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The Story of Our Relationship Agreements

June 5, 2023 by savannah & jonbo

as told by each of us.

How They Came to Be

Sav: The conversation originally started with saying I love you” to each other. We were in bed and the words had been on my tongue for days and I just really wanted to say it because it was the most true thing I could say. I didn’t need Jon to say it back to me because love progresses at its own pace and the last thing I want is for either of us to move from a sense of obligation.

So I tell him I love him, but to be frank there was a part of me that felt it fall a little flat. He beautifully said it back, which was lovely, but I was left with this feeling that something was missing. Not missing in the connection, but missing in the clarity of the word love.

Love has as many connotations as there are love songs and people who’ve loved. Each filled with lifetimes of stories associated with this ocean-encompassing word. To say I love you” felt vague to me when I wanted to be extremely clear with Jon about what I was feeling, what this meant to me, how I was committing to live now that he had entered my life.

I brought all of these thoughts to him and this kickstarted many conversations about what we individually mean when we say I love you.” On hikes, in bed, while making dinner, over text we’d organically weave our experiences (past and present) into what it meant to each of us to love. The conversation then evolved into what does it mean to be in a relationship to you?” and what does it mean to me to call you my boyfriend/girlfriend?”

Here’s what I love about this practice:

  1. We got clear about what it meant to be in a relationship before we started calling each other girlfriend/boyfriend. The traditional way to do this sort of ritual is to create vows before you marry someone. It felt so much more beautiful to see our relationship as a real ass commitment at the onset. We had to dive deep into what it meant to each of us be boyfriend/girlfriend/in a partnership/la la la.

There are so many connotations to these words. So many positive and negative examples and stories we shared with each other that revealed the kind of relationship we both wanted. It was meaningful to us to talk about relationships in our pasts (romantic, professional, familial) where we’d been hurt and what we would have wanted instead. This clarity was really important and let my system feel a deep sense of trust that this was the real deal.

  1. I love that these agreements feel both inherent to who we both are yet also somewhat aspirational. They were based on how we both were naturally showing up to with each other. As months of being together and now living together have passed, I can really say that we’re living these agreements day in and day out. We sometimes refer back to the agreements. Keeping them alive is important. They live on our fridge and I’ll read em and gently recommit to them sometimes while waiting for my tea to steep.

  2. The agreements are about the day to day, present moment. Not about some projected forever and always. I hear these overly bullish and flowery wedding vows like till death do us part” and I respect the intent, but I want some real-ass commitments that can guide us in the hard moments of life. Relationship agreements can serve as a beacon calling you back to who you know you really are.

  3. This whole journey of writing agreements ends with a beautiful ritual! More on this later.

Jon: I think it started with us trying to define the word love”. It’s a tricky one: there are countless movies, books, and songs about it. And there are many great definitions out there. But what does it mean to us, in this relationship, at this moment?

It also stemmed from talking about the labels girlfriend” and boyfriend” - what do these mean to each of us? What do we want them to mean? We wanted to be sure the connotations and expectations bundled with these words by society were being accepted consciously and intentionally, rather than each of us trying to fit to the common cultural definition of these words.

So much of life is defined by liability-swapping opaque legalese and fuzzy social norms. It’s freeing and clarifying to be able to communicate the essence of this beautiful relationship we are engaging in; to have statements that we both can agree to try and live up to.

And it is try”. It’s not a binding contract of checklist items to hold over the other person, pointing to every failure. Instead, it is a list of intentions and promises and aspirations, chosen to describe the way we want to show up for each other and ourselves in this relationship. And this list is in a very real way already being actualized: these are a snapshot of what we’re experiencing, not of what we want to experience.

There is grace in there for when we mess up. Because we’re not perfect and cannot expect the other to be. And part of the agreement itself acknowledges we have space to work towards these things.

Lastly, we’re both nerds for collaboratively writing things. And this felt like a beautiful first piece to co-write; the first of many.

