In 2016, I was offered an exciting opportunity to deepen a connection with a dear friend, share property, and co-create our lives in a more interconnected way. I was so happy to be asked; this friendship meant a great deal to me, and I loved our communication and explorations of relating with each other.
I was also aware of the risks: the more we share power, logistics and resources with the people we love, the more we open the possibility that we could experience irreconcilable conflict. In our busy lives, we sometimes don't make room for relational conflicts, and the disagreements can cause a loss of love and connection. I didn't want to lose what we already shared, and I did want the increased connection that might happen if we were successful sharing space and our lives more deeply.
I decided that I didn't want to take the next step without having a vision document that we worked on together that stated our intentions and how we might handle conflicts, changes of land use, authority over decisions, etc. What I realized as we were writing the shared document was that I needed one that stated my vision.
I took a few weeks to work on my relationship vision document. I encompassed anything and everything I could think of to address the possibilities that might come up as I relate with other humans. I included the following topics: freedom; love; health; growth & development; conflict; sexuality; family, friendship & community; labor & money; disease, disability & death; travel, creativity & projects; children; and I included some goals to build and do things together.
My relationship vision document is ten pages, and when I was done, I felt really satisfied. I had created a baseline expression of my values, and I was excited that I had managed to articulate what I wanted for my life and relations with others. Since then, I have shared this document with other lovely humans and it has helped us discuss what we each want and don't want, in a manner that increased clarity and decreased stress and disagreement.
I used to fear that when I said what I wanted, someone would react or assume it was somehow about THEM, when it was about ME. The fact that this document was written before I even knew them is very grounding for me, and helps me communicate my life design, long-term plans, and the things I really want and don't want, without other people taking it personally.
Let's go through the categories I used and give some examples so you can see what I mean.
As a Relationship Anarchist, I operate from a presumption of sovereignty. I don't make commitments that limit my ability to decide for myself what to do with my life and body, and I don't constrain the choices of others.
This doesn't mean I don't have boundaries: if someone conducts themselves in a way that doesn't work for me, it's my job to speak up and ask for what I want. If our needs are contradictory, we each take care of ourselves, and negotiate agreements for the ways we will continue to interact. We set dignified boundaries and enact natural consequences for boundary crossing, and we agree on standards for shared spaces and resources.
I consider myself a confirmed bachelor and share that I prefer to live alone and not live in my home space with others. I also set boundaries around guests in my home and on the land.
I share the way I like to give and receive love in this section, and reiterate my commitment to self love. It's important to me that no third party be able to veto any of my relations with another person. I share the names of my support pod, with whom I express myself with depth and details about my relations, so that confidentiality boundaries are clear and understood.
This section talks about how I stay healthy physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. I've had some challenging times giving and receiving feedback in this category, so I also talk about that here.
Growth and Development
I talk about the balance between growth and happiness in this section, and also about the way I like to plan and design my life and goals.
In this section, I explored the way I would like to communicate around differences, and the escalation pathway for increased levels of conflict. I share an exit strategy for a relation if it isn't working.
I talk about my sexual explorations and boundaries, what I'm up for and what I avoid doing, and how I want my sexual and intimate relations to intertwine.
Family, Friends & Community
My family is important to me and I share how I like to celebrate holidays, express friendship, and relate with community.
Labor & Money
I want financial autonomy (no shared bank accounts), and I love to spend my life with people who value work. Relational conversations are scheduled around work and do not displace work. I prefer to make equal contributions to projects and expenses. I am willing to share resources such as phone plans, as long as people are responsible for their expenses.
Disease, Disability & Death
I like to support people when they struggle with disease and hospitalization. I want to make sure my help isn't something people feel entitled to, and I want to stop helping if I feel like I'm rescuing or persecuting. I appreciate gratitude and thoughtfulness in all such exchanges of help.
I'm willing to be helped, but I don't require anyone to help me. I want any help I receive to be freely given and the other person to stop as soon as they are rescuing or persecuting.
I negotiate family of choice relations and am clear with those folx about what that means and doesn't mean.
I have a disease, disability and death plan. I don't know how I'll react when facing these life events, and I want to accommodate myself so I can do as much as possible. I want my life and death to be conscious and empowered, and I want to gracefully receive help when necessary. I don't want to waste my time wishing something hadn't happened or wasn't happening; I want to accept the unacceptable about my circumstances and then do what I can with what I have.
Travel, Creativity & Projects
I share my travel goals, my creative outlets and what projects I am working on developing as a creative being.
I don't plan on parenting children, and I don't want to be responsible for other people's children. I'm open to aunt-like relationships with kids, and I don't want to be responsible for aspects of their upbringing beyond their safety and enjoyment on a day, overnight outing, or vacation.
I commit to not "parent-shaming" any friends or loved ones. I have strong opinions, and I commit to "fighting my pig" and doing the work to support their child-rearing choices and boundaries.
I share a list of the projects I'd like to build and do together. This section is for dreams!
I also have sections on Social Justice, the Romantic/Sexual Network, Sexual Health, Pregnancy, Mental Health, Coming Out, and other topics that are relevant to my particular life and relational practices. Make your own topics, and express your values, commitments, and ideals.
Once I had written my relationship values document, the person I was relating with and I sat down and wrote a shared document where we covered some of the same topics. We made some agreements about how we would address and escalate conflict, handle money, costs and labor, and share land and resources.
We've referred to the documents occasionally; mostly the work of writing our values helped us embody our principles. I deeply valued the experience and would do it again anytime I was going to intertwine my life with another person more deeply. In Relationship Anarchy, we don't just consider romantic partners as potential life partners, we consider friendship to be a deeply meaningful and high potential relation, and we might engage in a platonic partnership or co-habitation that is just as, or more significant and important than our romantic relations. We aim to be non-hierarchical in our relations and instead focus on what we want and what we want to do together.*
I hope this exercise is useful to you. It has been extremely helpful and comforting to me and it's fascinating to notice what I included and left out, and how I've changed over the years.
Please share your stories with me. Have you written a relationship values document? How has your experience changed from relation to relation?
Best of luck writing your own Relationship Vision Document!
*If you are interested in Relationship Anarchy, find Andie Nordgren's Manifesto here.
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