‘The Four Agreements’, written by Don Miguel Ruiz as “a practical guide to personal freedom” can enrich all of your relationships and elevate every aspect of your life. Romantic relationships can be greatly enhanced and misunderstandings considerably reduced, by following these four agreements.
If you’re not familiar with The Four Agreements, let me give you some background. Ruiz writes that his four agreements are based on Toltec wisdom, an ancient philosophy and way of life that promises to increase your happiness. What could be wrong with that, right? The four agreements are tenants of Toltec tradition which if followed consistently, are said to reduce stress, give a renewed sense of personal freedom, and reduce our self-sabotaging behaviors leading to greater happiness and more loving interactions. Personally, I have found The Four Agreements to contain common sense and deep wisdom presented in a straightforward style that instantly ‘clicks’ with the reader.
Although I will focus on romantic relationships in this post, I will present you with each of the four agreements, which you will see can be applied to all areas of life: work, family, friendships, personal growth, and romantic relationships.
Agreement Number One: Be Impeccable With Your Word
Many believe that to ‘be impeccable with your word’ means to be honest and to keep all verbal promises you make. Yes, that is part of it, but to be impeccable with your work goes much deeper than that. With your partner, to be impeccable with your word means that you consciously chose to speak kindly and compassionately and give thought to what you are about to say. Words are powerful and can be as damaging as any physical strike. Avoid accusatory tones and ‘always/never’ comparisons. Focus on the facts and be willing to hear your partner’s side of the story without interruption or defensiveness. Your ‘Word’ is powerful and can change the emotional state of another person – always be aware of what you are creating with your words. Are your words enhancing and enriching your relationship or are you contributing emotional chaos and pain? To be Impeccable With Your Word also includes not speaking badly of your partner to others and not venting your most recent irritation or the disagreement you had. Always speak lovingly about the person you have chosen to share your life with and hold loving thoughts of that person in your mind. Don’t let negative thoughts, judgment and blame erode the emotional foundation of your relationship. It’s a real challenge to live life in this mindset, but the more you focus on bringing light and love to your relationship with your Word, the easier it will become. Be impeccable with your word.
Agreement Number Two: Don’t Take Anything Personally
Wow – if we could master only this one agreement, it would be a life changer. How many times have we heard or spoken the phrase, “Don’t take it personally”? Too many to count, right? That’s because deep down, we know it’s true but all our baggage, fears, and insecurities drown out the common sense logic of what we already know – it’s really not about us. What someone else is doing, saying, feeling and how they are acting truly is not about us. We may have done or said something that triggered an emotional flashback in the person, but it’s not directly about us (or them).
We are all living in our own reality bubble and this is from where we react. I’ll give a very basic example, let’s say your partner asks if you’ve gained a little weight. Now, if you don’t have any issues with weight and are completely comfortable with your body this question will only get a ‘yes’, ‘no’, or ‘maybe’ response from you and won’t create any drama. On the other hand, if you are self-conscious about your weight and you, yourself feel that you are overweight, then the comment might lead to a full-blown, drag out fight. You’ll be certain that your partner intentionally brought up your weight to put you down and you will accuse him/her of hurting you. There is nothing inherently hurtful in the question, but because you already believe you are fat, you project your insecurity onto your partner, get mad because he ‘thinks you’re fat’, and the day is ruined. Another example might be that your birthday rolls around and your partner gifts you a simple store-bought card and some flowers. For some, this might be more than enough of a gift, but if you were expecting a piece of jewelry, or a thoughtfully chosen gift, or a night on the town, you may immediately jump to the conclusion that your partner doesn’t ‘care’ about you and has dissed you by putting the least amount of effort into it. But maybe birthdays are not a big deal to your partner, so you received what your partner expects to receive – a simple remembrance that has nothing to do with lack of care or love. In both of these cases, being able to communicate with your partner about your insecurities and expectations can do wonders for the relationship, but first you have to begin with not taking anything personally.
Agreement Number Three: Don’t Make Assumptions
In many ways, ‘Don’t Make Assumptions” can overlap with “Don’t Take Anything Personally”. For example, in the above story of the birthday, the recipient made the assumption that his/her partner didn’t care enough to put effort into commemorating the birthday, when the reality is that birthdays have a different level of importance to each of them. Don’t expect your partner to read your mind, or ‘know where you’re coming from’, or know what you expect of him/her in the relationship without ever having come right out and stated it.
If you expect your partner to greet you at the door with a kiss and spend a few minutes discussing the day before opening the mail or changing their clothes, you’re going to quickly feel neglected if their habit is to walk in the door, grab the leash, and take the dog for a 20 minute walk after work. This doesn’t mean he/she loves the dog more than you, it means you haven’t had an open conversation about your needs and expectations. Never, ever, ever expect your partner to read your mind. Life just doesn’t work like that – in fairytales maybe, but not real life. It’s a holdover from childhood when our parents anticipated our needs and met them without our asking, but your partner is not your parent. You need to come fully into yourself and state your needs clearly and calmly. Making assumptions takes many forms: “Why isn’t he home yet? Is he doing something that would upset me?”, Why doesn’t he help more around the house? Does he think I’m a maid?”, “What did he mean by that comment? He must think I’m an idiot and can’t figure things out by myself!” All of these are assumptions about someone else’s actions that have no basis in reality – they are based out of our fears and insecurities. Most assumptions are not truth, hence the saying “To assume makes an ass out of u and me.” Don’t make assumptions.
Agreement Number Four: Always Do Your Best
Can you imagine how awesome and guilt-free every aspect of our life would be if we always did our best? No unnecessary pressure to be perfect, just to be the best we can be at that moment. We are not robots; what is our best today when we’re feeling energized and ready to take on the world may not be our best tomorrow when we’re feeling drained and overwhelmed with tasks. If we do the best that we can do in that moment – no matter our mood, energy level, or what is demanded of us – well, you really can’t ask more of yourself (or others). Doing your best in your relationship means that whatever your partners needs, demands, or requests of you – you will do your best to meet it and to strengthen the relationship. And you will always give the best that you can give of yourself in any situation. This doesn’t mean you allow yourself to be a doormat; doing your best includes being able to say ‘no’ when there is something you really cannot do.
Let’s say you’ve got a project deadline on Monday and you’ve set the weekend aside to completing it and it happens to be the same weekend that the family is celebrating your sister-in-law’s birthday with a big bash and your husband insists that you attend. What is your best in this situation? You may feel a lot of pressure to attend the bash, but you know that doing so will likely result in missing the deadline or submitting less-than-stellar results, and no matter which you choose to do – you will feel guilty. To do your best would be to brainstorm all possible compromises to the scenario and decide on the one that feels like your personal best solution. Maybe you can move the work deadline to the following Monday, or maybe you can agree to block out two hours to celebrate with your family, and then go back to work on the project, or maybe you have to decline the bash this year. Whatever the ultimate decision, let it be decided upon calmly and with compassion for the pressure everyone is under – including yourself. Always do your best.
I would love to hear what you what you think of The Four Agreements. Have you read the book? Do you think they could help your relationships? How would you apply them in your life?