring up touchy issues, this is not the time for accusations and getting defensive. Instead of getting defensive and angry, offer a suggestion for an agreement which will help avoid the problem in the future.

6. Turn off phones or decide not to answer them until your process time is over. Do not allow distractions from texts or emails either. If possible sit at the kitchen table while sitting opposite of, and facing, each other.

7. It will not be fair to get mad and walk away. Manage your anger and stay and find a compromise that will work for both of you. Only people who want to stop the process will play the angry game and walk away.

8. If you find that you cannot work on the process without fighting, go and see a counselor who can help you through the process.

The Truth and Some Lies

1. LIE: “I don’t have a problem, he or she has a problem.”

2. LIE: “We wouldn’t have problems if he or she had not done what they did?”

3. LIE: “If he or she would change then everything would be okay.”

4. LIE: “I didn’t do anything, so it his or her problem, not mine!”

5. TRUTH: If one of you has a “problem,” or does something wrong, then BOTH of you have a problem. What affects one affects the other.

6. TRUTH: If one of you changes and the other does not, you will still have similar problems because the one who did not change will continue to behave the same way as before.

START with a Problem Area, Ongoing Issue, or a Questionable Situation.

1. A Problem Area is something that you have dealt with before.

a. Mishandling of finances.

b. Relationships with people other than spouse.

c. Children discipline issues.

d. Etc.

2. An Ongoing Issue is something that has been continuing in your relationship for too long.

a. Multiple affairs.

b. Drug or alcohol misuse.

c. Violence.

d. Misbehaving.

e. Etc.

3. A Questionable Situation is something where you may not have yet dealt with, but understand this may cause a problem to your relationship.

a. Relatives and their effect on the marriage.

b. Friends and acquaintances and their effect on the marriage.

c. Finances and the use of money.

d. Etc.

CLARIFY the problem or concern.

Don’t just say, “I don’t like this or that,” or “You should do this or that.” To clarify a problem identify what the real problem is. For example: “Drug or alcohol abuse has been a problem for us because it has been the center of many of our arguments and disagreements. I think we should decide if and/or when drug or alcohol may be consumed by both of us.”

Another example: “We are always running short on our money, and we sometimes pay late, and have to pay additional late fees. I think we should decide how we should solve that problem.”

1. DO NOT just start accusing each other, and DO NOT get defensive just because ya’ll are dealing with something that you yourself are doing, or have done, wrong.

2. REMEMBER that you are trying to solve problems. Concentrate on how to find answers, NOT on how to defend yourself and prove the other wrong.

3. Arguing solves nothing, and might prove you are trying to derail the Agreement Process.

OFFER a Suggested Agreement.

A Suggested Agreement is where one of you thinks up a possible solution for a problem or concern. For example (using the above example of drug or alcohol abuse) you could suggest, “We agree that neither of us will drink alcohol nor use drugs that are not prescribed by our doctor.”

Or (using the second example above on running short on money) you could suggest, “We agree to set a budget and follow it faithfully, according to the rules we set for following the budget.”

In this second case, you could add some additional agreements like:

1. We agree not to spend money from our budget, without both of us agreeing.

2. We agree not to buy anything on credit, but instead to save money and buy it cash.

3. We agree not to lend money to anyone without both of us agreeing in advance.

4. And so on.

If You Disagree

If you do not like the suggestion, explain why and then offer an alternative. For example (using the drug and alcohol example above), let’s say that one of you agrees that abusing drugs is wrong, but feels that drinking is not a problem.
That person could offer an alternative suggestion like this, “We agree that neither of us will use drugs that are not prescribed by our doctor, but we may choose to drink alcohol on weekends only.”

The alternate suggestion kept some of the first suggestion and proposed a different condition on the other part.

If you do not like the alternative suggestion, explain why and then offer another alternative suggestion.

If you disagreed with the proposed suggestion, you could say, “What about, ‘“We agree that neither of us will use drugs that are not prescribed by our doctor, but we may choose to drink alcohol on Friday and Saturday only?’”

You can continue to offer suggestions until you reach a workable compromise.

