Relationship Contracts & Why You Need One

What is a relationship contract? First, let’s be clear that most relationship contracts are not legally binding.  Relationship contracts begin as visual representations of expectations we already have psychologically (in our heads).  Creating a relationship contract helps you and your partner communicate needs and expectations.  There are contracts to protect money, boundaries, business, sovereignty, and autonomy – why not invest in a contract as a tool to strengthen your relationship and clarify matters of the heart?

What Is In A Relationship Contract?

Anything.  Most couples that form relationship contracts address matters that most couples fight about or that cause stress in the relationship.  The contract forms to the relationship, not the other way around.  The contract for a polyamorous relationship will look starkly different than a contract between a couple in the master/submissive or monogamous relationship.  Relationship contracts can guide topics such as:

  • Cohabitation or Long-Distance
  • Intimacy
  • Autonomy
  • Health
  • Housework
  • Goal setting
  • Money
  • Values
  • Children
  • Vacations
  • Sex/Fantasies
  • In-laws

The way a contract is molded is as unique as snowflakes or fingerprints. Each individual in a relationship brings preconceived expectations, known or not, into the relationship we expect our partner to co-sign on.  Some personality types are better at voicing expectations and concerns, while others will go with the flow until they reach an impasse and blow up.  

Contracts can give a voice and mediate a resolution to disagreements and conflicts before they start.  Contracts can also be used to navigate difficult conversations in the future.  They are a living, breathing, changing document that grows with the relationship.  Relationship contracts are not a one-and-done type of arrangement.   

Creating a contract requires giving meaningful thought to things that are important to you and having an open mind to your partner’s wants and needs.  To understand what items need to be in a contract, start by listening to everyday conversations.  If there are more conversations started with assumptions or expectations that didn’t hit the mark, you may need to have a conversation.  The goal is excellent communication and clear boundaries.  Unsurprisingly, poor communication and unclear boundaries are the primary culprits of failed relationships.  It should be noted that relationship contracts are not a means to control the other person.

Relationship Contracts Do Not Place Limitations or Kill Spontaneity

Contracts are meant to give you and your partner a way to express concerns and be heard, NOT to control.  This is an equal representation tool to voice your opinion, find common ground, and strengthen the relationship as a tool for communication and expectation management.  Sometimes people expect too much or not enough from each other.  Contracts should add balance and peace to a relationship.

Contracts should be reviewed annually to ensure that the ideals in the agreement still represent your goals for the relationship.  This review serves as a mental check-in on the relationship and a chance to change the trajectory or refine a few things.  Maybe entirely new conversations need to take place to enhance the relationship.  Annual check-ins will assist with spontaneity and keeping passion alive by not taking the relationship for granted and putting it on autopilot. 

Most couples that utilize relationship contracts feel liberated because they know they will get their personal time needed each week without having to feel guilty or come up with excuses as to why they need a night out each week.  Some clauses outline a mandatory date night for something to look forward to each week with intimate time together and keeping things fresh. But, like with anything, there are some red flags that you should be aware of when entering a contract.  Read the small print.

Red Flags In A Relationship Contract

As with everything, caution should be raised when a person is trying to add limitations to a relationship contract.  A relationship contract requires both parties to help negotiate and understand each other.  If constraints are being placed, you may be in the room with a narcissist and should exercise extreme caution.  Things to look out for include:

  • Limiting communication with the outside world, including friends and family
  • Not allowing review of the contract terms once something has been drawn up
  • If your intuition is screaming NO or you feel something in the contract is not right
  • Unsafe behaviors that put stress on your mental or physical wellbeing

Relationships have a certain amount of resilience from setbacks and disagreements; however, you should be looking for the exit if your partner wants these things in a contract with you.  Trust and respect blossom from love.  None of these restrictions are out of love.

How to Create a Relationship Contract

Send them this article if you think you are ready to start the conversation with your partner about a relationship contract.  If you want to introduce the topic in another way, clear some time for both of you to be alone and ask, “Have you ever thought about a relationship contract? I was reading something the other day….”  Then, let the conversation flow and suggest starting with:

Expectations: Know thyself.  The first thing you and your partner want to do is understand what you want out of the relationship.  Sure, there are plenty of templates online, but make sure you take time for yourself to write down what your expectations are. Next, you and your partner should individually answer: What do you need in a relationship?  What is your WHY for the contract?  If you can answer those questions, you are on your way to finding the purpose and intention of your relationship goals and expectations.

Must-Have: Once you have your expectations written down, sort them into must-haves and negotiables.  This will help stress what is important to you and identify your needs.  Nothing should be off-limits.  It is essential to have an open line of communication.  Things can get awkward, but it is better to form the communication now rather than in a heated argument. Set the foundation of open communication now.

Talk About It:  Once you and your partner have deciphered what is essential, you begging the discussion and compare notes.  The relationship contract will start to take shape.  The more honest you are with yourself and your partner, the more beneficial the contract will be.  Granted, it is impossible to resolve everything in a relationship into a contract, but the big tension points, such as finances and emotional support, should be in there.  Having difficult conversations now and not in the heat of the moment allows for clear, calm heads and capitalizes on communication.

Put It In Writing:  You have made it this far; don’t neglect to put pen to paper.  Memories fade, and it is essential to cement the dedication to each other’s needs by putting the contract in writing.  It doesn’t need to be fancy, but it does need to be written down.  It is equally important to put a day on the calendar to review it in 3, 6, 9, or 12 months.  The newer the relationship(s)  and the younger the couple(s), the more the contract may need to be renewed and reviewed.  Be sure to include any significant life changes along the way.

What Are the Benefits of a Relationship Contract?

Communication is the most significant benefit of having a relationship contract.  It takes the stress out of the gray area, and you know without a doubt what your partner’s expectations are.  Contracts also force you to recognize what you want, and self-reflection brings about honesty in the relationship that is unsurpassed.  It lowers stress and is refreshing to be open and have well-communicated boundaries.

Goal-setting is another benefit of relationship contracts. You know where you want to go. Moving forward together as a power couple means you arrive at your destination as a team—equal partnership in intimacy and adventure.

Boundaries are clearly defined individually and as a couple.  Some relationship clauses include rules of engagement when it comes to disagreements to ensure disagreements are growth opportunities and not relationship killers.  Bad habits of blame-shifting can be addressed early on and prevented.  Couples can focus on mediation instead of saying things that will be regretted later and are hard to overcome.


Relationship Contract Conclusion

The person that you are with should make you want to be a better person and support your endeavors, all of them.  A plan that keeps you on the path to achieving your goals as a couple and as an individual is helpful.  Contracts shouldn’t be rigid controls; instead, they are more like guidelines and can be as simple as a list of bullet points or whole paragraphs.

Do relationship contracts work for everyone?  No.  Does anything?  Nothing is universal. Humans are complex and ever-changing, and our hearts do not always dictate what is best for us.  Clear communication and boundary setting early on in the relationship can help to capitalize on happiness and capture the best elements in the relationship to carry us over the goal line.  If you need assistance with relationship contracts, feel free to contact us – we can help.


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