The Agreements Themselves

SK & JB Relationship Agreements (see the living document here)

  • I agree to focus on you. Exclusivity feels like it’s about disallowing/constraining rather than focusing. We are choosing monogamy out of a desire to be with each other and explore what’s possible at our depths.
  • I am willing to change my behavior for the benefit of you / the relationship as a whole, assuming it is done with good intentions, and aligned with my values.
  • I am willing to lovingly call out blindspots in you and have my blindspots lovingly called out. This is something I’m growing towards and strive to do with care and consent.
  • I agree to consider your needs and preferences equally to my own when making decisions that impact us both.
  • I am taking responsibility for that which we share (home, plans, pets, projects, etc).
  • I am committed to being with you and to making an effort to work out incompatibilities before leaving. Breaking up would be a mutual decision rather than a volatile unilateral decision.
  • I agree to retain my sense of self and continue developing my interests and identity alongside the relationship, and to take and grant independent space as needed.
  • I agree to make regular time and reserve energy for connecting with you.
  • I agree to tell you the truth and share more of the truth as it comes to me.
  • I agree to create meaningful experiences with you, and to not make a habit of choosing the easy default experience all the time.
  • I commit to maintaining my own mental health and overall well-being. To invite and accept your support but not exclusively depend on support from you while maintaining external sources of support.
  • I agree to notice moments out of integrity in my self awareness, and to act on resolving them with you.
  • I agree to take responsibility for my capacity (physical, emotional) and communicate it when necessary.
  • I agree to respect your boundaries and avoid actions that harm you, including: radio silence, non-consensual physical abuse, denial of other’s perspective/gaslighting, speaking words with intent to hurt/verbal abuse, lying, stealing, controlling.
  • I agree to do my best to act in alignment with your best interests, using my best judgment when I’m not able to know your preferences in the moment.
  • I’m aware this is a living document that we will come back to and grow as our relationship evolves and grows. The culture of this relationship is ever evolving, and the document is merely a reflection of that.
  • I am willing to obtain new skills to support everything I’ve agreed to above.
  • I agree to offer myself and my partner there is grace in the process of coming to these agreements.

Here are some thoughts on our favorite agreements and why they’re there.

Jon’s annotations:

I agree to take responsibility for my capacity (physical, emotional) and communicate it when necessary.

So much of the world is arranged in a way that expects always-on infinite presence and attention from us; however impossible always-on existence is. It’s relieving to know that if I’m low battery, I have space to rest and recharge and I do my best to always offer the same to her. If we need to talk about something serious and I’m not in an energetic-enough space to hold that conversation, it’s my responsibility to say so, rather than be reactive and impulsive because of my exhaustion. When we communicate our capacity we can offer each other support and grace.

I commit to maintaining my own mental health and overall well-being. To invite and accept your support but not exclusively depend on support from you while maintaining external sources of support.

This is a beautiful one to say and to hear because it establishes the fact that our own mental health is ultimately our own responsibility as we’re the only ones that can take care of it; just like our own happiness comes from within rather than from someone or something external. It frees us from being each other’s therapists, while still graciously reserving space for helping each other through tough moments and situations.

I’m aware this is a living document that we will come back to and grow as our relationship evolves and grows. The culture of this relationship is ever evolving, and the document is merely a reflection of that.

This makes this relationship feel like a planted seedling turning into a sprout: the DNA is there, the intentions are there, and provided with a continued stream of love and care with a healthy ecosystem surrounding it, our love can grow and deepen with time. The most beautiful things in my life all emerged organically, without a grand top-down design but instead one day at a time in a continued game of good-faith participation, growth, and delight.

Sav’s Annotations:

I am willing to change my behavior for the benefit of you / the relationship as a whole, assuming it is done with good intentions and aligned with my values.

We’ve been living into this one a lot recently. We moved in together about 2.5 months ago and it’s been really gorgeous. AND we’re two different people with a lot of specific proclivities about how we want our space to be. Jon doesn’t like fruit being cut on the same cutting board as savory things (the super taster he is) and I like the bed made in a particular way, for example. We’ve been honest with each other about how we want the things in our home to work and thus asked each other to change a little bit to accommodate our sometimes differing needs.

The game here is we both don’t want the other to change who we are or live outside of our values. But rather to see what behavior we’re willing to shift that feels very low-friction and very sustainable. So far things are working. Every shift is an experiment to ensure that both parties feel good about it. There are no gold stars for who can change the most because we fell in love with each other for good reason.

I am committed to being with you and to making an effort to work out incompatibilities before leaving. Breaking up would be a mutual decision rather than a volatile unilateral decision.

