April 19, 2016

The First Agreement: Words Matter

483830182-loudspeaker-gettyimagesThe Four Agreements is a best-selling book by Don Miguel Ruiz that articulates principles people can choose to follow to stay out of conflict with others.  These principles are extremely relevant and helpful for parents going through a divorce or break up.  I have written in the past about the Second and Third Agreements (The Second: I will not personalize anything the other person says, does, thinks or believes; and the Third: I will make no assumptions).  This blog focuses on the First Agreement:  I will be impeccable with my word.  The First Agreement agreement is the foundation of trustworthy and effective co-parenting communication.

To be impeccable means to be truthful.  It means to speak with the intention of being respectful rather than negative, critical or hostile.  It means to avoid spreading gossip, innuendo and half-truths.   It is a commitment to not use words as weapons to attack and try to hurt another person.  It means to only promise what you fully intend to follow through on.

At first glance, the First Agreement seems like the easiest, especially since most of us are wired to generally see ourselves as the “good guys”.  We are always truthful, and all our co-workers find us reliable and respectful.  When we’re not impeccable with our word, we are justified, right?  We were provoked by the truly bad behavior of the other parent.  We were just trying to defend ourselves from their endless snark.  We were “just joking, for crying out loud.”  We were finally standing up for ourselves, and isn’t that our right?

I get that our amygdalas have loud voices when another person has struck a nerve.  But there are three filters to apply to non-impeccable words:  do they help if my goal is to co-parent effectively?  Do I feel like a better person for having said them?  And most importantly:  Could my giving vent, being hostile, being judgmental, smearing my co-parent or lying to my co-parent ultimately hurt my child?  Too often the answer to the last question is yes, it can and it will.

Bill Eddy is a lawyer and social worker who co-founded the High Conflict Institute, LLC.  Bill has been reaching out to family law courts and divorce professionals to equip them with tools to help parents follow the First Agreement during and after a divorce or break up, though he does not use the language of the Four Agreements in his work.   One of these tools I often recommend to my clients is the BIFF (Brief, Informative, Friendly and Firm) email protocol.  BIFF emails can work wonders to shift acrimonious exchanges to those that are businesslike and productive.  For more information and more ideas about how to become an impeccable communicator go to www.newways4families.com.

Deborah ClemmensenABOUT THE AUTHOR
Deborah Clemmensen
Licensed Psychologist

Deborah Clemmensen, M.Eq., Licensed Psychologist was a child and family clinician for many years before her discovery of Collaborative Team Practice in 2000 motivated the transformation of her professional role from therapist to Neutral Child Specialist. This work---hearing the voices of every family member during a divorce or break up, keeping children at the center and out of the middle, and assisting parents in the creation of developmentally responsive parenting plans---is both a passion and a privilege. Find out more about Deborah's work at www.deborahclemmensen.com

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