I confess it’s been a while since I posted an entry to the Agreements Workbook series. I’ve been tangled up in some of my own process. See, a lot has changed in the last decade or so since I first wrote the list of Ten Tips that has turned into the outline for this workbook. I’ve been struggling with how or whether to represent some of those changes, and whether I needed to just redo the whole darn thing. I have finally decided, however, that “perfection is the enemy of the good,” and it would be more valuable to both me and to you-all to just make some progress! So here you are. 🙂
This entry in the Agreements Workbook series continues with “Agreements Tip #2: Have Clear Standards and Consequences.” This entry is part b, about creating “Measurable and Verifiable” standards by which to judge when you’re complete with a particular Agreement. Discussion about having clear consequences for when Agreements get broken will be in Tip #2c in a future post.
Please feel free to make comments or ask questions, either here, or on my FB Page, Love Outside The Box.
PS: Looking for help creating your own Agreements (or anything else to do with polyamory)? I’m happy to help out, by phone, in person, or Skype! Ask for a free mini session here!
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Have Measurable and Verifiable Standards
How will you know if you have succeeded or fulfilled the agreement? What metrics or yardsticks will you use? Some Agreements have easy and obvious standards, and some don’t. Without measurable and verifiable standards, though, you can easily end up with a “yardstick with no ends”: a bunch of data that is meaningless because it’s impossible to know where things began or ended. Or you might be arguing in circles because one person thinks things are better, and another person thinks they’re worse, and there’s no objective standard upon which to base an opinion. Thinking about how you’re measuring “success” in advance will usually at least alert you to where you might need to get more specific about your Agreement. Especially in making Agreements around relationships — which often have very subjective standards — you might want to brainstorm a list of some possible “metrics for success.”
Let’s say you and your partners have a desire to “be more energy efficient.” How will you know if you’ve succeeded? If you have an Agreement to “turn off all equipment when not in use,” you might be able to verify whether this Agreement is being kept by checking the power bill. Or perhaps you would like to verify that prospective partners are complying with testing and safer sex standards that meet your needs. One possibility would be to ask to see a hardcopy of a prospective partner’s recent STI testing. These standards are all clear, measurable, and verifiable.
One of the challenges in creating workable Agreements in a relationship context, however, is that “measurable” goals sometimes can be hard to come by. Unless you really like keeping charts and lists (and some folks do!) it’s hard to know if you’ve had fewer meltdowns this year than last, or if your partner has been happier this month. But that’s the sort of thing that you do need to measure, sometimes, in relationship.
Suppose one partner wants an Agreement to forego seeing any outside partners “until Person A feels safe enough.” In my experience, an Agreement of this sort is likely to be troublesome. “Safe enough” is very subjective, and Person A may— consciously or unconsciously— continue to ask for more time indefinitely, leading to frustration or anger on the part of Person B, or possibly even a broken Agreement. A measurable and/or verifiable standard — even if the data are subjective — might help to eliminate some or all of this frustration. (So might a Time-limited Agreement, which we’ll cover beginning on p.___ [in a future entry].)
Even though it might seem hopelessly geeky, you may want to consider tracking or charting some data to handle situations like this. For instance, you might want to keep track of how many dates or overnights happened with which people, or how much financial outlay went toward this joint project, or that anniversary trip. These would all qualify as measurable and verifiable and could help to support feelings of safety.
The good news is that emotional states can be harder to track… but not impossible. Here’s one example.When I was doing a home-based course on “happiness” at one point [see How We Choose to Be Happy, 2004], I was encouraged to jot down, once a day, a number from 1 to 10 to chart my “overall happiness level” for the day. I posted it in my private online journal, which was easy for me because at the time I looked it every day without fail. Over the course of a couple of months, I could get a feel for the trends in my mood, and certain patterns emerged.
So if you have an Agreement that requires you to know whether one person is “feeling safe,” (or any other subjective measure) you may want to consider trying something like this for a while. If you do, you’ll want to make sure that it’s something that’s quick and easy to remember and to do. You can’t get reliable data if the process of getting that data presents an insurmountable “passive barrier” to progress. A single number will probably work; a paragraph or two will be less likely to be completed every day.
One tricky point in creating measurable and verifiable standards, is that while it’s good to think about these things in advance, it’s also important not to create a situation in which one or more people feel overly scrutinized or patronized. The idea is not to make someone report to “Mommy and/or Daddy” (unless you’re into that sort of thing, in which case, go right ahead! ;^), but to create a way that everyone can know whether an Agreement has been fulfilled, and whether it’s been helpful. Remember, these Agreements are here to create a win-win-win solution for the relationship, not another way to fail or another way to argue!
©2012, Dawn M. Davidson
Note that these entries are all rough drafts, and thus are probably missing things like references. If you know the perfect reference to add, feel free to suggest it! I always like to add to my resource collection.
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