What can a person do to build a fulfilling, loving, and strong relationship? While the focus of this article is mainly on intimate relationships, the same concepts can be used on any and all relationships, including the often underestimated, but equally important, relationship that you have with yourself.
In Don Ruiz’s book “The Four Agreements” he describes a series of ” ways of being” that could greatly alter a person’s life. As I read the book I reflected on the work that I do as a marital therapist. I thought of the issues and concerns most often described by couples and how many of these could possibly be nullified by practicing these agreements. While I concluded that following the agreements consistently would likely have the best outcome, I also know that old habits die hard. Perhaps being aware of the concepts can have its own benefits, as it can shine a light on our own responses to others and make us more aware of those areas we would like to improve upon. After all, change starts with awareness.
The first agreement Ruiz speaks of is ” Be impeccable with your word.” He calls this the most important of all the agreements, yet also the most difficult to follow. I think each of us can attest to this. How often have you said you are going to do something and haven’t actually done so? I cannot tell you how many times I have heard one partner tell the other how frustrating it is when he or she does not follow through on his or her word. When one looks at the origin of the word “success” it is found to mean “to follow through.”
The second agreement is ” Don’t take anything personally.” Again, this is not easy to do. You may ask yourself how this is even possible. If you find you are someone who takes everything personally, then you probably think everything is about you. Ruiz suggests quite the opposite. In fact, he suggests that anything another person says or does has nothing to do with you. When you take something personally it can lead you to become defensive, which is problematic for communication. So what can you do when your partner is expressing him/herself and you find yourself taking it personally and feeling defensive? Bite your lip; tell yourself it is not about you, and continue to listen check over here.
The third agreement is ” Don’t make assumptions.” Ruiz suggests that the main problem with making assumptions is that we believe they are the truth. We can do this in many ways; such as thinking we know how another person is feeling, what they are thinking, etc. In the area of couples therapy this is generally referred to as mind- reading. One of the problems with mind reading is that it can lead the mind- reader to come up with a certain response or approach that may not be appropriate. For example, if you thought your partner was angry with you, would it affect how you interact with him or her? I am betting it would, and likely to the detriment of communication between you. So what do you do if you find yourself making assumptions about your partner’s thoughts, feelings, and even behaviours? You get more information and seek clarification. Asking questions is generally an effective way to accomplish this. Summarizing or paraphrasing what you hear is also useful as it allows for further clarification.
The fourth agreement is ” Always do your best.” This one is really what allows the other agreements to take hold. Aim to be as consistent as you can with practicing the agreements. No one is expecting perfection, just your best, and your best will vary from day to day, recognizing that it can be affected by various factors such as your mood, level of stress, and motivation.
As you go over these four agreements, reflect upon what each means to you. Think about the relationships in your life and how to apply the concepts to them. Perhaps share the agreements with your spouse or partner and consider making the application a team effort. In trying to implement and practice the agreements, I would suggest beginning by focusing on one at a time. Pick one of the agreements and spend the next couple of weeks with that in the forefront of your mind. Then choose another for the following two weeks, and so on, with each building upon the practice of the previous ones.