Time Limited Agreements [Tip #9]

Two stylized hands clasping, forming a heart. Copyright-free symbol designed by Ravi Poovaiah, Professor, IDC, IIT Bombay.This entry about Time Limited Agreements is Tip #9, from my Agreements Workbook series.  Find out below how short term Agreements with built in review dates can help support your relationships.

Questions or comments about any of these Agreements Workbook entries?  Feel free to comment below, contact me here, or on my FB Page, Love Outside The Box!

~♥ Dawn

PS:  Do you want to pick my brain about anything to do with poly? Maybe get my help in creating Agreements between you and your partner/s?  If so, you may be interested in the package deals I’m offering on my 1:1 counseling/coaching services. Let me know how I can support your relationships and explorations! I’m happy to do a FREE consultation to get things started.

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Agreements Tip #9: Time Limited Agreements

One incredibly important tool in the Agreements toolbox is that of Time Limited Agreements. These are Agreements that are made with a specific, planned “review date,” at which time the Agreement “expires” and must be re-negotiated, renewed, or dropped (upon agreement of all partners.) I’ve also heard these described as “Time-Bound Experiments,” which is a great way to express it that emphasizes the short-term and experimental nature of these Agreements.

Whatever you choose to call them, putting a deliberate review date on the Agreement is incredibly useful in certain cases.  In particular it helps when one or more of the partners:

  • must give up something temporarily, in service to the relationship as a whole
  • need to agree to do something for the time being that they don’t like, find inconvenient, or would rather not do
  • are in the process of rebuilding trust (see p. ___ [in a future entry.])

Why Time Limited?

Trapped in an experiment?

Feeling Trapped??

Sometimes when making Agreements, one or more partners can end up feeling “trapped” by the Agreement, especially when that Agreement is seemingly “forever,” (e.g., a standard marriage Agreement with an assumption or explicit agreement for monogamy.) Sometimes these feelings can become so intense that it leads people to break or ‘bend’ the Agreement, because they feel (rightly or wrongly!) that there’s no way to ‘win’ or to negotiate something that might work better. Having a short term to the Agreement can help to alleviate these feelings, while still creating the safe container that other partner/s may need for growth or experimentation)

How Long?

Therefore, when using Time Limited Agreements, it’s important to choose an appropriate time frame for the Agreement to be in effect.  In general, these Agreements should be made for the shortest time possible that will suit the needs of the individuals and the relationship. Only you can know what that will be for you and your situation, of course. That said, I’ve rarely seen any Time Limited Agreement work for more than about 3 months at a time. Often, if an extremely long period is chosen (e.g., a year or more), partners can start to forget that the Agreement existed in the first place, forget details, or forget that it was time limited in the first place (and therefore start engaging in boundary-pushing and other behaviors that the Time Limited Agreement was created to help avoid.)

For most Time Limited Agreements, I generally recommend a time frame between a week and 3 months, with two weeks to a month being the most common.  This seems to give enough time to perform the experiment, test out the feelings, and come to initial conclusions, without triggering either “trapped” feelings, or having one or more partners start to forget aspects of the Agreement.

Keep in mind as well, however, that choosing a time-frame that’s too short can give the sense that you don’t trust your partner/s, or don’t understand what they’re already doing. As in so many things, it’s important to achieve balance.  Here are a couple of examples illustrating time-frames that are too short:

Example A
Suzie asked her partner Tom to forgo engaging in a particular activity for 2 days.  In fact, Tom had already been abstaining from that activity for a week by then, and felt insulted that Susie hadn’t even noticed! When Tom and Suzie changed the Agreement to reflect this, with Tom reporting back once a week to start with, Tom felt supported, not micromanaged, and Suzie felt confident that she was getting accurate information.

Example B
Pat asked partner Robin for help in learning to manage financial resources more effectively.  Robin’s response was to ask Pat to report back daily about activities, and in such detail that it felt utterly intrusive and controlling to Pat. Rather than rebelling completely (though it was tempting!) Pat asked for a different schedule (reporting back 2-3 times per week, using an easy check-off form), that allowed Robin to get the necessary information, without wasting Pat’s time on reporting that Pat felt could better be spent on creating new financial resources, for instance. By finding the happy medium, both partners felt happier and got more of their needs met.


At the end of the period, the next step is to review.  Remember that the Agreement is neither presumed to go on forever (or it wouldn’t be Time Limited!) nor is it automatically dropped without comment. The review date is just that — a time to review, reflect, and possibly renegotiate.  Here are some things to ask during the review:

  • Was the agreement a full success, and it is no longer needed at all?
  • Did it work, but the conditions still apply, and it needs to be extended, exactly as it is?
  • Was the agreement partially successful, but a small change would make it better?
  • Was the agreement not successful at all? Perhaps it’s time to renegotiate a new agreement or set of agreements.  Go back to your Needs Inventory (p. ___) for ideas, if necessary.

All Time Limited, All the Time?

Some folks feel that all Agreements should be time limited ones. There’s definitely an argument to be made for this view.  After all, it’s hard to know what will change in life, and when. People move, babies are born, jobs are lost or won, and each of these things (and more!) can have an effect on relationships and Agreements. As a result, simply making it a habit to date each and every one of your Agreements, and revisit them periodically (say, every year or so, perhaps tied to an anniversary, or in a New Year ritual) can be a useful tool in keeping everyone from becoming complacent, or assuming a permanence to life that isn’t realistic in the modern age. It also helps to reinforce the fact that all relationships — ideally, and in today’s “modern world” — are a matter of free choice. By actively choosing our Agreements, and our partners, over and over again, we keep in mind that we have agency over our own lives, and the power to make new choices if the old ones no longer fit.

Man standing at mirror, trying on clothes

Check the “fit” of your Agreements….

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[© 2013 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: Check In and Renegotiate (Agreements Tip #10) ]

[Previous Entry: Agreements Tip #8: Write It Down ]

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