Agreements Wkbk #3: Why Have Agreements?


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Two stylized hands clasping, forming a heart. Copyright-free symbol designed by Ravi Poovaiah, Professor, IDC, IIT Bombay.This entry is the third in my series on the Agreements Workbook that I’m writing. [For the first entry in this series, click here]. 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. I’m updating these somewhere between 1 and 3 times per week, BTW.

Entry #3 discusses some reasons to make Agreements: Because you already have them, for increased intimacy, or for safety and freedom. In entry #4 I’ll discuss using Agreements for structure and support, or as a memory aid.

Please feel free to make comments or ask questions, either here, or on my FB Page, Love Outside The Box.


Why have Agreements at all?

Because you have them already, whether or not you realize it

“So that’s nice,” I can hear some of you saying, “but why the heck do I need Agreements at all?  My life seems to run just fine, and I’ve never written anything like this down before.”


When you assume,
you make an ASS of U and ME!

—Anonymous, back cover of my 6th Grade Math Book

Well, that’s true. Most people get by without having these things written down. But the fact is, we all have them already—they’re just unspoken. We all have “tacit agreements,” also known as assumptions, scripts, models, or, as Mark Michael Lewis calls them, our “Secret Rulebook for Relating” [ref]. The problem is, as Mark points out, they’re secret. We don’t usually write them down, and in fact, we often don’t even know that we have them… until someone else breaks one of them.  Then we get upset, and they get upset, and fingers are pointed and there is a great deal of general unpleasantness, and at the end of it all we still don’t know why the cat box never gets emptied even though there are four able-bodied people living in the house! So because we don’t know why the breakdown occurred—because we make assumptions—it tends to happen again and again. Not good.  Agreements are formal (or perhaps semi-formal; they can dress casually as well!) way to pull these secret rules out of our unconscious, examine them, talk about them with others, and consciously choose which rules and boundaries we’ll live by.


Making our Agreements explicit helps to build trust in relationships. As we clarify our priorities and needs, and then make and keep Agreements, we naturally increase trust both with our partners and also with ourselves.  In keeping Agreements, we demonstrate to ourselves and others that we are trustworthy. Trust is a key to intimacy, because it takes courage and trust to reveal ourselves fully to one another. Agreements can also be used to rebuild trust, if it has been broken. By making and keeping a series of new Agreements, it is possible to gradually rebuild trust over time. After some time, it may be possible to adopt a less-restrictive set Agreements.

Safety and Freedom

Agreements can also be helpful in supporting both safety and freedom. The freedom part of this may seem paradoxical, since Agreements generally involve putting limits on one or both/all partner’s behavior. However, many people find that knowing where the boundaries are increases both their perception of safety, and also increases their ability to feel free to act within those boundaries. If I am standing on a cliff, for instance, I will feel more comfortable if there is a fence at the edge of the cliff. Without that fence, I may feel it necessary to leave more distance between me and the edge of the cliff. With the fence, I can go closer to the edge; I am free to move in a way that I may not be otherwise. The same can be true with relationships, where the Agreements help to ensure “no bad surprises” as we explore within the edges of the boundaries.

Agreements are particularly helpful to create clarity, safety, and freedom around safer sex boundaries. Later in this book I will give examples of both Relationship Agreements, and also Safer Sex Agreements. In my experience it works best to keep them separate to avoid confusion between emotional safety and epidemiology (the management of disease, in particular Sexually Transmitted Infections, or STIs).

Agreements can also provide safety and freedom for relationships with required or intentionally imbalanced power dynamics, such as parent-child relationships, some boss-employee relationships, and some D/s or M/s relationships[1]. By agreeing to certain ground-rules in advance, the person who has the lesser power in the relationship can feel a higher degree of safety and respect, knowing that there are, for instance, ways to object or temporarily suspend the Agreement if issues arise that would seriously compromise their physical or emotional safety. They can allow children to have a more equal voice within established boundaries, such as when choosing movies, or setting up chore lists, or when establishing “family rules” with consequences that extend to even the adults when they break them (e.g., shoes left on the living room floor get taken away for a week; or the infamous “swear jar.”)


[1] Please note that this book is not intended to be a scene-negotiation text.  It could be useful for longer-term Agreements, however, such as a D/s Relationship Agreements, or an M/s contract. If what you’re looking for is scene-negotiation, you can find some resources in the Suggested Reading section.


~♥ Dawn


∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥

[© 2011 Dawn M. Davidson]

[Return to the Table of Contents for this series]

[For the first text entry in this series, click here]

[Next Entry, #4: Why Have Agreements (pt 2)]




2 thoughts on “Agreements Wkbk #3: Why Have Agreements?

  1. Pingback: Dawn Davidson's Five Reasons Agreements Fail - Loving More Nonprofit

  2. Pingback: RIP Deanna Silverkrow: Another life that will never get better « Uncharted Love

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