Shared Purpose, Shared Vision, and Shared Principles of Governance

for therapists Apr 10, 2023

Excerpted from In Each Other's Care: A Guide to the Most Common Relationship Conflicts and How to Work Through Them by Stan Tatkin, PsyD, LMFT (Sounds True, 2023)

My friends, most love relationships do not last exceptionally long. There are a good many reasons for this. Let’s start at the very top with a lack of shared purpose, vision, and principles of governance. The following material refers only to human unions among freethinking, independent adults in a conditions-based volunteered venture. It does not apply to dictatorships, master-slave arrangements, or parent-child relationships.

Shared Purpose

Shared purpose is your foundational “together” statement; the oath you create together and live by each day. Without a shared purpose between united humans, there is nothing to hold people together over time, particularly hard times. Review these examples with your partner. As you read this book, work together to create a shared purpose for your relationship.

Together we survive and thrive in this life.

Together we stand in all things and against all odds.

Together we share all burdens and all bounties.

Together we lead each other and everyone in our care.

Shared Vision

Shared vision comprises the highest actions you agree to take together. Without a shared vision pointing them in the same direction, people will go off in their own directions. Along with your shared purpose, think about how you want to craft the shared vision for your relationship. Use these examples to get started on your own:

Our vision is to remain in love, grow as individuals, do good things, and leave the world a better place.

Our vision is to raise our children to be good citizens and empathic human beings who are self-respecting, earnest, morally straight, ethically unimpeachable, resilient, and loving.

Our vision is to serve one another and to establish each other’s ongoing felt sense of safety and security, happiness and well-being.

Our vision is to be a secure-functioning couple.

Shared Principles

Shared principles of governance (SPGs) are the unbreakable “we” agreements that protect each of you and the essence of your relationship. Without shared principles by which to govern people in union, there is unfairness, injustice, social insensitivity, and misbehavior along with a lack of accountability, safety, security, and prosperity in that union. Here are a few SPGs to help you craft the shared principles for your relationship:

We have each other’s backs at all times, without exception.

We repair, correct, fix, or make amends without explanation, condition, excuse, or defense when the other experiences hurt, misunderstanding, or any other injury—and we do so within one hour without exception.

We make all decisions that would affect each other together by getting each other fully on board before acting.

We protect each other’s interests in public and private at all times.

We do loving, romantic, and affectionate deeds for each other throughout every day without exception.

We consider our own interests, concerns, and troubles as we consider the other’s interests, concerns, and troubles, and we do so simultaneously.

When working together on shared principles of governance (SPGs), come up with big ticket items that cover large swaths of what you both wish to protect or promote. For instance, if you’re thinking of adding, “We never lie to each other about money spent,” consider expanding that agreement to cover every facet of your life by stating, “We are fully transparent, truthful, and forthcoming with each other.” Why think small when you can think big? Bigger is better because it covers more ground.

The Rules of Shared Principles of Governance:

  •  Start each item with the word “We.”
  •  Avoid using emotions, feelings, vague language, or other nonactionable, measurable qualifications. Remember, you cannot legislate thoughts, feelings, moods, attitudes, or other results you cannot directly control by will alone.
  •  Keep it short and simple enough for a five-year-old to understand.
  •  You both must fully buy into the shared principle and be able to defend why it is a good idea personally before arguing why it is a good idea mutually. If a partner cannot defend how this or that principle pays off personally—having nothing to do with the other person—the principle will not hold when it becomes most necessary.
  •  Consider your principles perfect and incontrovertible but yourself as neither. Principles, once they are in place and fully agreed upon, shall no longer be debated unless later amended by both partners. If a partner fails to meet an SPG, the only option open to them is to make amends and make it right. In other words, beg for forgiveness and fix it stat! SPGs make relationships easier as everyone knows what they can and cannot do in order to keep the relationship securely functioning. SPGs also allow partners to enforce limits on each other (we don’t do that) or promote gains with each other (we must do this).
  •  Each principle is met regardless of mood, attitude, feelings, desire, or any other mitigating factor people use to avoid doing what is best over what is convenient or in line with how they feel. This makes life together much easier, safer, and more secure. Without SPGs, you and your partner are risking your relationship in the Wild West, where anything goes.
  •  If you both find yourself in the weeds, battling over a principle and seemingly unable to agree, move up a level and think through something bigger and more overarching. For example, if you and I are arguing over whether we should eat bananas or grapes and we cannot agree, we can go up a level and ask, “Should we eat fruit? Would that be a good idea?” Perhaps we will agree there.
  •  When working on SPGs, consider your roles as policy makers. If you begin to work on each other instead of the policy, you have gone off track and off task. If you fail to complete a policy and find that there are several issues now on the table, you both have again gone off task. Your jobs are to get something done. Create policies that provide protection and gains for you both. These principles or policies constitute your relationship character, ethics, and culture. What do we stand for? If we have children, what do we want to show and not simply tell about relationship, communication, humility, respect, honesty, shared power, conflict resolution, making amends, character, and reliability?

We humans either forget or do not know that nature does not care about relationships—at all. We care, especially now that we live longer than fifteen years. In the incredibly old days, it did not matter that we died early, even if it was by killing each other. Nature drives us to replenish the species through procreation. What we do after that is our business—and problem. Nature is indifferent; we are not. Nature repeats itself; we often elect to change, if even only a little.

Unless we are in an enriched environment where we can learn and grow socially-emotionally, we are going to do as we know, and what we know is what we’ve experienced thus far. Full stop. Suffering sometimes leads to insight, self-reflection, learning, and growth in the social-emotional realm. For instance, the shattering experience of divorce can sometimes lead one to learn and grow through regret. That person may start on a path toward greater self-awareness and discovery that may never have been kindled if not for suffering loss. While some will learn much, others will learn nothing, regret nothing, and never benefit from their suffering. Unfortunately, even many of those who bask in an enriched social-emotional environment learn nothing and, as a result, see no reason to change.

Some of us are limited by personality, psychobiological development, and neurobiological functioning. Some of us are limited by early trauma, leading to brain and body changes that hold us hostage to our own adaptations to a dangerous world.

Having said all this, I do believe that despite our limitations we can get along with others if we share purpose, vision, and guardrails that bring out our inner angels and harness our inner devils. Human history has continually proven this to be true. We call this possibility of getting along, surviving, and prospering together with all our differences, civilization.


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