In this series of books that will help you rock your relationships, the book that I am reviewing today is The Four Agreements, by Miguel Ruiz. I first came across this book in about 2000. It had been out for a little while when one of my clients brought it up during one of our conversations. We were talking about books that she found useful to support her personal growth. I remember her saying that The Four Agreements, topped her list as one of the most influential books in helping her be in a healthy relationship. Well, that, of course, sparked my interest.
In a nutshell, the book is broken into the four agreements.
- Be Impeccable with Your Word
- Don’t Take Anything Personally
- Don’t Make Assumptions
- Always Do Your Best
Plus, there are a few other chapters on Breaking Old Agreements and Heaven On Earth.
Be Impeccable with Your Word.
Michael and I were at a dinner party and met a young couple who had been dating for about 8 months. They asked us about anything that we thought was important to our long happy marriage. And, we talked about an agreement we had made early in our marriage.
When we had begun our relationship, Michael had/has a dry wit, that can be a little difficult to read. Are you being funny? Should I be annoyed? Maybe you’re yanking my chain? Were all thoughts that would roll through my mind. We had been dating a couple of months, when I said, something to the effect of, “I don’t think I want to keep dating.”
With a shocked voice, he asked, “Why? What’s going on?”
“Well, I am struggling to know when your joking. Some of the things you say land on me completely sideways. I find I am either pissed off or shutting down. When I ask you about it, you don’t just answer with, yes I am pulling your leg, so I stay in a swirl of WTF. I am not enjoying it.”
“But, cutie,” he said, “I’m being funny. I am saying such ridiculous things that it seems obvious to me that only a troll would actually believe the things I am saying.”
“Well, I don’t have the energy to figure it out. And, I’m not laughing with you. I get that you are cracking yourself up. But, you’re laughing alone,” was my reply.
This led to a productive conversation about the need for a safe word in our relationship. Our safe word became, “For Reals?” And, the agreement was that if I were finally at my cut off point, I would ask, “For Reals?” and Michael agreed to say, “Yes, for reals” if he was serious.
Fast forward 20 years. I rarely use the “For Reals” card, but I like having it in my back pocket… just in case. Michael makes an annual request for me to let it go, yet, I think he may have to pry it out of my cold dead hands. Because “For Reals” has given me such ease. Now when he is utterly ridiculous, I too can enjoy the silly.
Rewind back to our dinner. As we told our story, the young man said, “Yeah, you can agree, but then blow it off later.” I laughed as I watched Michaels face. He turned and looked at the young man and said, “You can renegotiate, but if you break your word, even once, you will destroy any trust you build. Dude, don’t agree to anything that you would ever cause you to break your word.” I thought, yep, sage wisdom.
So much drama is created by our unwillingness to have difficult conversations. We lean away from discomfort, not wanting to “deal with it.” Learn to say “no” if you need a “no.” Only say “yes” when you’re at a strong “yes.” Hold yourself accountable to the idea that your word is impeccable. You can always, well sometimes, renegotiate the terms of the agreement. That needs to be done in a direct and upfront manner. This agreement impacts every relationship you will ever have. And for me, I am holding onto “For Reals” forever. It’s too much fun to renegotiate now.
Don’t Take Anything Personally.
This one is hard for most of us. If someone steps on my toe, on purpose, it’s hard not to take it personally. Still, if actions define the actor, not the receiver, what does this tell you? Instead of personalizing someone else’s questionable behavior or words, what freedom do you give yourself when you decide not to own them? Consider the power we give away when we waste our time and energy owning another person’s actions?
I have circled the drain, on more than a few occasions, with the “Why?” “What did they mean when they said that?” “Were they trying to tell me something?” “Did they mean to hurt my feelings?” “Why, why, why?” It is a dry well that we pump for information. What if you could adopt the attitude of, “Who cares!” Someone did or said XYZ. It only ever tells you about them. Where they are in their life. What beliefs they are operating under. Their biases, their self-doubts, and their limiting thinking. You are not obligated to agree.
When I taught Anger Management for the Air Force, we would spin circles around this one. “But they were disrespectful…” “Ok, address the disrespect, but what did the disrespect tell you about you?” “Nothing.” “Right.” “Wait, but I don’t like it.” “That’s not required.” “Lyssa, you’re killing me here.” “Right. LOL.”
