This is the next entry in the Agreements Workbook, Tip #2c: Have Clear Consequences. I’ve been struggling with this one for a while, because the idea of “consequences” is pretty challenging in an egalitarian adult romantic relationship. Check out the entry below to see how I got myself past this personal bottleneck. (Hint: They need to be “Natural” and/or “Logical.”]
Do you have any questions or comments about these Agreements Workbook entries? Contact me here, or on my FB Page, Love Outside The Box if you’d like to discuss your own situation. I’ll be happy to do a mini-session for you for free. 🙂
Here’s hoping all your consequences are good ones!
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Have clear consequences
In addition to being clear about the words and the goals of the Agreements, it’s also important to know what the consequences will be if an Agreement gets broken (see p. ___ for The Five Reasons Agreements Fail). In most cases, a broken Agreement will mean going back to the negotiating table and re-wording or re-working the Agreement. In a few instances, though—e.g., a broken safer sex Agreement—there will need to be actual consequences. Without clear consequences the likely response is that the person/s who broke the Agreement might say “oops” (maybe, if they say anything at all), and then nothing happens and things proceed as usual… but with this uncleared “ick” in the middle of the relationship. Not fun. If the consequences are too severe, they’re likely to avoid talking about it completely for as long as possible, and then to lie about it. Again, not fun, once the truth comes out. So how to find that happy medium?
Natural and Logical Consequences
Being clear about consequences and being willing and able to enact them can be very difficult to do. After all, you don’t want to treat your partner/s as if they were young children unable to understand right from wrong, but you also need to have everyone actually follow the Agreements, otherwise, why have gone to the trouble to make them? I have found that in relationship Agreements, (much the same as in interactions with kids, actually…) the key is to follow “Natural and Logical Consequences” [ref.] As much as possible, this means that any consequences should either follow naturally (i.e., forgetting to enter a date in your datebook means you don’t get to go on one!), or be “logical” ones that are in proportion to the “infraction,” and preferably related to the topic (e.g., if a partner has engaged in “risky behavior” they might be asked to a) stop the behavior, b) get re-tested, and c) follow a stricter set of rules until the testing is complete and/or a certain time has passed. See Appendix B on page ___ for some examples of “safer sex” Agreements [One Relationship Agreements example is here, and some more example Agreements are over here.]
Note that in my experience, punitive consequences — ones designed to “teach them a lesson,” or “make them suffer like I did” — tend not to work for kids OR adults, but especially not for adults. I have found that such consequences often increase resentment and lead to “acting out” in the future, in the form of lying, concealing information, “bending the rules,” or worse. Probably not the result you were hoping for in making Agreements.
I know you probably weren’t expecting to get references to parenting techniques in a book about adult relationships, and I know that this stance (Natural and Logical Consequences) is still somewhat controversial in some circles, even in a parent-child relationship, but it’s even more important, in my opinion, between two or more adults. The key in all of these cases is RESPECT. The person you’re making the Agreement with must respect you and your needs, and you must respect them and their needs. If that isn’t the case, or if there’s something else interfering with the ability to make Agreements “between equals” (e.g., mental or physical illness, severe trauma or grief, or any sort of negotiations in bad faith), then no amount of writing and re-writing will help. Respect, like honesty, is just that core in this process, and if one or more of the people involved can’t or won’t behave with integrity, then a lot more will be needed in the relationship beyond a book on making Agreements.
Fortunately, you’re going to behave with honesty and integrity, and respect all of your partners, right? I knew you would. ;^)
We’ll talk more about what happens when Agreements Fail starting on p. ____ [The Five Reasons Agreements Fail].
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[© 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.
[Next Entry: Agreements Tip #3: “Additive” Agreements]
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