Cannot Work It Out

If you continue to disagree with a suggested agreement, leave it alone for this time, and come together again later and come to a compromise, or see a counselor.

Work on the Language

If you like and/or agree with the suggestion(s), then work on the language of the agreement. Read the agreed upon statement again. In example: “We agree that neither of us will use drugs that are not prescribed by our doctor, but we may choose to drink alcohol on Friday and Saturday only?”

Questions you could ask yourselves may include:

1. Is it okay to drink on Fridays and Saturdays all day long?

2. Is it okay to drink on Fridays and Saturdays without limit?

3. Is it okay to drink on Fridays and Saturdays until very late at night?

4. Should there be any limits on the drinking or will you both make mature decisions on how much and when to drink on those days?

5. And so on.

If you have no problem with the suggested agreement at this point, then go on to the next one. If one of your questions brings up a concern, then offer another suggestion that will cover the concern.

Remember that you don’t want to try to stuff too much into just one agreement. You may decide to create separate agreements for different parts so there will no confusion on what is intended.

For example, using the drug and alcohol example above, you could instead break it into two different agreements:

Part one: “We agree that neither of us will use drugs that are not prescribed by our doctor.

Part Two: We agree that we may choose to drink alcohol on Friday and Saturday only?”

Separating the above parts makes the intention of each part clear and subject to less confusion.

It is okay for you to separate agreements into as many parts as will be necessary. For example, Pastor Juan and his wife, Lydia, had problems in the past concerning “friends.” They created three different, but related agreements that have helped them to avoid any problems in these areas in the future.

1. Neither of us may have a “friend” of the opposite sex, without the full knowledge and approval of the other.

2. Neither of us may have a friend that the other does not like or get along with.

3. Whenever possible we will avoid having friends who are not married.
The first suggestion of the above three agreements was stuffed with all three ideas together and somewhat confusing. By separating them it made each of them clearer and easier to understand.

Look for ambiguous language. Any word or phrase that is not clearly understood by both of you will result in the misapplication of the agreement, or of one of you possibly using the confused language as a loop hole for violating the agreement.
Finally, if it becomes necessary, and it often does, write out each word that you have concerns with and write out the definition. This way neither of you will say they thought it meant something different than what was intended.

For example, using one of Pastor Juan’s agreements: “Neither of us may have a “friend” of the opposite sex, without the full knowledge and approval of the other.” The one word that could present a problem with the agreement is the word “friend.” Pastor Juan and Lydia decided that “friend” did not include acquaintances, people you meet on the bus, work along with, know at church, etc. They realized that you cannot always control who is around you.

On the other hand, they agreed that a “friend” was someone you would want to spend time with, do things with, enjoy having them around, and so forth. So, a “friend” was someone that one could develop close or intimate feelings with. This could end up resulting in a relationship that could contribute to problems in a marriage if the person is someone of the opposite sex.

Move On

After you complete one agreement, or set of agreements, then go to another topic or Problem Area. Choose a different day or time if you have already spent much time working on the ones you just completed. Keep in mind that this is not a race. Your goal is not to hurry up and get the agreements in place so that you can control your spouse.

Don’t Forget

Your goal is to solve problems, eliminate circumstances which may lead to problems, and to avoid future problems where you can.

This process is about your marriage and your spouse. It is not about your pride and righteous indignation (defending yourself by attacking your spouse). This process will, if used correctly, improve your marriage and reduce the incidences of arguing and fighting, and conflicts.

From Pastor Juan Perez:

Because of the rules and agreements, which my wife, Lydia, and I have had for many years, we have eliminated many possible problems and conflicts from our marriage. Our rules help us know what to do, and how to do it, when a situation (which we have addressed in our rules) arises. We know what to expect of each other, not because we think that the other should know, or already knows, what must happen each time a situation comes up. This has helped us trust each other more, and be more at peace in our marriage. This process can work for you as well, if both of you will commit yourselves to each other and your marriage as the highest and most important priority over everything and everybody else, period. May God have mercy on you, and help you through the process.

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