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What are relationship agreements?

During the first days of January, while the snow fell through the chilled air outside, Pete and I busied ourselves inside our lakeside log cabin in Orivesi.

I lit some candles and poured another cup of coffee into an antique flowery mug, a heirloom from my late grandparents who had owned this cabin before me.

From the bookshelf, Pete took down a yellow Moleskin notebook, the book that contains our ongoing relationship agreements.

We sat in our old blue armchairs in front of the fireplace where spruce and pine logs crackled and burned.

I felt excited and slightly nervous. I found the sensation in my belly to be pleasant.

“I appreciate you for doing this with me,” I told Pete.

The routine of periodically revisiting our relationship agreements began a few years back. It stemmed from a wish from both of us to be very clear about what we want from the other, what we can count on from the other, what we want from the relationship, and what is important to us. Every ten months or so, we repeat this routine.

How do we write the relationship agreements?

We began by each taking a pen and a sheet of paper and answering the question: “What is the purpose of our relationship?” This 2-3-sentence long statement describes how we each make important being together and how this relationship enriches our lives.

In other words, what we have and inspire to keep and develop have in our relationship. Words like funadventurelovemutual growth, support, and care have appeared regularly in our statements.

We then each read our individual statement aloud to the other and discussed what we heard. We talked about what aspects or sentiments or words sounded similar and dissimilar between our two statements.

Then, from the yellow notebook, we read aloud our previous entries about the purpose of our relationship. We discussed what sounded similar or dissimilar between what we wrote in the past and what we had written on this occasion.

Next, on our own sheet of paper, we each wrote headlines of topics that we make important to each of us. For example: family timerelationship timemoneysex, work, attractions towards other peoplemutual support and communication when apart.

We then read aloud to the other the headlines of topics that we each had written down.

Under each topic headline, we added a few bullet-point sentences that we want covered in this subject. We try to make these as clear and direct as possible. For example, under the heading: “Attractions Towards Other people,” this time I wrote: “We share our attractions with each other before we share them with the person to whom we are attracted.

Under the heading “Work,” Pete wrote: “We separate work time from leisure time. When wanting to switch from non-work-related conversation (or silence) to discussing a work-related situation, we first check in with the other if they are willing to discuss work matters at that moment.” This seems an important point to Pete.

After we both wrote our headlines and sentences underneath, we read our texts aloud.

And we shared what arose for us about what we had shared and heard.

Then we had a conversation about each point. This is where the bulk of the work was done. We go through each point and see if we can create sentences that are simple, clear and agreeable to both of us. Sometimes we find the actual written commitment to be less important than the discussion surrounding it.

After we went through each written commitment and both agreed to it, we read from the book agreements we had made in the past.

We both found this part to be quite interesting! Some previously-made agreements (that had seemed so important to me and/or Pete in the past) weren’t even mentioned this time. Meanwhile, some topics that weren’t covered in the past were discussed and agreed to this time.

Our list of agreements has grown longer as we seem to enjoy getting more specific. We seem to enjoy making more explicit what one or both of us judge is already implicit.

At the same time, the amount of time we spend creating these written agreements has grown shorter. This time we spent two hours and fifteen minutes from start to finish. I recall that the very first time we did this, we spent more than four hours discussing and writing our agreements.

We have gotten into a rhythm of creating our relationship agreements every ten months. We hadn’t consciously set this as our desired timeframe. After about ten months, we both seem eager to revisit our agreements. (I imagine for others, they may have a different or even irregular timeframe.)

Why we do this?

Pete and I want to spell out clearly what we agree on and find a solution which is good for both on topics we don’t agree on.

I feel both safer and complete with Pete and more confident about our relationship when having agreements with Pete.

The process is also a moment for me to reflect on what is important to me right now and then sharing that with my partner. Sometimes things have arisen that I did not expect.

I also find that our time writing the agreements and agreeing on them to be powerful. I like knowing (and hearing from my partner) that we have a joint vision of what we want for our lives and what we want from each other and what we are willing to give.

Why I am writing to you about the relationship agreements?

One of the Honesty Europe community members asked about the process Pete and I use to create our relationship agreements.

And I want to share this practice we have developed for us with you in case you find it useful for your life.

I think this process of making agreements also works well for families, friends and teams.

With some friends, I have made some simpler agreements. For example: we can talk about anything, we are allowed to cancel meetings if we are tired or don’t feel like meeting and we can rely on each other for help and support in hard times such as listening or cleaning.

Check out here a video I made about the power of making clear agreements.

Do you have clarity with your partner about what you can count on each other for?
Have you told your partner what you want from them in your relationship?

Do you know what your closest friends expect from you and what you expect from them?

Tuulia (& Pete)

P.S. – On 14 April, Pete and I will be leading a webinar related to much of what I wrote above. Click here to join our webinar: “Practicing Radical Honesty in Relationships.”

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