I read the actual Four Agreements book several years ago and vomited in my mouth a little; although quite popular and I’m sure groundbreaking if you are, say, new to the planet, I found it overly simplistic and a complete waste of time—do we really need to be told to act with integrity and not gossip? Do we really need a whole book to illustrate this? And it was written as though this was some magical ancient wisdom being passed down through the centuries when to me, it was simply common sense.
I have found, in the last several years, as I’ve spoken to clients and groups, that a few agreements seem to come up again and again when it comes to relationships: I have piled them together for you here in this tiny little blog post.
This is some of my most cherished wisdom. It might just be your lucky day.
We all have a right to notice what is happening around us and voice it.
Imagine this scene: you’ve arrived at a dinner party and you notice that your partner is acting quite coldly to the hosts. You are fully aware that your partner doesn’t really like these people, so you assume that he/she is having a lousy time and wants to leave for that reason.
What if, instead of assuming and maybe fuming that your partner was ruining your night, you actually noticed what was happening and voiced it? “Darling, you seem a little off tonight. What’s happening for you?”
Your partner can then explain what is actually going on to make them behave in this way. Maybe they just found out that they are being laid off from work and didn’t want to spoil your evening with the news, or maybe he/she spotted the host sneaking off to a hotel room with a stranger and is uncomfortable. It could be either of these or none of these—you don’t know!
This one is actually a secret intimacy-builder: when we notice and connect with the people around us with our observations, it creates intimacy. Even with strangers, and especially with the people we love the most.
Think about what could have happened in each of these examples:
You notice an overwhelmed mom in the parking lot of the grocery store, juggling a baby and a toddler and a cart full of crazy, and you say, “It looks like you’ve got your hands full—can I help?”
You’re waiting in line to board a plane at the airport and notice that the woman next to you is reading a book that you just finished and hated and you say, “I see you’re reading Fifty Shades of Awful Writing. How are you finding it?”
Your daughter comes home from a school dance and seems quiet and sullen and you say, “You don’t seem to be as excited as you were before the dance started. What was it like?”
We are always allowed to observe, and let’s be honest: we’re all doing it all the time, and we are also making assumptions about what we see. When we voice what we see, we invite other people to be intimate with us. And in case you’re new here, I will remind you that I think that is the name of the whole game.
We can (and have a responsibility to) ask for what we need.
I remember this really vividly: I was spending the summer with a beloved aunt who lived several hours away from us. I think her work schedule had conflicted one afternoon that I was there, so she asked a friend who ran a daycare to entertain me for the afternoon. I basically just hung out and read while she tended to the little kids in her care.
I remember being absolutely starving and being too shy to ask for something to eat. I assumed that she would eventually offer me something, but she was wrapped up in the daycare duties and didn’t. As the afternoon wore on, and I grew more and more hungry, I was silently feeling really resentful.
When my aunt finally arrived to pick me up and was chatting with her friend, it came up that I hadn’t eaten basically all day. I clearly remember her incredulous question: “Why didn’t you ask for something, love?”
Whether we need heat to be turned on because we are cold, or some kind words at the end of a long day, we have the right and responsibility to ask. No one has to give it to us, but we get to ask. And I’ll let you know that most of the time, you get what you ask for. People like to grant wishes like that. Try it.
No one is here to take care of anyone else.
I have thousands of examples for this one, but it boils down to this: we are all meant to go through life and have our very own experiences of what is happening. When we take care of others and make it easier for them, or shelter them, we are doing no favours. It can be challenging to step back and remind yourself that people can handle their own lives, but it’s worth it, and also worth practicing on an ongoing basis.
When I used to leave my pets with a house sitter, I would haul out this four-page tome of instructions to explain the every nuance of running my 700-square foot home. Seriously. I thank every house sitter I ever had for not smacking me on the face as I went through them all. After a while, and after I started coaching and holding my clients as naturally creative, resourceful and whole, I stopped this nonsense and now I let them know the basic routine of the dog, how much he eats, and how to reach me. No kitchens are particularly mysterious, so I think whomever it is can snoop their way to success in my absence.
I invite you to look at where you might be care-taking and let go. Let the people you love make mistakes and have their very own shiny experiences of life—it’s how we learn.
We are all just doing our best.
This struck me years ago, when I was taking a course with Landmark Education. The instructor pointed out that no matter how bad of a job our parents did in raising us, their only objective was to keep us alive until we left their care. They were always doing the best that they could with what they knew at the time.
It’s so, so true.
Someone else’s “best” might look like what you would consider your worst, but I encourage you to be your most empathetic and remember that they are trying. Even if they’re cutting you off in traffic. Even if they are breaking your heart. Even if they are not speaking to you at all while you’re trying to have an argument with them. If we all remembered this one thing of the people we encounter, think of how different our everyday interactions would be.
Common sense that changes relationships.
These four agreements are the basis for a lot of the work I do with couples. They’ve helped my clients ensure their own needs are met, while learning how to better understand and appreciate each other, even during the messy times—especially then. I use them as cornerstones in my own relationships, reminding myself of them again and again as I strive to live a big, heart-led life.
I would love for you to try some of them out and let me know what you notice. (I know you didn’t have to read 132 pages to get the wisdom, but I promise it’s still valid.)
Wishing you an agreement-filled week and I would love to hear your comments below.
Get Real, Sexy Real
Tara Caffelle is a Relationship and Communication coach. She is passionate about creating connected, almost-uncomfortable-to-watch relationships that are based in Sexy Communication and Big Lives worth rolling around in.
Tara is based in the Lower Mainland of Vancouver and offers custom-designed coaching programs. To claim your free 90+ minutes and see what might be possible for your own super coupledom (or persondom), find a time here.
Have a question for Tara? Have an idea for a Hump Day conversation? How about just some thoughts about this thing called life? Let us know here. We’ll answer back. We promise.