Although many of the new dating and relationship trends seem to have a silly edge — this one is decidedly more serious. Some couples are writing relationship contracts to ensure that their relationships run smoothly. Yup, relationship contracts are a thing. If you're anything like me, your first thought may have been that they were talking about prenups — but relationship contracts are actually very different. They have nothing to do with marriage, they're just about setting down guidelines for your relationships and then making sure you stick to them.
And some people have had great luck with them, like Mandy Len Catron, author of How to Fall in Love With Anyone, who's relationship contract changes when her and her partner's needs do. "Writing a relationship contract may sound calculating or unromantic, but every relationship is contractual; we’re just making the terms more explicit," Catron wrote in the New York Times. "It reminds us that love isn’t something that happens to us — it’s something we’re making together. After all, this approach brought us together in the first place."
But not everyone is a fan of them. Relationship coach and founder of Maze of Love, Chris Armstrong, takes serious issue with these contracts.
What To Ask Yourself Before Creating A Relationship
As Armstrong tells Bustle, "1. Is it an objective or subjective contract? Meaning, are we signing this in order to set and agree on specific, hard and fast things, or are we signing this to address how we will treat each other? 2. Why are we signing this? Someone in the partnership initiated the initial discussion and recommendation to do one — understand why. Were they burnt in the past and this is an insurance policy? Is it because their current relationship with you has been contentious and this is the best way to 'ensure' that the relationship has smooth sailing going forward?"
"What REALLY happens if the terms are violated? Relationships are not objective and a contract by nature is."
Those are both really complicated questions, but things get even trickier when you think about what happens if the contract is violated. "What REALLY happens if the terms are violated?" Armstrong asks. "Relationships are not objective and a contract by nature is. Humans sign contracts to ensure execution of duties and tasks in return for money or other services. If John Smith does not execute his objective tasks, he doesn't get paid. Do you wanna know the newish addition to contracts that gets messy? Character clauses; things that dictate how someone can act — normally in association with situations that put someone in a position to make or break the public face of a company or organization. Why are these clauses messy? Because they are subjective. Human behavior is subjective. Feelings are complicated. "
The Benefits Of A Relationship Contract
On the one hand, I can see the benefits. If one partner tends to be more assertive, the other may feel overlooked. Drawing up a contract works as an opportunity to share their views and concerns that they may not naturally feel comfortable bringing up. It also is something that is easy to reference — rather than getting into arguments over your incompatible viewpoints, you at least have it in writing. That means that there can be no gaslighting, no beating around the bush. How you agreed to run your relationship is written right there. I bet arguments get over in a hurry.
Make Sure You Know *Why* You're Doing It
But relationship expert John Gottman has warned that relationship contracts can lead to a quid pro quo approach to a relationship — an exchange of this for that, tit-for-tat, that is ultimately really damaging. If compromise is an important part of a relationship, contracts could also feel adversarial. 'I'll do the dishes once a week if we have sex twice a week, you can go to the gym but I can go to soccer' — it feels a bit controlling and contrived. It seems to me that success of relationship contracts would depend very much on the two people going into them— or else they could quickly become ways for one vulnerable party to be controlled by another.
Make sure that you go into it on equal footing and you both know why you're doing it. Because though clarity is important, it's not going to do you any good if you're not already stronger partner willing to listen to each other.
So you may think about a relationship contract as being a great way to clarify your relationship, but make sure you're doing it for the right reasons. Because a contract is just going to solidify what's already there — the good and the bad.