This one is really special and important to me. Writing these agreements took at least a month of conversations (we did other shit obviously, so just imagine some deep convos peppered into two full lives). Amidst this process, things would come up in our relationship. Within the span of 2 weeks we both had moments when we were worried the other might not want us because of xyz thing — and we both consoled the other and said something to the tune of I’m not going anywhere. I’m in.”

This sentiment struck so deeply that it became an agreement we created in those conversations. An agreement that can reassure the other that unless they do something crazy like physically abuse us, we’re gonna do everything we can to support sustaining this relationship. This relationship is not something we’d throw away. You’re not going to lose me unless it’s actually a decision we make together. Small hurts can happen and we’ll lovingly and gently work through them together. I couldn’t imagine how safe I felt hearing Jon say this agreement to me until it happened. It was like the weight of being an imperfect human lifted off of my shoulders.

The Ritual

Sav: It was important to me to make this whole journey of agreement-making coalesce with a ritual. I didn’t want this to be another apple note that died in the abyss. I wanted to know what it would feel like to say these words and mean them and see them land in each others’ bones. We decided to climb a mountain and hike to a beautiful spot (we chose the Lion’s Lair Trail). We snuggled into our hammock and put the finishing touches on our agreements in the notes app of one of our phones.

When they were ready, we went line by line and read each agreement to each other. We said them aloud as commitments we were making to each other. I cannot tell you how beautiful it was to hear Jon commit to loving me in the way I wish every past partner had — and to trust that these agreements were a function of who who we both are.

Jon: On the one hand, the ritual was pretty plain and simple. There was no fancy dinner reservation or grand prom night style romantic gesture. We woke up early and headed out for the hike. By the time we scrambled all the way up there we were sweaty and a little muddy and ready to munch on our bags of trail mix. On the other hand, it was mesmerizing in its romance and significance: just us two, overlooking snow-capped mountains, holding a completely subjective personal experience that we designed and created. Not because we had to, but because we wanted to celebrate this beautiful thing we were embarking on with each other. It felt humbling and rich with meaning and connection.

How to Write Your Own

We think the best agreements are those you write together, for yourselves, with your unique relationship’s goals and considerations. Feel free to snag any of ours that you like, but ultimately writing them from your own truth will mean the most. Here are some tips for the process:

  • Don’t try to finish them in a single session: we found the most meaningful agreements emerged serendipitously from unhurried, curious conversation; on walks and on drives over the span of weeks. The goal here is to first unearth what is most true for both of you when it comes to relationships, love, secure attachment, safety and to then put it into agreements that articulate the truth of who you both are.
  • While talking about them, take turns writing down phrases (or recording voice notes) that sound like agreements to a shared note. Don’t worry about being perfectly clear on the first pass, just get ideas down and come back to them later.
  • Think back to previous relationships and what you might’ve wanted to be clear at the beginning, or agreements you wish you had throughout the relationship. What agreement could have been in place to have avoided that fight? What agreement could have been in place so the spark didn’t die? Agreements can’t fix incompatibility. But what would have felt like the most intentional and in alignment” way you would have liked to have shown up and been treated in your past relationships? Those lessons can inform your actions now.
  • Bring up things you’re excited for together, things you’re scared of, and things you’re unsure about. You don’t have to plan for every eventuality (it’s impossible) but you can at least start talking about them, and that’s better than not talking about it.
  • Consider writing them in a way where everyone can agree to all of the agreements in one document, rather than each person agreeing to different documents. We think there are situations where different versions make sense, but a great place to start in relationships is reciprocity.
  • Really feel into what you can agree to when co-writing the agreements. This one feels like a duh” for sure, but it’s important! If you have a weird feeling when reading an agreement, investigate it. There may be something important for you to uncover there. You want to read each agreement and feel great about honestly committing to it.
  • Consider your relationship agreements to be a living document. Perhaps you have a conflict with your partner that reveals something deeply important to you that you need in relationships. A great way to move forward together is to frame it as an affirmative statement (“we will do x” rather than x is missing from our relationship. gah!”) and cowrite it together. We added a new agreement just last week.

We hope this invites and inspires you to write your own relationship agreements. If it does, please write to us and let us know! We would love to hear about it.