Lately, I’ve been bumbling my way through a relationship with a friend. She’s a little skittish, so I hold back and don’t always say what I think or ask for what I need. Then, I get frustrated because I feel unheard and unexpressed and not validated, which is SO not her fault, because I’m the one not asking for what I need!
It got to the point where we were hooked into a really icky pattern. I had expectations that never got met. Then, after spending time with her, I’d feel hurt and disappointed, and she’d feel terrible for disappointing me. The whole thing wasn’t working for either of us.
So, I suggested we go through a process I’ve now been through with quite a few significant people in my life. I call it “renegotiating our sacred contract.” When a relationship just isn’t working, we have two choices. We can just bless each other, thank each other for the time and the teachings, and release the relationship with love. Buh bye. Or we can bring our grievances to the table, examine old patterns that aren’t serving us anymore, call out any unspoken agreements we’ve unconsciously agreed to, and mindfully and gently renegotiate the terms of the relationship.
Renegotiating a sacred contract is always a risk, because whenever you come to the table to redefine terms, there’s always the chance you won’t be able to agree to terms, and you’ll have to either end the relationship or make the decision to stay in a relationship that isn’t working, which can be pretty unsatisfying and self-defeating.
But, in my experience, this process can be a life and relationship-changing experience. So far, it’s saved many of the relationships that were threatened as we grew and changed together.
So how do you do it?
How to Renegotiate a Sacred Contract
1. Take a moment in silence and tap into your highest self (what I call your “Inner Pilot Light” or what you might call your spirit). Then, tap into the highest self of your loved one. Allow those two selves to agree to bring into being whatever is in the highest good for you both during your negotiation. Invite the highest self of your loved one to communicate any messages you might need to know going into the conversation. Resolve to allow the highest good to come into being without attaching to any specific outcome.
2. Initiate dialogue. This is easiest when both parties are unhappy with the status quo. If one of you is clueless because the other has been faking it, it can take more moxy to admit that you’d like things to be different. Make sure you lead with compassion and gratitude—not blaming, shaming, criticizing, or judging. If you put someone on the defensive from the get-go, you won’t get far.
3. Establish safety. If this is a relationship you really wish to resuscitate, make it clear that you are not here to fight. You’re here to do CPR. Help your loved one reduce stress responses in his or her nervous system so he or she doesn’t get all “fight-or-flight” on you. Remind the one you love of how much you care and are committed to saving the relationship.
4. Set clear intentions. Get clear on what you both desire from the relationship. Be vulnerable. Get brutally honest. What outcome do you wish to achieve? You are a master manifester when you, The Universe, and your loved one set clear intentions for co-creation. When your intentions are a mess, you’ll create a mess.
5. Lead with gratitude. Let your loved one know how much you care. This can be challenging when the relationship has broken down, because it’s easy to focus on built up resentment, unmet expectations, disappointments, frustrations, anger, or feelings of betrayal. List the reasons you cherish the relationship, even if it feels impossibly vulnerable to do so. When you both lead from gratitude, it will soften the process and remind you both why you’re doing this.
6. Determine what’s working for you both. Sign up for more of that. Break it down into clear line items and put it in your contract.
7. Own your stuff. How have you contributed to the breakdown of the relationship? Take responsibility for the part you’ve played in co-creating the relationship’s breakdown, rather than playing the victim. When both of you are willing to own your own part in the dysfunction, you’ll find an opening, a place for negotiation, and an opportunity for change and healing arises. It will also diffuse some of the resentment, disappointment, or anger you may both feel.
8. Confess what isn’t working for you. Be willing to be uncomfortably, even painfully, honest. Don’t lead with blame, shame, criticism, or judgment. Make it about you as much as you can (use “I” language. “I feel ____ when you _____.” and avoid “You” language. “You did _____ to me.”) If you’re going to point out ways in which your loved one makes you unhappy (and, yes, you must), deliver your message gently, with great compassion. Practice non-violent communication. Invite your loved one to confess what isn’t working on his/her end.