We seem to want to take things personally. I think our ego’s get engaged and we hear something that we don’t like, we feel victimized by it and Voila! Engagement. And, we all know that victims “should” have rights. So, we spin out and waste time worrying about other people’s nonsense, instead of getting to the broader, more important issues. Like having a conversation about how we want to be with each other, naming issues that need tweaking, and choosing people to spend time with, where we feel respected.
Don’t Make Assumptions.
The danger in assumptions is the power we give them. Assumptions are just a fancy way of saying, “I just made up stuff about what you meant, said, intended, and now I believe what I thought.”
This has been one of the most crucial coaching types of conversations that I have learned to have in my life. When my mom, my best friend, my husband, or anyone says anything, instead of assuming I know what they mean… I ask. “What do you mean when you said that?”
How many problems could we bypass, if we allowed ourselves to get curious, instead of angry? How much drama could be reduced or avoided? If I can keep my emotions on low, and my genuine curiosity on high, I could learn something. Maybe I learn that people use the same words with different meaning. Possibly I learn that I am being hypersensitive. There is an outside chance I discover I am absolutely correct, and then I still have time to get mad or create a boundary around who I am spending my time with.
One of the early relationship issues that I had in my marriage was an assumption that I struggled with for several years. When Michael was quiet, I had a deep fear that he was upset with me. It’s the way anger or disappointment had shown up at times throughout my life. So, he would be sitting there, thinking his thoughts, and my thoughts would be spinning out of control, “What did I do??? Why is he angry at me?”
Me, “Are you angry at me?”
Michael, “No, should I be?”
Really? That simple? Actually, yes and no. It took a lot longer.
I started asking, “What are you thinking about?”
Me, “That’s not actually possible.”
Michael, “Really, it’s nothing.”
Me, “What’s the nothing that you’re thinking about?”
Michael, “If I need a carburetor on the old Ford.”
Letting Go of My Assumptions
It took me a few years of asking these types of questions before I realized that 1. I was operating off of my assumptions. And, 2. Michael was generally thinking his own thoughts that had nothing to do with me. I appreciate Michael’s patience as I came to trust that my assumptions were generally incorrect, and he genuinely wasn’t negatively thinking about me at all. While Michael didn’t struggle with this one, I don’t want to make a generalization about gender biases, because I have sat with as many men, as women, wrangling with this one.
I think it speaks to our insecurities when it comes to love and vulnerability. Also, it speaks to how we live in our own heads, and it’s hard to imagine that anyone else may be having a completely different experience from us. Again, getting curious and having a partner who is willing to be supportive, as you will most likely be taking turns, is super helpful.
Always Do Your Best.
In my last blog, Create a Language to Embrace Your Essence, I flip Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, upside down. With this very idea. What if you strive not to meet your needs, but rather to be a decent human being? What’s possible if you work on doing your best? Being your best?
We live within a matrix of relationships, jobs, responsibilities. Learning to bring our best selves to the table is a worthy endeavor. I will admit, that there have been days when doing my best, was a haphazard mess. I might have lost my mind a couple of times through the years. And, I still was determined to reel myself back in, take ownership and apologize when I did harm, and continue to do better. This is called “the work.” It is the work that brings ease to our lives. I would even go so far as to say, it’s the work that leaves less rubble in our wake.
The more we place our efforts on where we have control, what we say, think and do, the more ease and empowerment we generate inside of ourselves. The opposite being, trying to control everyone and every situation. That is a recipe for stress and anxiety, anger and frustration. The path to ease comes with an epic amount of letting go of other people’s stuff, and a shift of focus towards my own stuff. Where can I do better? What is my attention? How might I let go more, while still sending love and caring?
The Four Agreements.
The four agreements give a simple structure to hold onto when the winds of life might blow you off your stride. A simple path to find your way to being you, done consciously. Frankly, isn’t a consciously lived life, the one that offers us the experience of self-respect? Growing our self-esteem as we play with what type of human being we want to be? Allowing us to look in the mirror and be proud of who we are and who we continue to become?
This is available to each of us. Bringing ease and one might say, heaven, into our life. Is it time to StoryJack some of how you are showing up in your relationships? What will you choose?
I would LOVE to hear from YOU!
What agreement do you want to bring your attention too?
How will you hold yourself accountable?