How to move from Relationship Rules to Love Agreements
There are places we go in relationships that are so tender, and sometimes so hard, that we don’t want to tell anyone. And yet, we need a witness, we need guidance and counsel. Both internally from our own inner wisdom and from sacred, trusted friends, family and even mentors.
I haven’t spoken about romantic relationships in a long time. But now feels right. Nine months ago, my beloved partner and I decided we had reached the end of the romantic road together. We tried to extend the path. We did lots of counselling, couple’s practices, embodiment therapy - and deep work. However the energy had run its course. We birthed two amazing digital businesses together and all our creativity and passion had poured into these. We were as dedicated to the other’s growth, expansion and business as we were to our own. The truth is we ended up having a lot of ‘brand meetings’ and the romantic connection just didn’t rejuvenate.
We were able to come out of the romantic pose the same way we went in - with full hearts, authenticity and transparency. No one had done anything wrong. We loved each other and still care for each other very deeply. So how did we get here, where there is no aggression, no aggravation, no recriminations?
What held us throughout this experience - and does still to this day - is a practice I designed called Love Agreements. Here's how it works:
Let’s start by talking about Rules.
Most of us have rules about who we should be, who the other person should be and what should happen. Often we don’t like this part of ourselves, and we try to hide it. But when you’re in the kitchen and someone is cutting the carrots the ‘wrong way’, these parts bubble up with lots of reactivity.
What I have found is that often our inner rules get exposed within our most intimate relationships. What do you do when your reactivity is on full throttle? Some of us try to swallow and stifle it. Some of us try to negotiate with the other person to do it our way. And when neither of these processes work many of us just explode (albeit over something completely unrelated.)
And we all know what all of these patterns look like. We’re messy - we’re humans.
So how do you get out of the loop of rules, stifling, struggling, tears and recriminations together?
You make agreements together.
How to make Love Agreements
Step 1: Uncovering the Assumptions.
If you want to move from Rules to Agreements, you must first understand what your rules are, where they come from and how you enforce them.
This is deep and confronting work at times. You’ll usually discover that a lot of the rules you have are inherited. Either - that’s just what happens in your family and so it seems perfectly normal, or your family did things a completely different way and so you have designed your own comfort zone (which has become a rule about how things should be done).
For example: I think tea towels are for cleaning up kitchen spills, things dropped on the floor, getting things out of the oven and occasionally wiping dishes.
My previous beloved believed tea towels are only for wiping dishes.
Can you see the recipe for conflict?
So the first part of making Agreements is to uncover the assumptions, and really thinking about why you have that rule. Whose rule is it really?
Now for the parts of you that feel very stubborn and attached to the ‘rule’, here’s how you can still move the conversation forward. When you don’t know how to let go, even just a little, here’s a phrase that will help “In my family, we did it this way…” This doesn’t make anyone’s family right or wrong, it just uncovers the legacy and how we came to feel strongly about something.
And it gives space for each of us to share a window into our world for the other person. Who knew some families only used tea towels for wiping up dishes? Not me!
Step 2: Transitioning from Rules to Preferences.
Once you understand why you have a rule, you can start to step back and see that actually this is simply a preferred way of doing things. All we are really doing is expressing preferences.
Now, it may be a very strong preference. That’s OK.
Practically speaking, most of us have a few preferences which are strong, and almost everything else we’re probably not that fixed on once we’ve thought about it.
I don’t think everyone else should use tea towels to mop up things on the floor. But I do have a preference that some tea towels can do this.
So here’s what we did - we agreed to which tea towels were ‘protected’ and solely used for wiping dishes (eg white linen ones), and which ones were open season. Plus a separate spot for each pile.
And thus we made an agreement.
Step 3: Preferences to Agreements
Now I know what you’re thinking. Well sure OK, maybe we can come to an agreement about tea towels. But what about the other 50,000 daily things in our lives? And how exactly do I do this? Especially if the other person isn’t willing to play ball?
I understand. Once you start to think about this, you realise this opens up a whole new terrain. So let me reassure you, you can make this transition with simplicity, love and ease on your nervous system.
Which brings me back to where I started. If you use this process together, you can negotiate anything.
In parting, we agreed to not only the mundane things about furniture, bills and splitting up the finances but we also agreed to how much contact, in what form and what constitued an emergency. As the months have passed, the truth is the connection has become lighter. We’re both now at a stage where we feel open to dating and the new. How do I know this? Because we talked about it.
We share a favourite cinema, so there’s a likelihood at some point we’ll see each other there possibly on a date. So we made an agreement, we can just wave to each other - no need to come over and be polite or awkward. It’s OK for each person to be living their life filled with love, joy and laughter.
And isn’t that what we all want?
When you move from rules to agreements then authentic communication really opens up. And you can find your way together into the next right loving step, whatever that may be.