Every relationship has its own unique culture, according to David and Constantino Khalaf, authors of the upcoming book “Modern Kinship: A Queer Guide to Christian Marriage.”
For example, some couples are loud and boisterous, while others are quiet homebodies who like structure in their relationships, the men explain.
“Every couple seems to operate along its own set of rules and along it’s own internal beliefs and tenants,” David Khalaf told NBC News BETTER. “And that got us thinking about, well, how can we be more intentional about the culture we set for our own relationships?”
The Portland, Oregon couple created what they call a “culture covenant.” The covenant is a document where they lay out a written list of their shared values.
“We already had a culture in our relationship, but we thought, ‘Can we actually spell that out? Can we actually name what those things are and see if we actually agree with them? Or see if there are things about the culture of our relationship that we actually like and want to change,” David says.
The men say the covenant allows them to be intentional about having shared meaning, which helps guide their relationship through the ups and downs of marriage.
They say any couple can do it. Here’s how.
Sit down together and discuss the culture of your relationship
Shortly after the couple got married in 2016, they sat down and created covenant over a few glasses of wine.
“We sat down and said, ‘What do we do that we appreciate about our relationship and want to keep?’” David recalls.
The men say their covenant focuses on both practical and aspirational values.
For example, the men say it was important for them to be able to be vulnerable and share their feelings — so they added that to the top of the list.
“We grew up in a culture where men aren’t always invited to share their feelings and be in touch with their feelings,” says David, “and for us it was important to name that as a value in our relationship, and for us it was important to welcome feelings.”
The couple also focused on values that would help them navigate conflict. They say values like “No one gets the final say all the time” and “We do not shout or curse at each other” help guide them through stressful times.
“It kind of functions in our lives as we have discussions about decisions that we have to make or ways that we treat each other or how we use our time or our finances,” says David. “We can fall back on that culture covenant and say, ‘Hey, is that in line with who we want to be and who we’ve said we are and how we said that we operate?”
“If we feel like we’re getting close to that point,” adds Constantino, “we would say that’s not who we are. We don’t do this. So maybe we should take a break now and sleep on it.”
Here’s the full list they came up with:
- We value vulnerability. It’s okay to express the full range of emotions.
- We help each other laugh at least once a day. And we help each other cry—if it seems we’re bottling something up—as needed.
- We acknowledge that personal growth means change, and we never want to stop getting to know each other.
- We want to serve others. We pour into our relationship so that we have the energy to pour out.
- We yield to each other. No one gets the final say all the time.
- We value time, touch, and talk: the three T’s that are the magic recipe for creating intimacy.
- We do not shout or curse at each other. If we get close to doing either, we take a break, make amends, and start over.
- We are a team, so we always take each other’s side and always have each other’s back.
- We show physical affection. We kiss every time we leave and greet each other because even small expressions of love are a reminder of our exclusive and special form of kinship.
Take a reality check
The men say it’s important couples are open with each other when discussing their covenants. Talk about the culture of your relationship. What are the things you like about it? What are the things you wish to change?
Talking about these things will help you create a list of shared values you both agree to, according to the couple.
The first step, says Constantino, is to be truthful.
“Take a hard look at reality and say ‘Who are we as individuals? How do we function? How do we work as a couple?’” he says.
According to David, it’s important to map out what works best for your relationship, how you and your partner operate, how you navigate conflict, and how you spend your money and your time.
“All of those things can vary greatly from couple to couple,” David says, “and there’s not a right way to do it.”
Allow your covenant to evolve
The couple say their covenant is a living document that they can change and add to as their relationship grows. They keep it in a shared Google document so they can both access it easily, but also plan to frame it and hang it on their living room wall.
“It’s just keeping those conversations about who we are and who we want to be, where are we going, at the center,” says Constantino. “I think that’s the most value we found in it.”
For David, the culture covenant “is a way to do a regular checkup on our relationship just in the same way we have regular physicals for our bodies.”
“We can regularly take a look at our culture covenant and say, ‘Hey, is this consistent with how we’re living life right now? Do we feel like we’re on track with the values that we set for our relationship, or do we feel like we’re drifting?”
If they feel like they are drifting, he says, they can always make adjustments.
“A culture covenant isn’t a document to force anyone into a particular way of living,” explains David, “but it’s simply a way to be consistently intentional about how you do a relationship.”
How to create a culture covenant
- Define the culture of your relationship: Ask yourselves what you like and what you want to change. Focus on practical and aspirational values, especially values that will help you navigate conflict.
- Be real: Be honest and open about who you are both as individuals and as a couple, and about what you want.
- Be flexible: Your covenant should evolve alongside your relationship as you grow together. You can keep it in a Google document that you both have access to. You can also frame it and hang it in your home where it can serve as a daily reminder of those values.
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