Relationship contract

Can a Relationship Contract, a la 50 Shades, Help Your Realtionship?

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Ellen Ross

Ellen Ross lives in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania with her boyfriend and her 4 beloved Chihuahuas. When she’s not working full time, Ellen runs her blog, Ask Away, where she gives advice on all kinds of relationship and life topics, as well as blogging about fashion, beauty, relationships, and pets. Ellen was inspired to start her blog after years of giving her friends advice and being told she had the gift of looking at situations from a neutral point of view. Her life experiences and the experiences of people around her, help her give advice to others.

In many relationships, couples tend to bicker about the same old thing until it explodes into an all out argument.  On the outside, we may be complaining about one thing, when the reality is, the issue is much larger.  We’ve all experienced a version of this scenario.  You have cleaned and vacuumed all week while your significant other just sat in front of the television.  Finally, by the end of the week when he fails to take out the trash a huge argument ensues.  While you both are focused on fighting over the trash, you don’t even consider the fact that your deeper frustrations are about household chores and responsibility.  When this happens, sitting down in the heat of the moment and talking things out can often be a challenge, especially when one (or both) of you are still fired up about the topic at hand.

I recently got sucked into the whole 50 Shades of Grey book craze.  I considered the series a guilty pleasure.  I did take something from it that I turned into a very realistic and beneficial idea for my relationship.  In the book, Christian gives Ana a contract detailing terms of their relationship, be it sexual or otherwise.  I began pondering the ways in which contracts benefit all parties involved, as long as they agree to the terms.  Contracts help to set guidelines, assign responsibilities, and establish clear boundaries   If couples  could develop some sort of agreement in the form of a contract, would it help establish boundaries, prevent petty fights, and appease pet peeves for the relationship just as it would in a business negotiation?   I challenged myself to test that theory on my own relationship.

With that in mind, I explained the idea to my boyfriend and found he was very open to trying it.  After all, he would certainly have his say for every term.  This process may not be suitable for every relationship, especially if there are underlying issues such as major insecurities, mental health, and an unstable history within the relationship.  For my relationship, this was all meant in good fun and we both knew that before we began.

Before I explain how my relationship contract turned out, I’ll lay down some basic guidelines of how to make your own relationship contract.

What To List

Make a list of things that tend to be hot topics in your relationship.  Ask your partner to make a list as well.  Focus on pet peeves, issues you bicker about, and things that used to be the highlight of your relationship in the beginning.  Sometimes we have to revert back to the ways in which we respected each other in the beginning of the relationship in order to find the sparks again.  Whether it’s about leaving dirty underwear on the floor, criticizing each other too much, or how often you have sex, list anything you want to establish a guideline for.  The contract goes both ways and is meant to benefit both parties.

How to Word It

Basically, you both want to agree on what will and won’t exist in your relationship.  Be aware of how you word things and don’t list things as if you are making a deal.  Listing that if Person A takes out the trash every week, Person B agrees to have sex 3 times a week, is just going to cause more arguments.   Person A could refuse to take out the trash because they haven’t had sex all week.  List each issue as a separate term.

Consequences

There should never be consequences for a relationship contract.  This is supposed to be an enjoyable exercise to show both parties how well they can agree on issues and get to the root of specific problems.  In my relationship, if we don’t follow a term every now and then, one of us brings up the contract and we pause, giggle, and move on.  In the back of our minds, we know what we agreed on and understand there will be slip ups.  This contract is just a way to establish guidelines and the actual document should not make or break the relationship.

Discussing the Terms

Sit down with the drafted terms and discuss each one.  You may have to alter them or exclude some altogether.  Explain your reasoning for everything.  Your contract can be as specific or as vague as you want, as long as you agree on it.  Once you agree on the drafted terms, make a clean version of the contract.  Leave space for both of you to initial each term.

My boyfriend and I had a blast going over our relationship contract.  Just reviewing the drafted terms together brought us closer and it really put into perspective how petty we can be at times.  It reminded us both to be grateful for what we have and not take the positives of our relationship for granted.  We both learned we still have similar moral values and we can agree to disagree on certain things.

A couple terms we agreed upon included:

  • celebrating our monthly anniversaries,
  • never going to bed angry,
  • committing to resolving arguments by talking it out rather than storming off,
  • not taking things too personally and being more careful of how critical we can be to each other,
  • and continuing to respect each other’s privacy (no snooping – we don’t but it’s good to list for the future).

Our relationship is a lot healthier and happier since we established an agreement.  Not only was the experience fun, but since we focused so much on editing the terms before we finally signed off on them, they became ingrained into our heads.  This proved to be way more effective then nagging each other from time to time about the same old issue.  My boyfriend even agreed to give me a foot massage once a week!  So as you can see, a contract can benefit the entire relationship in a fun and exciting way!

What do you think about creating contracts in your relationship?

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  • http://theindiechicks.com/ Chiara

    It’s weird. I want to hate everything about this concept, but the truth is… so many couples could benefit from it. Not necessarily as a strict, “You broke the contract” kind of thing, but as a method of opening the doors of communication.

    The only way to make this work, has to do with the approach. It’s not supposed to be serious; relationships are supposed to be fun and free.. Most of them just lack effective communication.

    The one thing I would change, however, is to add some fun terms with some fun consequences… really ‘a la 50 Shades’.

  • http://www.accordingtojewels.com Jewels

    You know, I never thought about it this way, Ellen. I see the benefits when it’s not an over the top and completely ridiculous contract like it was in the book. I have no boyfriend right now, but I sure could have used one of these agreements with some of my ex’s. An ongoing debate at my site is “what is cheating” and it’s been determined that it is different for every couple. How beneficial would talking about your individual feelings on what constitutes cheating early on and setting guidelines in a contract?! Love this idea. It may not work for everyone, but with the right attitude going into the discussion I think it could be GREAT!

    Love it.

  • http://www.theblissness.blogspot.com/ Veronica

    Ellen! This is GENIUS. I love the concept. This could be beneficial to many; so many more people stick to contracts than they do verbal agreements or promises. You’re onto something, darling. Rock ON! Consider me a fan of yours and your relationship advice.

  • http://www.katoninetales.com Kat

    You know why this is brilliant? Because it puts into words what the number one problem with relationships is: communication. So many fights stem from not knowing the other’s expectations, or that they were not aware of yours, and this would eliminate all of that. Love this, E!

  • http://ellenross.blogspot.com Ellen Ross

    Thanks everyone!! I figured if I kept it lighter, people can make their own more serious. Some can do it to spice things up and make it fun and some people might really need it to get through to each other about some serious issues.

  • http://justmewith.com Roxanne

    I’m not in a relationship right now, but it seems to me that your contract required communication and that’s always good. Actually, it’s not unlike the kind of “homework” individuals and couples get in therapy. Sometimes it helps to spell things out and communicate them.

  • http://randomgirlblogs.blogspot.com/ Random Girl

    I like this idea for the communication that comes with it. And setting the right expectations is such a key thing as well. You know what you can expect and what your partner is expecting from you and that takes at least half of the battle out of about everything!

  • http://thedivaofdating.com Walker aka The Diva

    Great idea, if for no other reason than it gets the 2 of you to start talking and thinking seriously about how you interact.