There’s No Such Thing As A One-Size-Fits-All Relationship Agreement

Aug 01, 2018

In my work as a couples therapist, I’ve seen that successful, happy relationships come in all shapes and sizes. I’ve found that there’s no one-size-fits-all model for a good relationship–and that, in general, relationships work best when the people in them work together to create the agreements that make sense for them.

Working with polyamory, in particular, has shown me that there’s an infinite variety of possible ways to structure a relationship. That means that poly people are more likely to spend time actively considering and discussing what kinds of agreements best fit their unique situation, desires, and needs. This is a practice that I think a lot of monogamous people could benefit from.

Because monogamy is the norm in our culture, it’s common for monogamous couples to assume they’re on the same page about what’s acceptable within their relationship. But if you look beneath the surface, things get a lot more complicated.

Consider: can you define what, exactly, constitutes cheating within your relationship? Is watching porn ok? What about fantasizing about other people? Or flirting? If you feel pretty clear about these agreements, take it a little deeper. What constitutes porn that is and isn’t comfortable for your partner? Are there types of fantasy that are ok, and others that are not?  How about flirting? Where exactly does it cross the line? Can you say for sure, or is the boundary a bit fuzzy? If you asked your partner, would they agree?

There’s a reason that people often don’t have these kinds of detailed discussions about where the boundaries of their relationships are. It can feel quite uncomfortable. What do you do if you discover you’re not on the same page? What if you find out you have already done something that your partner isn’t comfortable with, or vice versa? Maybe it feels easier and less threatening to leave the boundary a bit fuzzy. But that just leaves the door open for a more dramatic disagreement down the road.

During these conversations, it is very likely that some differences of opinion will emerge between you and your partner. That’s okay. A difference is not a threat as long as you are able to respect and listen to each other’s viewpoints. Hold space for the difference, and resist the urge to solve it by changing your partner’s mind or giving up your own viewpoint immediately. Remember that by having this discussion now you’re providing yourself with ample time to discuss and discover where you are each coming from, without the added pressure of a perceived betrayal of trust.

Ask yourself: what kind of relationship agreements are congruent with my own values, my own moral code, and my own sense of self? Then try to listen, with an open mind and a compassionate ear, to your partner’s answer to the same question. Appreciate the common ground you discover, and explore the differences with non-judgmental curiosity. There is always more to learn about yourself and your partner.

If you want to learn more about building a strong relationship, here are some other pieces I’ve written on the topic:

Sexual Intimacy and Vulnerability: Paths to Personal Growth

Better Than ‘Better Half’

Sex and Differentiation of Self

What Polyamory Can Teach Us About ALL Relationships

How to Keep Fights from Damaging Your Relationship

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