I want to share with you a concept that can add significant value to the quality of your relationship, the Marriage Agreement published by my friend Stewart Levine. Stewart is widely recognized for creating agreement and empowerment in the most challenging circumstances. His innovative work with “Agreement for Results” and his “Resolutionary” conversational models are unique. Stewart is the author of The Book of Agreement and Getting to Resolution: Turning Conflict Into Collaboration.
Author’s Note: When people think of a pre-marriage agreement they usually go right to thinking about protecting assets in the event of something going wrong. That frame does two things – it makes people focus on the negative and it literally creates an adversarial relationship where one did not exist – the last thing you want to on the eve of marriage. Imagine if you would a marriage agreement that facilitated spouses to create a vision of what they wanted their marriage to include the deeply personal but essentially collaborative aspects of their relationship. The following chapter is from my highly reviewed 2003 “Book of Agreement.” It creates the container for a successful marriage and gives a couple the opportunity of crafting their vision. I hope you find it useful! Stewart Levine © 2011
AGREEMENTS WITH SPOUSES or DOMESTIC PARTNERS
Marriage is a 100-100 relationship; unless one is willing to give everything, one has no chance to succeed in marriage.
Attachment is the expression of lust. Love is the expression of enlightenment.
What have I ever craved more than a woman’s arms. To Be up half the night, talking, laughing, making love –Have you ever been closer to heaven? The bed becomes your church; you pass the collection plate back and forth until you’ve given too much, then your poverty becomes your gift; your tears, her tears –I mean, when it’s right, who can tell laughing from crying?
- Sy Safransky
Relationships with significant others are of profound importance. If something is askew in your primary relationship that will impact the quality of your work, and all other relationships. Most people don’t know where to start, so they never talk about what is bothering them. The agreement I am suggesting is a far cry from what most prenuptial agreements are about – protection and money.
Trying to escape having a serious conversation never works because of the ongoing cost you pay of living in conflict. It is better to have the conversation sooner than later because the conflicts do not disappear. That is why ongoing communication is essential. With the addition of the “Domains of Permanent Concern” the agreement template provides a solid structure for a primary relationship. Here is an example of an agreement I prepared about almost ten years ago for a couple that was about to get married. The agreement is inspirational, aspirational, and practical. It is useful as both a model of what is possible, and as a talisman to consult when you get off track. I have heard from them periodically over the last ten years. They tell me that the agreement “stuff” really works. Whenever they’re in even the slightest difficulty as a couple they head for the mountains and revise their agreement.
1. INTENT & VISION: It is our intention to have a great marriage. This will include fun, romance, travel, financial abundance, friendship, health; partnership, support and both physical and spiritual love.
2. ROLES: Our roles will be mutual – for each other we will be friends, partners, lovers, listeners and tellers of the truth we each see in situations, even if, and sometimes especially if, we know the other will not like what they hear.
3. PROMISES: We each promise to:
> stay in the relationship even when it is difficult
> work things out as partners, realizing that no matter what is going on we
have the same goals in mind
> stay engaged with the other and continue communicating no matter how
> accept that if one of us has a problem, then we both have a problem
> trust the other’s good intentions, even when we are outraged by what we
think they have done
> be available – mentally, physically, emotionally, spiritually,
> make decisions mutually, after consulting with each other
> be warm and affectionate towards each other
> honor and bring honor to the other
We make the following declarations and promises to each other within the “Domains of Permanent Concern:”
> Body – We acknowledge that the body is the sacred temple that houses our souls. We agree to respect and honor the temple from the perspective that we each will only get one, and that despite the miracles of modern medicine, original equipment is much better than replacement parts which are not always available. We promise to support each other in healthy eating, physical exercise programs, moderate alcohol consumption, and adequate sleep and rest.
> Play – We recognize that the muse of creativity, innovation and love takes place in the “in between spaces” of structured activity. Because we function at our highest capacity when we function creatively we agree to remain mindful of making sure we have enough “play time” in our lives. For us that will translate into at least two evenings and one afternoon or morning of “free play.”
> Sociability – We understand that although earnestness, diligence and personal individual accomplishment are important, real success in life, except for the breakthrough’s of a genius working alone, usually come in the context of social culture. For that reason we agree to support each others social engagement and to make it a priority to have ongoing social relationships of both a personal and professional nature. As part of our community involvement and social responsibility we will be active voices, not passive participants in the public issues and concerns of the day.
> Family – We recognize how essential family is. It is the foundation of a strong social culture. We know that we are defined not only by the roles we choose, but more important, by how we are recognized and defined by others. Despite the risk of bringing children into an unsettled world we want to build our own family with at least two children as the center of our lives. We also want to nurture our ties to the extended families each of us come from.
> Work – We each understand the value and importance of work. Work is a joyful contribution. It also pays the bills. We agree to support each other in making sure that neither of us has to be engaged in work purely for pay check. Having said that we both recognize that sometimes it will be necessary for either or both of us to support our family.
> Education – Ours will be a house of lifelong learning. We recognize that to be human is to learn. We promise to support each other’s continuing education be it academic or experiential.
> Career – We value a planned career. A career is a life long pursuit of work in an integrated fashion. By career we mean developing a body of work that leaves behind a legacy of substance that is a contribution to an existing body of knowledge or a professional discipline. We agree to support each other’s career choices, even when we don’t fully understand them despite ongoing dialogue.
> Money – We say that money is a means to an end, not an end to itself. Money is a medium that facilitates exchange transactions. Money helps to provide freedom from economic worry, creature comforts, freedom of movement, and financial security. Given our views on education, career and work it is clear that for us money is a means to other things.
> Membership – We will demonstrate our support of certain values and causes by the organizations we join, as a couple, and as individuals. Because of the impact it has on the other we will consult with each other before taking on leadership roles.
> Situation – We define situation as the assessment we make individually and collectively of our relative “situation” at the moment. We will look at all of the domains of concern periodically and make an assessment of “our situation.” We will do this for the purpose of deciding how we are doing in general, and what action needs to be taken to keep us on a path toward our vision. The result of evaluating our situation will be an action plan.
4. TIME & VALUE: We agree that if we are achieving our vision whatever we devote to our marriage will be worth it. For us it is a lifetime commitment.
5. MEASUREMENTS OF SATISFACTION: Achieving, or on the way to achieving 80% of our vision.
6. CONCERNS AND FEARS: That we will grow tired of each other; that one or both of us will change dramatically; that our vision is not achievable; that we will fail to keep our agreement current; that we will loose touch with each other.
7. RENEGOTIATION: We agree to constantly renegotiate all aspects of our relationship.
8. CONSEQUENCES: If we fail we will be unhappy; our ideals will be compromised; we will be disillusioned to the point of depression, withdrawal and inaction; our identities will be compromised.
9. CONFLICT RESOLUTION: We recognize that the best antidote to conflict is changing the game. We will keep talking; we will never go to sleep angry; we will work with the models in “Getting to Resolution.”
10. AGREEMENT ? We are thrilled to be looking to the future having discussed all of the above.
SUMMARY: Relationships with significant others are of profound importance. If something is askew in your primary relationship that will impact the quality of your work, and all other relationships. Most people don’t think about having agreements for personal, intimate matters so they never create clear understandings. With the addition of the “Domains of Permanent Concern” the agreement template provides a solid structure for a primary relationship.
EXERCISE: Use the agreement template to craft an agreement for your primary relationship. Even though it is frightening to open the conversation, do it anyway.
Copyright 2011 Stewart Levine. All rights reserved worldwide.