Do you and your partner have a relationship contract?
Although you may not admit it, most people still love a good romance. You know, those intoxicating love stories that start with love at first sight and end with the “happily ever after.”
From “Cinderella” to “The Notebook,” those stories awaken something in you that wants to experience that idealized, forever love.
To be adored unconditionally and understood every second of your life. And although that romantic connection is very important, the reality is that relationships do take work.
I’ve met with so many couples throughout the years that still hold on solely to these romantic notions. As if the relationship is something passive that just exists without their effort.
Yet they wonder why they often feel so misunderstood and unfulfilled. The bottom line is this: today’s relationships call for a more active approach.
One way to work together to build a stronger relationship is to create a relationship contract.
Your first reaction to hearing that is probably “How utterly unromantic!”
But if you really take a closer look at the process and intention of this unique type of contract, you may rethink your response.
What is a relationship contract?
You think of contracts as legal and formal documents devoid of any emotion, something that’s drawn up by an attorney.
A relationship contract is actually nothing like that! It’s a completely informal agreement that’s based on an open and honest conversation between you and your partner.
It’s also an opportunity for each of you to discuss your expectations, values, and goals. And when you put them on paper, you have the opportunity to revisit them every year (or more often if you decide to) enabling you to make as-needed adjustments along the way.
A relationship contract isn’t meant to “fix” the other person, monitor each other’s behavior, or be used as evidence for blame.
Rather, it’s a roadmap that allows you to better understand and support each other. And as a result, to build a stronger, more fulfilling relationship with less conflict!
Why do couples need a contract?
You can get so wrapped up in the daily demands of living that you don’t often take the time to discuss navigating life as a couple.
That includes talking about the big things such as your feelings, values, goals, and dreams, as well as the small things, like who will empty the dishwasher and walk the dog.
Instead, you just sail along dealing with situations as they arise, putting out little fires along the way.
You can go for long stretches where you feel happy and content but then suddenly experience turbulent moments where you feel frustrated and misunderstood. And external stressors from family, work, and health can cause additional strain.
Sometimes, you have the misconception that if your partner really loved you, they would automatically read your moods and know what’s important to you.
That they shouldn’t have to be asked to do something — they should just notice what needs to be done and do it.
I often hear partners say, “I am not a mind reader!” A contract can help to prevent so many of those misunderstandings.
Each relationship is unique and no two contracts will be the same.
Here are 5 key things you should be adding to your relationship contract.
1. A Statement of Purpose
This is a simple statement to express your shared vision, why you are creating this contract, and the desired results you hope to achieve.
This statement will keep you focused as you design the details.
2. Household responsibilities
Lack of equity in this category has been at the root of conflict for many couples!
Similar to the old-school chore chart, this part of the contract will state who does what. You can be really specific in this section and include things such as laundry, cleaning, cooking, pet care, and grocery shopping.
And, of course, you can divide it up or alternate tasks however you both see fit.
3. Fun and leisure
Sometimes, couples have different preferences here. If you tend to be more introverted you may really value alone time, or quiet nights at home watching a movie together.
Your more extroverted counterpart may want to go out dancing or to meet friends for dinner and drinks. This is where compromise comes in.
Are both of you comfortable with alternating who gets to set the plan? Or can you agree that having some separate outings with friends is a reasonable alternative?
This can be a tricky one, especially if you’re a saver and your partner is a spender. Or maybe one of you earns a great deal more than the other.
A contract will give you the chance to discuss budgeting and whether you want to have both joint and separate accounts.
5. Intimacy and sex
Couples often feel uneasy and vulnerable talking about this topic, so your contract discussion can be the perfect time to address your needs in this area.
Maybe you want more affection and romance, whereas your partner wants more spontaneity and variety. These adjustments may be easier than you think once you are made aware of them.
It’s important to keep in mind that a relationship contract is not a “cure-all” and issues are bound to arise from time to time.
The goal is not perfection, but rather an opportunity for open and ongoing communication and, ultimately, to create a stronger relationship!
And remember the contract is a fluid document, something you can revisit and adjust depending on what worked and what failed.
The very process of taking agency and co-creating the contract is greatly beneficial to you as a couple, as it demonstrates how invested you both are and how much you value your relationship and each other.
Give a relationship contract a try and see just how much it can improve your partnership.
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Babita Spinelli is a psychotherapist and CEO of Opening the Doors Psychotherapy and Embrace Coaching. To learn more about how she can help you accomplish your goals, visit her website.