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.
Where it all began…
M and I met in Ubud, Bali several years ago. I was sitting alone at a big table in a crowded restaurant and he asked if he could sit at the other end of the table. After eating my meal, he began a conversation. We talked about our work and he introduced me to the Wheel of Consent by drawing it on a napkin.
I had never heard about the Wheel and the dynamics that are created by asking two important questions when it comes to giving and receiving – who is doing the action and who is it for? My curiosity was piqued and I wanted to know more.
A few days later, we chose to meet for a sensual play date to explore these dynamics. Before engaging, we sat down and talked about our agreements for the evening.
M asked me for permission to touch and feel my body with any part of his body, and if anything was not okay with me, he needed to know that I would speak up and say so. I agreed to this, and he gave me the same permission to feel him. I had never been asked for this kind of permission before and it felt exciting and honoring.
M made it clear that if there was anything I wanted to receive, I could ask for it. But he was not going to do things to me or for me without an explicit request. He would let me know if there was anything specific he wanted to receive. I felt a sigh of relief. A weight lifted from my shoulders.
He then asked that I don’t do anything to try and get a reaction out of him, and, in particular, no peak orgasm. And we agreed that for this evening we would explore sensual and sexual play without intercourse. No goal. No destination. Simply an exploration of pleasure.
We both agreed to play by these terms for the night and had a fantastic evening. I felt alive and free to express myself without having to worry about things going too far or too fast.
I was able to sink into the moment, every touch and sensation, and appreciate the connection.
It was the container – created by our agreements – that created this freedom and ease.
The following morning we closed our container, gave gratitude for the evening, and went on our way. I felt fulfilled in a way I had never before experienced.
Each of these agreements opened up space for me to be more connected to myself and to M – to reach out and feel for myself, to follow my pleasure, and to let go of expectations and the need to please or perform.
There was no rush to get anywhere, no goal, and that allowed us to be completely present in the moment. What a gift!
In the following weeks and months, we realized there was more we wanted to explore together. We wanted to deepen our connection.
We consciously chose to enter into a relationship as lovers, which for us meant engaging in intercourse only with one another and clearing any other attachments. This was a choice we both made for ourselves – not something we were promising to the other.
And so, three months later sitting in an Indian restaurant in Hong Kong, we laid out our agreements once more. This time, opening the container and granting permission until these agreements no longer serve the relationship or us.
These agreements formed the foundation for how we related. And it is because of these agreements that we were 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.
This agreement was actually added a little later when I found myself feeling triggered by something M did, and I realized our connection to emotion is at the core of everything. His actions did not cross my boundaries, but it did touch up against my limits of what I could handle in that moment and I felt hurt and scared.
And at the same time, I realized I couldn’t blame him, as much as I wanted to, for how I felt. My feelings are my feelings, and he is not responsible for making sure I feel ‘good’.
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. 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 boundaries; 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 M and I 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 M to initiate.
And when M reaches out and makes connection with me, I know that he is doing it for himself. 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 Take/Allow dynamic of the Wheel of Consent, where the person receiving takes action for what they want. This extends beyond touch – I may ask M to listen while I talk through something, or I may ask to borrow something that belongs to him. I do for myself.
When we talk about this in our workshops, people often complain that asking their partner for every touch is a complete mood killer. It is! That is why we created 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 turned my world 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 I consciously stopped giving without a request, I started to see all the times I wanted to go into action and do something for my partner. And I had to ask myself, ‘who is this for?’ Am I doing this for the other, 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?
I came in contact with old stories and patterns about ‘appropriate’ behavior in relationship. I learned that I don’t have to serve to feel good about myself or feel that I am contributing to the relationship. My value and worth is not contingent on what I do for another, or what they do for me.
And when I let all of that go, I made connection with my generosity. It feels good to do something for my partner when he asks. It’s easy when I don’t have to guess what he wants or needs, and it’s not my responsibility to know.
I also came face to face with the vulnerability of asking for what I want. Sometimes I don’t know what I want or need, and I have to slow down and pay attention. Sometimes it is challenging to ask because I am afraid of hearing a no.
But I have learned to appreciate my desires – what I want matters – and to enjoy the wanting without becoming attached to the outcome.
This agreement is based on the Serve/Accept dynamic of the Wheel of 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 we get to this point in sharing our relationship agreements, we always get 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 I keep myself in check: If I do something for someone and I 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 I 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 that we have said to one another as vows or commitments that linger in our memory like the India meal we enjoyed that night in Hong Kong. They are living and breathing through us. These agreements are our daily practice for staying committed to ourselves and connected to one another.
What are you agreements? How do you keep your connection alive?
Addendum: M and I closed our relationship container in June 2019, and in so doing took back the permission we had granted to one another. I remain grateful for the learning that occurred during our 3 years of living these agreements.