What It's Really Like To Have A "Love Contract" In Your Relationship

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They're not the most lovey-dovey things in the world, but "love contracts" are gaining popularity with couples that want to lay out expectations for their ever-evolving relationships.

I first heard of relationship contracts while listening to the podcast The Week In Sex. The guest spoke in-depth about the love contract she has with her boyfriend, which concretely stipulates how many times a day she needs to be complimented, how often the pair needs to have sex, and the frequency with which they go on romantic dates. She was so nonchalant about it; like it was no big deal that she and the person she was dating had an actual contract. Meanwhile, I’m over here thinking WTF.

I had a lot of questions and needed answers. So, I tracked down some real-life people who have these types of contracts in their relationships to find out what is going on here.

What The Hell Is A Love Contract?

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A love contract may sound ominous, but it’s actually a tool a growing number of couples are using to brave their most harrowing challenges. It is an unconventional, and admittedly unromantic, way to keep your relationship afloat. Think of it like a prenup; only instead of outlining the rules for what happens when you split, a love contract gives a couple the lay of the land for the relationship itself.

"We wanted more intimacy, but weren't quite sure how to attain it."

“We wanted more intimacy, but weren't quite sure how to attain it," Jordan Bishop, editor-in-chief of How I Travel, tells Bustle. Bishop has had a contract with his girlfriend for the last six months. "We realized that a lot of our time spent together wasn't as high-quality/immersive as it could be, so we wanted to improve and make our time together better, too.”

For a few of the people I talked to, their contracts were merely verbal. But for others, the contracts were physically written down. Jordan says he and his partner keep a copy in their Dropbox accounts. No one I spoke to said their were any lawyers involved in the process. Love contracts are, as far these couples are concerned, agreed to and upheld by the partners themselves — no lawyer or notary required.

There is a need, of course, to continually update a love contract as the relationship progresses and new goals and issues arise. Change and growth are standard fare for most romantic partnerships; in this case, you're just keeping a documented account of adjusted expectations.

Contracts Compel People To Keep Their Word And Keep Everyone's Needs Transparent

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For some, outlining your needs is a way to keep yourself in the present and focused on your partner’s happiness, as well as your own.

Michelle, who created a love contract with her husband in 1991 after seven years of marriage, tells Bustle that her relationship had hit a very rough patch. To deal with the financial and emotional stress, she and her partner came up with a contract, specifically designed to outline what each person needed to be happy. Michelle is certain that piece of paper was a driving force in helping them through some of the hardest years in their marriage.

Having a written list of goals and needs gives the couples using love contracts a clear understanding of where everyone stands. And committing to keeping up each end of the bargain, the thinking goes, ensures each partner's increased comfort and happiness.

Contracts Are Tailored To Fit Specific Needs Of Couples

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Love contracts are as unique as the individual relationships for which they're drawn up. Some of the terms will be for the heavier stuff; like how much sex you want to have, or how much time you need to spend together. Other stipulations might be more mundane — and the overall purpose of a contract might do different things for different people.

Dennis, who has been in a relationship for five years and has had a contract for 18 months, tells Bustle that the paperwork simply “helped [us] to be able to have a guideline to look back on and settle any disputes. We keep adding new rules and regulations often, that we both agree to.”

Meanwhile, Jordan's contract gets into some pretty specific rules. For example, he finds texting too slow and arduous to use all the time. So in his contract, there is a rule that texting may not be the couple's main form of communication. “Text messaging should only be used for small questions or thoughts," the contract reads, "and should be sent expecting an asynchronous response.”

Michelle says she and her husband have a yearly, formal renewal meeting for their contract. “Every year before our anniversary, we begin to discuss annual contract renewals and where we will go to have the discussion," she says. "We schedule time on (or if I'm traveling, around) our anniversary to dedicate to discussing our marriage. What's going right as well as not so right. The intent of these discussions is always: What can we do right now to agree to stay together for another year?”  

Is This Something Couples Should Be Doing?

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Dennis, Michelle and Jordan all agree that relationship contracts have had a positive influence on their partnerships and would absolutely recommend them to other couples.

"It reminds us both of what's important to the other, and as a result, we make better decisions."

“I think our annual contract negotiations have helped us tremendously," Michelle says. "I know he can choose to walk away after May 27 and he knows I can as well, but we have agreed to stay together until then. I also know explicitly what he needs from me in order to start next year's negotiations off on a positive note. My needs are known, too — sometimes we need course —correction discussions. The intent is to stay together for life; our contract just helps break that down one year at a time.”

It's apparently working: Michelle says her son even called her to say he and his wife are drawing one up.

“Just having the discussions about things like communications, what makes us happy, what frustrates us, etc. were valuable conversations to have, and they probably make up 80 percent of the value of the contract," Jordan says. "Still, I place a lot of importance on having something ‘official,’ whether it's legally binding or not, monitoring our behavior. It reminds us both of what's important to the other, and as a result, we make better decisions. It's absolutely been a great addition to our relationship.”

So, while a love contract may seem like the weirdest thing you’ve ever heard, they have gotten some glowing recommendations. And if they're bringing couples closer together with improved communication, it seems like what they lack in romance they make up for in ensuring a lasting relationship.