The Relationship Secret You Shouldn’t Ignore: The Relationship Contract

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No two relationships are exactly alike. Yet we often make assumptions about how they are supposed to be. In recognizing that all relationships are negotiable, we can tap into an enormously powerful tool: the relationship contract.

Why Your Relationship Needs a Contract

There is a lot of societal pressure to have a relationship where your agreements are simply assumed, instead of overtly communicated.

You are expected to follow a particular relationship trajectory: you meet, flirt, date, fall in love, and become monogamous. Then you solidify the relationship by moving in (and sometimes getting married), you become a family (which may include children), and then you stay together into your old age.

This particular formula however doesn’t work for everyone – or even the majority of people. Yet people judge themselves and their partners based on the success or failure of making this trajectory happen.

Relationship contracts help people replace this static, assumption-based approach to relationships. They help you honor your unique, ever-changing desires and boundaries in service of having sustainable, loving relationships.

What Exactly is a Relationship Contract?

A relationship contract is a formal agreement between partners – outlining expectations, boundaries, and responsibilities within the relationship.

It serves as a tool for open communication and mutual understanding, ensuring that both partners (or all, if there are multiples) are on the same page regarding all aspects of their partnership. Typically, a relationship contract covers topics such as finances, household chores, communication styles, personal space, and long-term goals. It can be as detailed or as broad as the partners desire, depending on their specific needs and preferences.

In practice, a relationship contract also works really well because it provides a structured framework for addressing and resolving conflicts and misunderstandings. By clearly defining each partner’s roles and obligations, it helps minimize misunderstandings and prevents resentment from building up over time.

While some may view the idea of a relationship contract as unromantic, it can actually strengthen the bond between partners by fostering transparency, trust, and accountability.

How to Shape Your Agreements

A good way to shape your relationship contract is to start with the following assumption: There is no right way to have a relationship. The most successful relationships account for the beautifully unique needs of the people in them.

For example, some of the most wonderful marriages can happen when the couple lives apart together. Equally delightful relationships may never result in marriage, and some generous couples decide that the most loving, supportive thing they can do for one another is to break up amicably. Sometimes, relationships are revived by an affair, and sometimes they are ruined by the monotony and boredom of trying to fit into society’s mold.

Examine the (written or unwritten) relationship agreement you currently have with fresh eyes and creativity. Be willing to continue to look at it throughout your relationship as you change and grow. Notice all the ways you have let yourself fall into default settings and see where this is – or isn’t – serving you. Even if you want aspects of the trajectory, bring them up and make sure you and your partner’s needs are both heard.

Examples on What to Include in Your Relationship Contract

Here are some examples on what to include in your contract:

  1. Communication: Guidelines for effective communication, including how to express feelings, communicate needs and expectations, and set boundaries.
  2. Finances: Have you decided to share your money? Make explicit rules regarding joint expenses, savings goals, individual spending limits, and how to handle debts or financial emergencies.
  3. Household chores: Allocation of household responsibilities, such as cooking, cleaning, grocery shopping, and maintenance tasks.
  4. Personal space: Respect for each other’s personal space, and alone time, including privacy preferences and social engagements (alone or together?).
  5. Time management: How to balance individual hobbies, work commitments, social activities, and quality time together, as well as scheduling regular date nights or activities.
  6. Intimacy and affection: Expectations and preferences regarding physical affection, sexual intimacy at all ages, and emotional support.
  7. Career and personal goals: Support for each other’s professional aspirations and personal development, including discussing long-term plans and career changes.
  8. Family and friends: The involvement of family members and friends in the relationship, boundaries around interactions with ex-partners, and handling conflicts with external parties.
  9. Health and wellness: Commitments to maintaining physical and mental health, supporting each other during illness or challenging times, and practicing self-care.
  10. Conflict resolution: Strategies for resolving disagreements constructively, such as active listening, compromise, and seeking third-party mediation if necessary.
  11. Trust and fidelity: Expectations regarding trust, fidelity, and boundaries in the relationship, including discussions about monogamy or open relationships.
  12. Future plans: Shared goals, aspirations, and plans for the future, such as marriage, children, career milestones, and retirement.
  13. Review and update process: Agree on how often to review the contract, make revisions, and address any changes in circumstances or priorities.
  14. Legal and practical matters: Consider drawing up legal documents, such as prenuptial agreements, testaments, medical directives, or cohabitation agreements. Agree on practical arrangements for joint assets, insurance, and emergency contacts.
  15. Support networks: Acknowledge and set up any needed support systems outside the relationship, such as therapy, counseling, or support groups, and ensure a tolerance and willingness to seek help when needed.

Once you approach your relationship contract as a dynamic, negotiable and non-judgmental process, you will have a lot less undue suffering and frustration.

If you need help designing or negotiating your contract, it might be a good idea to hire a relationship coach. Find your perfect one here.

Find a professional sex coach near you or by expertise now.

Celeste Hirschman
Celeste Hirschman
Celeste Hirschman is the is the co-creator of the Somatica® Method and the co-founder of the Somatica® Institute. She received an MA in Human Sexuality Studies from San Francisco State University, and a BA in Women’s Students from UCSC.

In her teaching and coaching, Celeste routinely draws on her extensive training in attachment psychology, sociology, gender studies, and body-based modalities like Hakomi. She uses these embodied learning principles to help students and clients tap into their own somatic wisdom, deepen their experiences of pleasure, and realize their full personal and professional potential.

A prolific writer, Celeste researched and published a defining paper on adolescent sexuality development in 2006, during her tenure at SFSU’s Center for Research on Gender and Sexuality.

Since then, she has co-authored 3 books with Danielle Harel: Cockfidence, Making Love Real, and Coming Together. She writes frequently and is generally the first expert journalists turn to for quotes and information on sex, dating, and relationships.

No matter what she does – whether she is co-producing the sex-coaching-based TV series Here She Comes, or teaching at the legendary Esalen Institute – Celeste always brings her unconditional love, scintillating presence, erotic energy, and insight to every part of her work.

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