Have you ever heard of a relationship contract (also sometimes referred to as a relationship agreement)?
There have been a few references to them in recent pop culture (most notably between Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla, on the TV show The Big Bang Theory, and – a version of one – in Fifty Shades of Grey), and the concept has been picking up steam as of late.
What Is A Relationship Contract?
A relationship contract is a document that gets written up and signed by (usually) two people within an intimate relationship. But, in truth, the contract is a catalyst for a very honest conversation.
It isn’t legally binding. It isn’t a marital contract. It’s a relationship contract.
You sit down together and say, “Okay, what does being in a relationship mean to us individually? What’s important to us that we make sure we include in here? What can we put in our contract that would make you feel safe, loved, seen, and cared for?”
You write down/type up all of the things that each of you wants to include, print it off, and sign it. Et voila… you’ve just created your very own custom-made relationship contract!
(Don’t worry… if you’re not sure where to start with your contract, much more detail is on its way.)
The Benefits Of Having A Relationship Contract
I have had dozens of my partnered/married clients write up relationship contracts with each other and the benefits in their relationship (and my own, personally) have been far-reaching.
Here are a few of the biggest benefits that you and your partner will likely experience after having a relationship contract written up.
So much of the social contracts that we build with people in our lives are covert – that is to say they are never explicitly talked about.
Co-creating your relationship contract with your partner will give you both the opportunity to be 100% transparent and honest about what is important to you in your relationship. By getting it all out on the table early on in your relationship, you’ll be able to avoid fights, frustrations, and unnecessary internalized resentments because of the honesty that you brought to the process of creating your relationship contract.
2. Awareness of your partner’s needs
I really can’t imagine anything more romantic than intentionally sitting down with the person you love and having an extended conversation about what it means to them to be loved.
By co-creating your relationship contract, you will get the ultimate window into your partner’s physical/emotional/sexual needs.
There is also a positive trickle over effect from having a relationship contract in the level of honesty that you then feel able to bring to every moment of your relationship… the idea being, if you were that explicit and clear about your desires once, you can continue to do so on an ongoing basis.
By mutually deciding to take your unspoken social contracts and bring them into the light of day, you’ll both be feel that much safer to continue to be intentional communicators in how you engage with each other in the long term.
4. Clarity and alignment in your intentions
Whether you’re discussing topics that are usually relationship land mines (like your ideas around sex, money, children, religion, etc.), or talking about how often you want to have a date night, writing up your relationship contract will be an essential step towards finding clarity and alignment in your mutual desires.
So many of the arguments and resentments that spring forth from relationships are purely a result of one or both people in the relationship feeling like they aren’t getting their needs met. While the act and mindset of personal responsibility is a topic of interest for another day (long-story short: your needs = your responsibility to meet them), by having these conversations out loud with each other, you’ll be able to avoid so much unnecessary misunderstanding, drama, and tension by having talked about your needs up front.
5. Arriving vs. sliding
Have you heard of the arriving vs. sliding phenomenon? Simply put, there’s a big psychological difference (that positively or negatively impacts your relationship long-term) if you slide into your big relationship milestones (moving in together, getting engaged, etc.) versus if you arrive to those same milestones by actually making a choice. Put even more simply, deciding something and bringing intentional thought to it is better than just doing something because it feels like the logical next step.
This is where your relationship contract comes in…
Whether you’ve been dating for five hours, five weeks, or five years is irrelevant. It’s never too late to draft up a relationship contract between you and your partner because it helps drive a stake into the ground corresponding with the effort and communicative clarity that you want to bring to your love life.
So instead of letting your social contracts be covert, vague, and unspoken, why not sit down and say, “This is what matters to me”, and then allow your partner to do the same.
What Is Your Intention In Wanting A Relationship Contract?
When you sit down to write your contract, it’s good to pause for a moment and ask yourself why you feel compelled to write it up at all.
What overarching benefit are you (and your partner) primarily looking for by writing up your relationship contract?
Are you looking for a sense of safety and security? Is it a playful exercise that you just want to try out? Is it about the discovery and alignment of your life goals and values that you want clarity around?
Whatever your primary intention is, discover it and verbalize it to your partner as you go into your brainstorming session.
What Should You Include In Your Relationship Contract?
There are essentially an infinite number of categories of things that you and your partner could potentially include in your relationship contract. Some of the most common things that my clients have prioritized in their contract are:
– Details regarding date nights (when they happen, how often they happen, what they should frequently consist of, who plans them, the balance between stay-at-home date nights vs. go-out-for-something-special date nights, etc.)
