As a homework assignment for my recent girl’s weekend, I was asked to read The Four Agreements. I was fully willing, but somewhat skeptical, since as the only child of a counselor, I was raised on a steady diet of self-help. I think I overdosed.
After the first few pages, my skepticism was replaced with excitement and understanding. This was one book that made sense to me.
The premise is simple: four agreements that, if followed, will change your life. The book is short and the agreements are extremely simple but nowhere near easy. They are applicable to every area of life and manage to be general and still useful all at once. They are interconnected; one always leads to another.
As part of my own work with The Four Agreements, I am drilling down and applying them to various areas of life. Here is my take on The Four Agreements in marriage:
Be Impeccable With Your Word
In essence, this agreement is your promise to say what you mean and to avoid speaking against yourself or others in fear, pain or blame. In a marriage, this means to refrain from using words such as “always” or “never” when referring to your partner’s actions. The agreement suggests that speaking in blame is not being impeccable since the underlying motivation does not match the message. When speaking to others about your spouse, avoid endless complaining, as this only serves to reinforce those beliefs. Also, avoid speaking against yourself, saying words that diminish your value and worth.
I am working on this agreement in my current relationship. When I get frustrated, I find myself running an internal (sometimes it slips out!) dialog cataloging his wrongs and missteps. Or, I berate myself endlessly for my role in some screw up. To be impeccable, however, is to speak in love and kindness, forgiving both he and I in the interest of a better relationship. To help with this, whenever I am frustrated with him, I intentionally catalog his gifts and blessings or my own, if I am speaking against myself. In this way, the words and the intent match.
Don’t Take it Personally
No spouse enters into a marriage as a blank slate. They have a lifetime of hurts and fears that they carry with them. Any reaction they have is filtered through their unique experiences and views. It is so easy to react to every word or action as being directed to you, but the reality is that they are operating from their own place. You are not the center of their world; they are. It’s strange, it’s easy for us to identify the multitude of factors that influence our own thoughts yet we seem to think that our partners somehow don’t posses that complexity. When you feel attacked by your partner, don’t take it personally. Try not to be defensive by realizing that they are projecting their own fears and wounds. If you can remain open, it is possible to work down to the root cause of the verbal strike.
I’ve shared my struggle with this issue with Brock. I am learning not to take it personally when he needs distance; it is not about me. Likewise, he does not take it personally when I need time alone to decompress and recharge.
Taking things personally has been my biggest challenge of all of these. As life so often does, it is making sure that I get repeated lessons here. By choosing to share my writing (and my life) publicly, I have been the target of many attacks. I have come to learn that when someone (especially a stranger) is so threatened or incensed by my words, that they are really a trigger of some other event in their life. It’s not about me.
Don’t Make Assumptions
My 8th grade social studies teacher had the following bumper sticker posted on his board: “Never assume because all you do is make an ass out of u and me.” I’ve never forgotten that message, although, like all of the agreements, it is easier said than done:)
In a marriage, assumptions allow us to feel judged and can keep us in a victim role (not exactly an attractive trait in a partner). It’s easy to assume you know your partner’s motivations and to assume that they understand yours. Before you respond, ask. Find out their perspective. And then listen. The worst part of assumptions is that they prevent us from really listening to our partners. It’s amazing how much your attitude can be transformed once you release assumptions and become open to possibilities.
I find at times that I will predict Brock’s response to something before I even bring it up. Then, I respond to these assumptions, at times getting upset before I’ve ever given him a chance. Crazy, right? But does it sound familiar?
Do Your Best
One of my favorite aspects of yoga training is that you are encouraged to do your best on that day; it recognizes that “best” is subjective and movable. In a marriage, be gentle yet firm with yourself. Expect your best and accept where you are in that moment. Recognize that your spouse is doing his or her best, even when it may not feel that way. Part of doing your best is to do things for your spouse without any expectations. You do your best for you, not for recognition.
This is an area where Brock has really helped me. I used to be too hard on myself and not forgiving of periods of anger or sadness. He helped me accept that I was doing what I could at that moment and that the moment would eventually pass.
So, don’t take it personally, but do your best to check out the book (don’t assume you know what it says) and see if I’ve been impeccable with my word:)
Next up, the four agreements in divorce (that’s gonna be fun!) and in health/wellness. Okay, maybe I’m a little obsessed at the moment:)