In yesterday’s post, 5 Loving Relationship Assumptions, we learned about how to build a solid relationship foundation upon a few basic assumptions. While these loving relationship assumptions are a wonderful place to begin to come together as a couple, we need explicit agreements between ourselves and our partners about how to put these assumptions into practice. What agreements can we make to ourselves and our partners about how we want the relationship to look? What specific agreements can we begin to commit to, as individuals and as couples, to strengthen our loving bond?
As promised, I would like to introduce the following six relationship agreements, adapted from the DBT workbook, Don’t Let Your Emotions Run Your Life (Spradlin, 2003). Try reading through these relationship agreements on your own, then with your partner. Which specific loving relationship agreements can you commit to in this moment?
(1) Dialectical Thinking Agreement
As a couple, we commit to being aware of the dichotomous thinking that leads to disagreements and to practice more flexible thinking. We agree that neither one of us is the sole owner of the truth and that we will both have our opinions on matters. We commit to seeing the other’s point of view, even when (perhaps, especially when) it is drastically different from our own.
(2) Consultation-to-Partner Agreement
We agree to consult with each other to sort out problems in the relationship. If we do seek outside input or support, we agree not to use this support to put down the relationship or our partners. When we do receive useful external feedback or support, we agree to bring it back into the relationship to discuss what we will do differently in the future.
(3) Consistency Agreement
We agree that it is not a requirement of our relationship to share all of the same interests, tastes, preferences, or limits. Just because one of us like romantic comedies or sushi does not mean the other one must like these things as well. We agree to accept that we will behave differently from one situation to the next depending on personal vulnerabilities or events. What works one day may not work the next day, and we agree to accept that. We agree to allow each other the space to think, feel, or behave differently (within reason) from day to day.
(4) Observing Limits Agreement
We agree that we are each responsible for setting our own personal limits, which are allowed to change from time to time. When one of us is ill or experiencing significant distress, we agree to extend our limits for the time being to help the other until they recover. We each have different limits for what we will tolerate from different people in our lives. We agree to openly discuss and accept our limits with one another.
(5) Empathy Agreement
We commit to attempting to understand the other’s behavior, given the context of personal history, experiences, and abilities. We agree to temporarily put off judgmental attitudes and attempt to see what life must be like from the other’s perspective. When we are faced with problematic behaviors, we agree to first attempt to interpret them in a loving and non-pejorative way. We agree to allow ourselves to be held to this agreement “in the moment.”
(6) Fallibility Agreement
We agree that, as fallible human beings, both of us will lose sight of these agreements on occasion. Neither one of us is perfect. When this happens, we agree to help one another come back to these agreements and continue to work towards building a loving relationship where we both feel heard, respected, and understood.
As you read through these six loving relationship agreements on your own or with your partner, what thoughts or feelings came up for you? Are there certain areas where you believe you need to work a little bit harder as individuals or as a couple? How can you imagine these relationship agreements strengthening your bond as a couple? Try reflecting on which of these agreements you believe would be most useful to your own relationship. Can you pick one of these agreements today that you can begin to work on as a couple?
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Spradlin, S.E. (2003). Don’t let your emotions run your life: how dialectical behavior therapy can put you in control. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, Inc.
Featured image: Dance of Love by Kjunstorm / CC BY 2.0