9. Brainstorm solutions. A sacred contract renegotiation requires compromise. Once you’ve laid your cards on the table, how might you fix what’s not working? Remember, this is not an ultimatum. You are not making demands, nor is your loved one. You are merely making suggestions, and you can see how your loved one responds. If you can both agree on new terms based on a brainstorm that resonates with you both, write it down as a line item. This is a new term in your sacred contract.
10. Go the mat. Assuming steps one through nine have gone well, get brave. (If they haven’t, consider hiring a therapist. I’m regularly in therapy with my husband, and I’ve also now been in therapy twice to try to save difficult friendships I cherish.) Once you both realize it’s safe to be honest, take your confessions a vulnerable step deeper. Speak radical truth—gently and with ownership of your part in it all. Don’t hold back. Read your loved one and check in with how things are going. Be willing to take a break and come back later if one of you is hitting your wall. Determine the level of commitment both of you are demonstrating. Is your loved one willing to go to the mat with you? Or is one of you shutting down? Are you able to stay in a place of compassion and gratitude? Is your loved one? Can you get radically honest without getting triggered?
11. Be present with your own reactions. Take breaks if you need time, and give your loved one permission to do the same. If you or your loved one needs to step back from the negotiation process, do what you can to reassure each other, since stepping back from the negotiation can trigger fears of rejection or abandonment. Ask for the space you need, but do what you can to reassure the one you love that you’re not rejecting the relationship, you’re just processing.
12. Avoid the tendency to exert control. This is not a time to prove that you’re right. Healthy relationships are not a power struggle. Be willing to be wrong, while simultaneously speaking your truth. If the relationship is important to you, make peace with your discomfort of being out of control in a difficult relationship.
13. Rewrite your contract. Can you agree to new terms? Get it in writing so it’s SUPER DUPER clear. Give yourselves permission to keep noodling the contract. Add to it or amend it as new thoughts come up. Print it out and sign it if you really want to make it official. But also acknowledge that the contract may be changed at any time. Give each other permission to initiate a “regenerating the sacred conversation” anytime one of you feels it is needed.
14. Celebrate! If your relationship survives this process, celebrate! It can be such a relief just to speak your truth that you may feel 1,000 pounds lighter just from being who you really are. If it goes well, you’re likely to feel a giddy sense of potential and feelings of hopefulness about the nature of your relationship.
What if It Doesn’t Go Well?
If your sacred contract negotiation doesn’t go well, that’s a good sign that it’s time for both of you to determine how much you value the relationship. If the stakes are high—you’re married, related, or BFFs—get a good couples’ therapist. If you’re not that invested in the relationship, be willing to bless each other, thank each other for the spiritual lessons you’ve both learned, and say goodbye with grace and compassion. I’m the kind of person who wants to know, with 100% certainty, that I’ll be close to the people I love when we’re both eighty-five and in our rocking chairs. But I’m learning that, sometimes, with grace, it’s time to bless, honor, and thank the people our souls call into our lives to teach us lessons and then release them with great love when the learning is done. I used to think that if a relationship didn’t last forever, somebody f*cked up. But I now think differently. Maybe sometimes we show up in each other’s lives to learn what our souls are here to learn, and then when the learning is complete, we can release each other with love.
My Friend and I
My friend and I just went through this process, and we have eleven line items in our new contract. I was super nervous going into our sacred contract renegotiation because I value the friendship so much, and I was so afraid the process might lead to the end of our friendship. But that’s not what happened. I feel so much gratitude for this person I love, who was willing to face the difficult process of a sacred contract renegotiation. We are on a new path. And I have so much hope for what lies ahead for us both.
What about you? Have you ever been through a process like this? Is there a relationship in your life in need of a sacred contract renegotiation? Tell us your stories in the comments.
Lissa Rankin, MD is a mind-body medicine physician, founder of the Whole Health Medicine Institute training program for physicians and other health care providers, and the New York Times bestselling author of Mind Over Medicine: Scientific Proof That You Can Heal Yourself. She is on a grassroots mission to heal health care, while empowering you to heal yourself. Lissa blogs at LissaRankin.com and also created two online communities—HealHealthCareNow.com and OwningPink.com. She is also the author of two other books, a professional artist, an amateur ski bum, and an avid hiker. Lissa lives in the San Francisco Bay area with her husband and daughter.
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