Whether you are relating with someone for a night or you have been together for 20 years, the agreements you have with one another form the foundation for how you relate, how you get your needs met and the depth of connection that is possible between you.
The 4 Pillars form the foundation for how we relate. And it is because of these agreements that we are able to live and love as the fullest expression of ourselves.
#1: We are feeling sensing beings and committed to staying open; I am responsible for my feelings and you for yours.
Our agreement is that when we feel hurt, we are responsible for finding our way back to love and connection. And this includes feeling everything we are feeling, and asking for what we need.
If we feel hurt or triggered by something that is said or done, we first express the feelings (anger, sadness, disappointment, etc.) and then we can ask for what we need – perhaps we need clarification, a hug or listening or we may need to wrestle and play fight to move through the emotions and allow the feelings to dissipate.
We all desire to feel our expression of joy, pleasure, peace, love, harmony, ecstasy and ease. In order to feel these emotions, it also means feeling everything else on the emotional spectrum – sadness, grief, anger, boredom, anxiety, etc.
Emotions come and go. And the more we can allow what is appearing in the present moment without attachment, the more we can make space for the next feeling to arise. This is the excitement of being alive.
Additional to this, we can’t give each other permission to feel (or not to feel) pleasure , or any other emotion, with anyone else. As sexual bodyworkers and intimacy coaches, this can be particularly challenging. Our feelings and emotions are part of our domain – something we have a right to and a responsibility for, and this is not something we can control in our partner or anyone else.
#2: I give you permission to touch and feel me anytime for your own pleasure and I will take care of my limits; and I ask the same of you.
Our default for connection is reaching out and feeling for ourselves – taking in information and sensation through our skin and experiencing it as pleasure. This is based on our desires – what we want, and what feels good.
And when it comes to touching another person, we also have to be aware of their limits – what they are willing to offer – trusting that they can speak up for their limits and honoring those limits when they are expressed.
It’s not always easy to know what we want and to go into action for ourselves. In fact, it’s quite challenging. Most of us were taught that going for what we want is selfish; we were taught to put the needs of others first.
But when the agreement is in place – when we are given permission and respect the limits of the giver – this form of receiving is the most powerful and enriching I have experienced.
This form of receiving is the default for how to relate, and it is deeply nourishing. When I feel the desire for physical touch or connection, I am empowered to reach out and make connection. I don’t have to sit back and wait for the other to initiate.
And when the other reaches out and makes connection, I know that they are doing it for themselves. I don’t have to do anything. I don’t have to reciprocate (but sometimes it’s hard to resist!). I can rest in the understanding that my being is a gift. My body is a gift. I am enough without having to do anything.
This agreement is based on the permission dynamic of Somatic Consent, where the person receiving takes action for what they want. This extends beyond touch – I may ask my partner to listen while I talk through something, or I may ask to borrow something that belongs to the other. I do for myself.
When we talk about this, people sometimes complain that asking their partner for every touch is a complete mood killer. It is! That is why there is this holistic agreement – we asked for this permission once when we created our container, and we take responsibility for our desires and limits and speak up if we are not available in a particular moment.
#3: If I want or need something, I will make a request. If I don’t ask, I don’t need anything.
This agreement turns many people’s worlds upside down. How many relationships are based on doing things to make the other person happy or a belief in reciprocity? Isn’t that the definition of relationship? And how often are we doing things because we want something in return? How often do we give because it is far less vulnerable than asking for what we want?
Many of my past relationships were based on telepathic agreements where one of us would automatically go into serving the other when there was no request made. I thought that’s what you do in relationship! What I found with this is that it leads to a lot of resentment, expectations and disappointment.
When we consciously stop giving without a request, We start to see all the times we want to go into action and do something for the other. And we have to ask ourself, ‘who is this for?’ Am I doing this for them, or is there something I want? And if there is something I want, what is keeping me from asking for it or going into action for myself?
You might come in contact with old stories and patterns about ‘appropriate’ behavior in relationship. We learn that we don’t have to serve to feel good about ourselves or feel that we are contributing to the relationship. Your value and worth is not contingent on what you do for another.
And when you let all of that go, you make a connection with real generosity. It feels good to do something for the other when there is a request. It’s easy when we don’t have to guess what the other wants or needs, and it’s not your responsibility to know.
We also come face to face with the vulnerability of asking for what we want. Sometimes we don’t know what we want or need, and we have to slow down and pay attention. Sometimes it is challenging to ask because we are afraid of hearing a no.
But we can learn to appreciate our desires – what you want matters – and to enjoy the wanting without becoming attached to the outcome.
This agreement is based on the serving dynamic of Somatic Consent. The person receiving is making a request for what they want and asking the other person to go into action for their benefit; the giving person is taking care of their limits – what they are willing or not willing to do. This can be anything from: will you massage my back, to will you wash the dishes?
Whenever you get to this point in the relationship agreements, you might ask the question – what about surprises and gifts? This brings us to our final agreement.
#4: I can give a gift from a place of generosity without needing anything in return.
When we learn how to fill ourselves up – by receiving through our own action, or asking another to do something for us – we become grateful and generous.
And from this filled up place, we can give a gift without expectation to receive something in return. Our giving becomes clean. We don’t need to give to get. We give because we can.
This is how we keep ourselves in check: If we do something for the other, or anyone else, and we feel disappointed by their reaction, it signals to me that there was a particular response that I was hoping for and didn’t get. Maybe I wanted praise, or to feel their joy or delight, and they ‘gave’ me a different response. This isn’t a gift.
Rather than hiding my desires in the form of a gift, I can be more honest with my partner and myself and just ask for what I want. “I have a desire to be seen right now. Can you tell me all the things you love about me?”
This is why this agreement comes last. We first have to open up our capacity to receive, and THEN we can give with a full heart. And when we give a gift, it doesn’t matter what the other person does with that gift. That is their free choice.
These agreements are not just words, they are alive and need to breath through you. These 4 Pillars are a daily practice for staying committed to yourself and connected to one another.