– How each partner will take responsibility for themselves (regarding their health, happiness, career progress, emotional growth and personal development, etc.)
– Details regarding their relational balance of independence vs. intimacy (how much alone time they will prioritize, how often they will spend time with their friends outside of the relationship, how often they will take separate vacations)
– Facing disagreements as they come up/never going to bed angry/coming clean and being honest about emotional responses to each other
– Never threatening the relationship (i.e. never hinting at ‘well maybe we should just break up then’ during a fight)
– Committing to radical honesty and not tip toeing around delicate issues unnecessarily
– Setting intentions for dividing household chores/tasks that pertain to the relationship
– Setting parameters as to how they will celebrate birthdays/anniversaries/major milestones
– Agreeing to never keep any secrets from each other (secrets being defined as anything that you know/do/thought/said that you wouldn’t want your partner finding out about)
What Are The Consequences For Breaking Your Relationship Contract Rules?
As a rule of thumb, I recommend that your relationship contract is more of a set of intentions and guidelines than it is an iron-clad set of rules that must be abided by 100% of the time.
Yes, there will likely be certain items on your unique list that do need to be upheld all of the time in order for the relationship to function. But, more often than not, relationship contract items such as “Deal with disagreements immediately” will not always be realistically achieved in daily life.
When you do find yourselves breaching certain parts of your relationship contract, lovingly remind yourselves/each other of that particular agreement, and then do your best to continue to honour it from that point onwards.
Remember, your contract is a set of guidelines. You are human. You will inevitably mess up, and that’s alright. The point of the contract is to treat it as your North star, and to point your needle back to it as quickly as possible to keep the love flowing.
Examples Of Relationship Contracts
I’ve found that the best, simplest structure to follow for a relationship contract is the following: introduction, contract items, sign it.
Start by writing, “This contract is entered into by and between (YOUR NAME) and (YOUR PARTNER’S NAME). The term of this agreement shall begin on (START DATE) and shall continue through until (END DATE OF TERM).
In our relationship we agree to:”
And then list your specific contract items.
Because many clients have asked me for specific examples of the kinds of items I would recommend putting into a relationship contract, here is a short list of items that you can find inspiration in (some I have used, some I have learned from clients, and others I have recommended specifically for certain clients).
– We agree to never threaten the relationship (in passing, during arguments, or to other people)
– We agree to take responsibility for our own individual emotional responses, our fears and anxieties, and for ourselves in general.
– We agree to consciously take time for ourselves as individuals (whether alone, with friends, or with separate vacation)
– We agree to maintain a weekly, distractions-free date night
– We agree to remain growth oriented, while remaining patient with ourselves and not expecting growth to happen on any particular objective timeline
– We agree to do our absolute best at holding space for each other, while acknowledging that we are not responsible for fixing the other partner’s problems
– We agree to invest heavily in our own individual self-care, in order to be able to bring our best selves to our relationship
– We acknowledge that we don’t make each other happy, but rather, that we bring our individual overflowing happiness to the relationship to be shared with one another
– We agree to tell the full truth to each other, even when it’s the most difficult to do so
– We agree to assume that the other partner always has our best interest at heart
– We agree to allow the space for the three separate entities in our partnership… ‘you, me, and the relationship’
– We agree to have one day together per week where are phones are off and we can be fully present with each other
– We agree to engaging with each other sexually X times per week
– We agree to welcome and honour any and all emotions that come from our partner, and we promise to do our best to not take those displays of emotions personally
– We agree to see and honour each other as healing partners
– We agree to de-escalate our fights with a “Time out, I love you/I love you too” whenever one or both of us feels like we are too far down the rabbit hole of defensiveness/feeling triggered or scared
– We agree to love and cherish every emotional breakthrough that comes up for us and to honour every tear that needs to be processed, in the safe space of our relationship
– We agree to keep any and all of our birthday/anniversary/holiday presents under the total agreed upon amount of $100/$300/$1,000/etc.
– We agree to do our absolute best to uphold all of the aforementioned intentions to the best of our ability, and we will be patient and loving with ourselves when we inevitably momentarily slip up
Let Your Relationship Contract Change Over Time
People change. Relationships change. Priorities change. So too should your relationship contract.
I highly recommend revisiting and updating your relationship contract on a regular basis. I’ve found that somewhere between every 3-12 months is ideal. You don’t want to let it sit for so long that it becomes stale and forgettable in it’s irrelevance… but you also likely don’t want to revisit it so often (i.e. every 1-4 weeks) that it becomes something that you track neurotically and obsess over.
If you and your partner revisit and revise your relationship contract a couple of times per year, you (and your relationship) will be in good shape.