Relationship Agreements 101

Apr 27, 2024
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4 minute read

You already have relationship agreements. But do they work? Most don’t. Thousands of conversations over the past fifteen years have made it clear that most agreements are vague, implicit, and just waiting to cause disappointment. 

 Establishing clear, intentional agreements is essential for anyone navigating or considering non-monogamy or open relationships–and monogamous relationships need them too! We recently delved into this topic on episode 149 of the Playing with Fire podcast, which I recommend for anyone looking for a deeper understanding. Explicit agreement-making is one of the most powerful skills to add to your relationship toolkit!

Types of Relationship Agreements

There’s more than one kind of clear relationship agreement–and they serve different purposes.

  1. Relationship Philosophies: These form the foundational beliefs about what relationships mean to you. They are broad, guiding principles rather than strict rules and serve as the backdrop against which more specific agreements are formed.
  2. Experimental Agreements (Minimum Viable Agreements - MVAs): These are short-term, flexible agreements designed to explore new boundaries or dynamics. Because they are temporary, they allow individuals and their partners to experiment with less pressure, adjusting as necessary based on the outcomes of these trials. An MVA is designed to REVEAL what you don’t know you don’t know yet about what you need, want, and don’t want, it’s NOT meant to be permanent!
  3. Enduring Agreements (Holistic Relationship Agreements): Created to last longer and cover more ground, these agreements address various life and relationship aspects comprehensively. They are designed to provide stability and long-term structure to the relationship dynamics.

Components of the Minimum Viable Agreement (MVA)

The MVA process includes three critical components that help manage the specifics of these experimental agreements:

  • Duration: Defines how long the agreement will last, which is usually short-term—ranging from a few days to a few weeks. This allows the flexibility to adapt and change as partners learn more about their needs and boundaries.
  • Domains: Specifies the areas the agreement covers, such as emotional intimacy, sexual activity, time spent together, or other aspects pertinent to the relationship. Get clear on what sort of expansivity you’re building into your life. Make it clear if there are areas of life you expect to stick to exclusivity. Lean into your imagination here- it’s not always easy to break out of the relationship boxes we’ve been living in!
  • Deal Breakers & Response Plans: Making your boundaries clear is necessary–state your dealbreakers up front. But you also need to know what your response plan will be when boundaries get bumped up against. Of course, we all hope agreements will never be violated, but realistically, we need to have a plan for how we will handle misunderstandings and even, yes, violations. Your response plan outlines the steps to be taken if such violations occur. Will you call your counselor? Take a relationship break? Engage in repair actions? This component is crucial for maintaining trust and safety within the relationship, providing a clear plan for addressing issues and resolving conflicts.

The Role of Relationship Agreements in Non-Monogamy

Relationship agreements in non-monogamous settings aren't about limiting freedom but fostering understanding and trust among all involved. Here’s why they are vital:

  • Clarity and Boundaries: Clear agreements help articulate expectations and boundaries, maintaining trust and respect among all partners.
  • Safety and Health: In non-monogamous relationships, agreements often cover sexual health and safety, crucial for everyone’s well-being.
  • Growth and Exploration: Agreements provide a secure framework for exploring desires and interests, helping individuals and relationships grow without fear of boundary violations.
  • Communication and Honesty: These agreements encourage ongoing dialogue and honesty, which are fundamental to the health of any relationship.

Effective Agreement Strategies

On the podcast, we explore effective strategies for drafting and evolving these agreements. Emphasizing adaptability and consideration for all parties' comfort levels is key. Relationship agreements should be viewed as dynamic tools that evolve alongside the relationship. In my immersive mentorship program, The Year of Opening, participants are supported in creating honest, negotiated relationships, empowering them to establish agreements that truly reflect their needs and aspirations.

Conclusion

For those exploring or engaging in non-monogamy, consider how structured agreements can support your relationship goals. Episode 149 of the Playing with Fire podcast offers extensive insights into crafting agreements that respect individual desires while promoting relationship integrity and satisfaction.

When approached with care and clear communication, non-monogamy offers a pathway to fulfilling and resilient relationships. Effective agreements—whether experimental, enduring, or philosophical—ensure that all partners feel valued and respected. This thoughtful approach maintains and enhances the freedom and joy that a consciously negotiated open relationship can offer.

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