“There are years that ask questions and years that answer.”Zora Neale Hurston

During a weekly meet-up for journal writers, my fellow circle mates and I were asked to participate in an interesting exercise by the group’s facilitator.

For ten minutes we were to write a sort of manifesto describing the terms of renegotiation of a current long-term relationship. It didn’t matter if we were referencing a boss, a family member, or a partner. The gist of the exercise was to hammer out the terms of our ideal relationship with one of these individuals.

After reminding us that we were in a judgment-free zone, the timer was set.

At the buzzer we’d be asked to put down our pens and read aloud (yikes!) our closely guarded secrets to a group of “strangers” in our judgment-free zone. Scary!

I thought for a moment about this idea of relationship negotiation—or rather, re-negotiation. Was there such a thing? I’d heard of Conscious Un-Coupling, courtesy of a celebrity who was in the midst of her own highly publicized breakup, but renegotiating a relationship sounded like the exact opposite—more so like a business transaction.

Not knowing what to expect, I picked up my pen and started jotting down random thoughts. I was surprised to discover how much I had to say in so little time. I was more surprised by the things my heart had to say:

  • Partnership works when we’re both willing to challenge our assumptions about the roles we think we’re supposed to play in our relationship.
  • Partnership thrives when it’s mutually exclusive, respectful, and supportive—free of societal, cultural, and familial expectations.
  • As one-half of this Partnership we are both whole, in and of ourselves. We don’t need to be “completed” by the other.
  • We operate better as a whole when we have interests and creative endeavors beyond the realms of Partnership.
  • Although we may not share certain ideals or be in complete agreement regarding the “shoulds” of life, we genuinely appreciate our differences for what they are: Strengths
  • It’s important to be honest with ourselves first and foremost, because the consequences of suppressing our truth could trigger unwarranted fears of being unloved, misunderstood, or judged unworthy by the other. 
  • We do our best to understand this thing called Love, as it often shows up in various disguises. Love is an energy having no labels and no limits…it just is.
  • Our Partnership isn’t a Thing that must be “bound by law.” We don’t need church or state-sanctioned approvals in order to be.
  • Sometimes assumptions are made by those on the outside looking in. “They” tend to make assumptions regarding what they feel we each deserve (usually “someone better”). And yet experience has shown us that Love always has the final say.  

The buzzer went off…now came the hard part.

As we read our entreaties, it was obvious that some were very uncomfortable with the process, while others were chomping at the bit to finally have their say and be heard. It was also clear that the universal theme of connection was the thread weaving our multi-cultural stories together.

There was laughter, tears, and plenty of A-ha! moments during this particular circle session. My heart was filled.

The facilitator then dropped a bombshell: “Between now and our next meeting, I want each of you to explore your terms of re-negotiation with the person you were writing about.”

There was silence.

It was evident from our previous discussion that many of us had settled into a don’t-rock-the-boat existence within our relationships. However, admitting that our needs had changed over the years was much easier to do while sitting amongst “strangers” in a judgment-free zone.

At the time I didn’t feel powerful or strong enough to give voice to even one of my Terms of Renegotiation, let alone a whole list. Years later I would be confronted with the question of Why? And more importantly, Why Not?

I now realize there were no answers I would have been open to receiving at that time in my life. The writing exercise was about honest self-inquiry—a place I was unwilling to go. Or perhaps I was afraid of what I thought I would “lose” in the process.

I often wonder how many of my former circle mates returned for that next meet-up. Based on the petrified looks I remember seeing on the faces of some of them, I would venture to say they’re probably asking the same question.