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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, 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 1-8 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 with 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 “renegiating 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 to just speak truth that you may feel 1000 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 BFF’s, 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 85 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 when the learning is done- with great love. 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.

Me & My Friend

My friend and I just went through this process and we have 11 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.

With love,

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14 Comments

  1. Trisha D.

    I have been avoiding my own “renegotiation” efforts with my best friend for well over 6 months… I have been so unhappy, but just had no clue to go about verbalizing it “gently” as you said, to make sure my needs get met too, going forward. I needed a read like this to kick me in the ass and face it finally. Thanks Lissa. <3

    Reply
  2. Intuitive Leadership Coach

    I love your tips to renegotiate a sacred contract especially #1 tap into your highest self (what I call your “Inner Pilot Light” Forget to tap into your inner guidance (or connect to your heart) and a difficult conversation can go south reeeeeeeeeeal fast…

    Reply
  3. Mike

    Great blog post…

    Your blog post has given me a great way to proceed once I have decided where the realationship fits in my life. I normally read this document (I’m not sure who wrote it) when I am having difficulties with a realationship to decide how to move forward.
    Thanks!
    This looks like a good place to share this…

    a Reason, a Season, or a Lifetime?

    People always come into your life for a reason, a season and a lifetime.

    When you figure out which it is, you know exactly what to do.

    When someone is in your life for a REASON, it is usually to meet a need you have expressed outwardly or inwardly.

    They have come to assist you through a difficulty, or to provide you with guidance and support, to aid you physically, emotionally, or even spiritually.

    They may seem like a godsend to you, and they are. They are there for a reason, you need them to be.

    Then, without any wrong doing on your part or at an inconvenient time, this person will say or do something to bring the relationship to an end.

    Sometimes they die, Sometimes they just walk away. Sometimes they act up or out and force you to take a stand.

    What we must realize is that our need has been met, our desire fulfilled; their work is done. The prayer you sent up has been answered and it is now time to move on.

    When people come into your life for a SEASON, it is because your turn has come to share, grow, or learn.

    They may bring you an experience of peace or make you laugh. They may teach you something you have never done.

    They usually give you an unbelievable amount of joy. Believe it! It is real!

    But… only for a season. And like spring turns to summer and summer to fall, the
    season eventually ends.

    LIFETIME, relationships teach you a lifetime of lessons; those things you must build upon in order to have a solid emotional foundation.

    Your job is to accept the lesson, love the person/people, and put what you have
    learned to use in all other relationships and areas in your life. It is said
    that love is blind but friendship is clairvoyant.

    Thank you for being part of my life…..

    Reply
    • jindra cekan

      love this post on reason, season, lifetime and will try to do mini contracts from now on 🙂

      Reply
  4. Michelle

    I can imagine using something akin to a contract with family and spouse (lifetime commitments) but not friends—even the best of friends. Friends who were in the 4th chapter of my life might not be all that comfortable in the 6th. I would always love them for what we had in the 4th, but wouldn’t insist our friendship fit any of the same parameters as we grow and evolve. If what initially came naturally to both of us becomes difficult or an obligation to one or both, it’s not a bad thing, it’s just a sign we’re outgrowing something. Friends should have no-fault insurance; everyone gets to change—at will. Wish them well. Move on.

    Reply
  5. My Peace Of Food

    You could probably say I need to do this with my husband, although it often seems he’s already thrown in the towel. He suffers from depression and paranoia, and he doesn’t think that therapy is helping any more. He won’t talk to anyone from church, either, however, and yet we have two small children who (I think, of course) deserve every last effort from him to stay and be present and get better. I’m going to bookmark this page just in case I can get him to “try” one last time. After all, he’s still here, physically.

    Reply
  6. Lori Clark

    I made an attempt at something like this, without your stellar example, with one of my BFFs this summer. Unfortunately, while she managed to vent her spleen, we really didn’t have an opportunity to talk about the relationship, expectations or really discuss what was going on. She pretty much refused to keep talks open. She’s going through a lot with her family right now, so instead of hammering away at, I let her get in a few nasty digs coupled with her so sweet “I love yous” and let her go. It wasn’t what I wanted, but there was no interest on her part to listen to my side of things at all, or even try to work things out.

    Reply
  7. Heather Seggel

    Comes too late to save one I’d really hoped would survive, but it’s a great tool as I go forward. Thank you.

    Reply
  8. Gayla Ellis

    LISSA, THIS IS BEAUTIFUL, and I would like to use it with a family member. But my mind needs a little more meat to the list to fully grasp each step. Would you min d giving us a sample negotiated contract?

    Reply
  9. Thom Pearson

    My opinion… The only reason for negotiation is to try to force the other party to change to meet YOUR needs.

    The only person you have any right to change is yourself.

    If something is not working for you, it is ENTIRELY your own responsibility and the only person to negotiate with is yourself.

    Change yourself and relationship changes.

    Reply
  10. KimDer

    I loved this article! It’s what I would call a “co-designed alliance.” It’s not about the individuals in the relationship, as much as it is about the relationship itself.

    Reply
  11. KimDer

    I loved this article! I like to think of it as “co-designing an alliance.” It’s less about the individuals themselves — I beg to differ with you Thom — and much more about the “higher” relationship they co-create and in which they tango.

    Reply
  12. Gina

    Hi Lissa. This article is beautiful and has helped me immensely in coming to mutually beneficial terms in some of my relationships. I wanted to know if this idea can be found in Caroline Myss’s book on sacred contracts, or if this is a different type of sacred contract and is your intellectual property? Just wanting to delve deeper into this topic and wondering where I can find more on it. 🙂 Thank you so much for helping us to heal our relationships and move forward in peaceful, loving ways.

    Reply
    • Lissa_Rankin

      I love Caroline Myss’s book but this is based on my own experience, not based on her work. I ADORE her work though!

      So happy this helped.

      Blessings
      Lissa

      Reply

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