6 Loving Relationship Agreements

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


About Laura K. Schenck, Ph.D., LPC

I am a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) with a Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology from the University of Northern Colorado. Some of my academic interests include: Dialectical Behavior Therapy, mindfulness, stress reduction, work/life balance, mood disorders, identity development, supervision & training, and self-care.


  1. Will Bishop on June 1, 2011 at 5:15 pm

    Thank you for the “ping” Laura… this is my first visit and wow I love your site… visually stunning and super profesional.

    • Laura on June 1, 2011 at 9:11 pm

      Will – You are most welcome! I have enjoyed the time that I have spent on your site and continue to find your posts very insightful. Thank you so much for visiting my site and for your comment! I hope that you continue to enjoy the site as it develops over time.

  2. Jim on October 17, 2011 at 1:43 pm

    I found your site through a response you left to an article on Dichotomous Thinking (DT) by William Hambleton Bishop. I love your section on “Dialectical Thinking Agreement”. I have given the issue a lot of thought (DichotomousThiniking.com) and I would like to suggest that instead of proposing flexible thinking as an alternative to DT we propose goal-directed or problem-based thinking. I agree that flexible thinking is a truer opposite, but many people will fear being too flexible. The question will also come up “How flexible should we be?” I am sure you will agree that DT is not always bad, that would be too dichotomous. I suggest that DT becomes most problematic when it interferes with solving problems or achieving goal. By starting with the question “What is the goal/problem?” gives us a framework in which to gauge how flexible vs. dichotomous we want to be. I am hoping to foster a discussion on questions related to DT and I would love to hear your thoughts.

    • Laura on October 23, 2011 at 8:41 pm

      Jim – I’m glad to hear that you found my site and that you enjoyed the section on “Dialectical Thinking Agreement.” I like your idea of goal-directed thinking. As long as the mindset of trying to solve problems does not get in the way of being fluid and open in the moment, I think that is a great concept. I imagine there is some fear of becoming “too flexible” although I wonder if the real fear would be about feeling disorganized or chaotic in one’s thinking, as opposed to actually “flexible.”

      You are right that there are few things that I would say are “always bad” … that would be quite dichotomous. I agree that dichotomous thinking becomes problematic when it interferes with solving problems and achieving goals. This is why flexible thinking seems to me to be a safe alternative. I wonder what it would look like to truly be “too” flexible? The idea of psychological flexibility (in my understanding) is the fluid ability to move easily back and forth between different viewpoints, states of mind, and emotional states. Perhaps psychological flexibility is in a bit of a “safe zone” as far as becoming too extreme. I would be interested in hearing more of your thoughts on the subject.

      I look forward to checking out your site and reading more of your thoughts! Thank you for visiting my site and for your comment!

  3. Jim on October 26, 2011 at 1:08 am


    As I read your comments, I keep coming back to the idea that the goal is the framework in which to judge the needed degree of flexibility. If the goal is related to entertainment or relaxation, a greater degree of flexibility is appropriate. If the goal is a scientist trying to understand the nature of the universe, you need greater flexibility in coming up with new theories or explanations of existing data, but when it comes to experimental design there is less room for flexibility. Religious beliefs where the goal is related to promoting God’s Will can involve much less flexibility. Designing a building requires flexibility with regard to the aesthetic aspects, but there is much less leeway with the engineering aspects.

    When you say “flexible thinking seems to me to be a safe alternative”, I like the idea of flexible thinking as a default. One of the ideas I am trying to promote is that dichotomous thinking must be justified. If an engineer looks at a structure and says “this is not safe” that is dichotomous thinking. Even if the engineer is wrong, I would still say that the dichotomy is justified in that it is the engineer’s job to make that type of determination. Part of achieving the goal of ensuring public safety is to make such dichotomous determinations. If the goal is to settle a dispute between two people, the statement “this person is bad” is not likely to be very useful. We can argue about who did what to whom, but in the end the result is usually a lot of dichotomous noise.


    • Laura on October 28, 2011 at 11:48 am

      Jim – I think that various applications of dichotomous thinking that you have mentioned make a great deal of sense. Flexibility is only useful depending upon the goal and larger framework/belief system. I generally do think that flexible thinking is an appropriate default, particularly as it pertains to most people’s everyday concerns of living.

      Within my own framework and context as I do counseling, the idea of flexible thinking is key in helping people to develop and maintain manageable, healthy, and balanced lives. When people become entrenched into dichotomous thinking in their personal lives, the result is often a pendulum swing from chaos to rigidity. I think that you make a lot of great points of how dichotomous thinking can be justified and useful in different settings/applications.

      When it comes to interpersonal conflict and relationships, I have rarely seen dichotomous thinking serve a healthy function. The only example that comes to mind as far as relationships go would be to make the decision that if someone was abusive to you, then you should leave the relationship (and other examples along similar lines). Other than these extremes, dichotomous thinking in interpersonal contexts generally serves the function of alienating people, severing relationships, and creating distorted and inaccurate pictures of people.

      Thanks for your comment!

  4. Jim on October 28, 2011 at 11:11 pm


    You are one of a very small number of people who get this. Thank you. Because I bring them out so infrequently, the ‘Where do we go from here?’ ideas are considerably less baked. First I’d like to see the word dichotomous become a household word. I am not sure if this is possible, but would you ever consider using it with your patients in a therapy session? If so, it would open the door to another thing I suspect you deal with a lot. How often do your patients relate situations in which dichotomous thinking amplifies itself. What I mean is, dichotomous thinking in one person stimulates dichotomous thinking in another. The next time you visit my site (DichotomousThinking.com) take a look at the post “HATE AND VIOLENCE ARE OPEN LINES OF COMMUNICATION” (10/2/2011). This post deals with countries, but the same is true for individuals. I’d be very curious if this idea is useful in a clinical setting.

    As for dichotomous thinking serving a healthy function in relationships, I agree with the example you give. I can only think of one other class of examples off hand, but it is so obvious it might be considered trivial. “I love my wife, she is a great person.” As long as our relationship is reasonably healthy and we are reasonably good to and for each other, I would consider this to be a justified and healthy dichotomy.

    Thanks again for the dialogue.


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