Don Miguel Ruiz wrote a wonderful book called the Four Agreements. I would recommend reading it, although it isn’t necessary to understand this article. These are my interpretations of his principles through a relationship lens.
The First Agreement: Be Impeccable with Your Word
Say what you mean and mean what you say. In our intimate relationships, we tend to say many things we don’t mean while in the heat of the moment. Words are powerful, when we say things to our partner that come from anger, fear, pain, or sadness those words stick in their heart like a splinter. Even when we take it back or say we didn’t mean it, it infects their heart and mind. It hurts. We are saying these things from our momentary tunnel vision, when in fact, they are affecting the whole picture. Words that truly encompass the depth and integrity of a relationship, and are from the heart, are productive and enriching to the whole of the relationship. We can be true to ourselves, express our needs, desires, difficulties and issues from a place of love and compassion for our partner. Be conscious about your vulnerability, finding ways to express yourself intentionally and thoughtfully. For more about this, see my article “Conscious Vulnerability” in The Seattle Lesbian.
The Second part of this agreement is doing what you say you are going to do, honoring your commitments. If you can’t be sure that you can do something, don’t make that promise. Be honest about what your capacity is at that time, this also promotes healthy boundaries. Building trust and stability in your relationship leads to a greater ability to love more deeply. All of us want to feel safe and secure. In our love relationships we can be the person that our partner relies on, when they can trust what we say is true. If we don’t honor our commitments and hold true to our word, it seems unreasonable to expect people to trust us or for us to trust ourselves, doesn’t it?
If we are compassionately honest about how we are feeling, our boundaries and our needs and wants, we create freedom of choice for our partners and ourselves.
The Second Agreement: Don’t Take Anything Personally
This is a hard one with our loved ones. When we are in an intimate relationship everything with them seems personal. When we care deeply for someone, we combine our lives with theirs, their choices affect us and ours theirs. We become emotionally vulnerable to every word they speak, action they take and action they don’t take.
Let’s start with the words they speak. Our partners may not have mastered being impeccable with their words just yet. And that is ok, if you don’t take their words personally. Those splinters in the heart and mind we were just talking about, don’t have to stick. We don’t have to see them as a personal attack. We can remember that what they are saying isn’t about us, it is their anger, fear, pain or sadness that is coming out.
Actions our partner takes can feel extremely personal. When our partner chooses to do something that we don’t agree with, it sometimes feels like an attack on our happiness, that they are disregarding our wants and needs. (It’s important to note that there are times where our partners choices do cause enough discord in our lives that we need to either set boundaries that we can live with or exit the relationship. I am talking more about actions that aren’t creating unsafe, truly unhappy situations that take our freedom away.) Not taking our partners actions or words personally does not mean that they aren’t real and affecting us. But they still aren’t about you. They are about them. When our loved one makes a choice, it is their choice. They have made a judgement based on their belief structure and what they see as the proper action to take. Those choices are theirs to make, we have the choice not to live with it. But we cannot take their choices as a personal attack.
Inaction is another thing we take personally. We get very upset when our partner doesn’t do or say something that we think they should. This is not about them, it is about us. Our expectations of someone else are about what we have been conditioned to believe are important. And they may not have the same priorities. If we have needs or wants, we must express them, or we will always be disappointed when someone doesn’t do what we think they should. When we take this personally it leads to making assumptions that are usually not true. We wonder why our partners can’t just know what will make us happy, all the time, no matter what. The fact is that we all have our own ways of expressing and receiving love. And they don’t always match with our partner’s. Its important to recognize what they are doing and that it may be the way they express love.
The Third Agreement: Don’t Make Assumptions
When we assume, it puts us in a place of unrest. We believe that assumptions are truth, and that is the problem. When we make assumptions about what our partner is doing, not doing or thinking, and we automatically make it personal. Then we splinter words that are less than impeccable into them and in our minds about the relationship. We make an imaginary idea into an actual situation. Creating situations that have nothing to do with truth. Giving our partner no room to be the best person they can be and no freedom to expand, change and evolve. This also makes it more difficult for them to be authentic with us, which creates distance, reducing intimacy and honesty. Our assumptions put our partner in a box. And that is not fair to them or healthy for our own well-being. It’s easy to make ourselves miserable when we play into this cycle.
Secondly, when we assume something about someone, then when they don’t live up to it, we are disappointed in them. This leads to creating judgements, which leads to a lack of acceptance of our partners and their capabilities. It becomes harder to trust them and eventually there are so many unsaid expectations that true intimacy becomes difficult. Assumptions are never a helpful mechanism, they will always lead us down a path of discord. We are not mind reader’s, and neither are our loved ones. Communication helps to avoid making assumptions. Having the courage to ask questions until we are clear in our understanding will find the truth outside our perspective.
The Fourth Agreement: Always Do Your Best
We begin to do our best by acknowledging that our personal best may be different one day from the next. In love relationships we see the highest highs and the lowest lows. We are the one who supports our partner when their parent dies and need that support when its our own. We go through our greatest tragedies with our partner and they do the same for us. It doesn’t take very long to see our partners sick and needy side. It doesn’t take long for them to see us have a dreadful day and not feel like doing anything but eating ice cream and going to bed. Or those days where we are so overwhelmed and upset about the world we are witnessing, and we just want to scream, or cry or both. We also get to experience one another’s grand accomplishments and witness the beauty, joys, uniqueness and magic in each other.
Every single day, our best is different. If we still strive to be our best possible self, on that day, we are accomplishing something amazing. This goes for the other three agreements as well, we do our best to practice them as much as possible. Some days we may feel like we are masters, other days not so much. We simply do our best. When we feel like we are doing our best at our relationship, it eliminates guilt, self-judgement and shame. And no matter where the relationship ends up we can always be sure we did our best. One of the hardest parts of letting a relationship go is our thinking we should have done more. Well, if we’ve done our best, there is nothing else we could’ve done. It’s actually quite freeing.
Another way to practice doing your best is by loving more fully and openly without fear. The only thing we can control is our own thoughts and actions. We can not control how our partner will respond to that. Loving big will never leave us lesser. We are not giving away something that has a limited supply. The more authentic and open we become, the more we expand our own hearts and minds. This brings us more capacity for joy and pleasure in our relationships. We can give our biggest and best love to our partner. What they do with it is up to them, and that is ok because their choices are not about us. We do our best because doing our best makes us happy. We practice these agreements because we want to feel better in our lives and in our relationships.
Dawn Celeste McGregor is a Writer an Relationship Coach. Contact Dawn at http://expansiveconnections.com or at firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule a FREE 30 minute consultation. Check out Expansive Connections on Facebook.