A relationship contract may not sound very sexy, especially since the word contract has a very formal ring to it, and it's not something we would necessarily connect with love and romance. In the western culture romantic love is often associated with attraction, passion, pleasure, falling head over heels for the other person, heightened emotions, intimacy - all things that contracts... well... aren't. 😁
Even though at first glance romantic relationships have nothing to do with contracts, you'd be surprised to hear that we actually do have a contractual relationship with our partners, it's just that most of us aren't aware of it because we aren't used to putting it in such a clear context.
One of my favorite relationship teachers, Wendy Palmer Patterson, Senior Faculty Member and Master Trainer of Imago Relationships, says that we have "multiple contracts that we live in every day that we don’t even know about. Most of the time when the relationship gets into problems, the contract isn’t working/is outdated."
So the question isn't as much whether we have a relationship contract (because we do), but rather if:
we are aware of what the content of that contract is
both partners mutually agree on and honor the agreements
it was created with intention
👑 For example, you could have an unspoken agreement with your partner that you call each other every day when you're apart. It may be that you never actually talked about this, but it's a normal part of your relationship and it's assumed and respected by both of you. If one of you wouldn't call, it would create insecurity and worry in the other person.
This is just one example, but you have hundreds of these little agreements with your partner (and with all the other people you are in a relationship with - family, friends, etc.).
Going from a romantic relationship to a conscious partnership
As a society, we're starting to shift romantic relationships (in which we mostly react from our unconscious patterns and often feel powerless) towards conscious partnerships (where we are self-aware, conscious, and in our power) and one of the main characteristics of a conscious partnership is safety.
Among the most important things that create safety in a relationship are:
... which are all things that we can include in a relationship contract.
Let's have a closer look at each of these.
Being intentional means that we enter a relationship having given it some thought and having created an intention of how we want that relationship to be and feel like.
When we are intentional that helps us to "choose to behave in ways that will serve the relationship and support the intention rather than just react based on our emotions of the moment" (Imago Relationships Manual).
Setting an intention sets the foundation for the direction of our relationship and for how we want to respond to situations and show up.
🤝 Clear agreements
Clear agreements help us make sure we and our partner have the same understanding of our relationship and that both of us are clear about what the other person values, what both od us agreed on, and what the consequences are. They make everything a lot easier and clearer and help solve a lot of possible misunderstandings.
In terms of a conscious partnership clear agreements also mean that both people are aware and clear about what they are stepping into before they step into it. It's like having a look at the contract and making sure it's aligned before signing it.
One thing that's important when it comes to clear agreements is to keep track of our expectations towards our partner and what's underneath - especially the ones we haven't been aware of.
Here's what I mean.
👑 For example, I use to unconsciously expect my partner to bring me a small gift when he went shopping or traveling. This is something I'd been used to in my previous relationships, as well as between friends and family. It was so normal to me that I didn't even think twice about it (but expected it) until my partner came home and didn't bring anything back. Since this was an unresolved expectation that I wasn't aware of and I connected receiving gifts with feeling important and valued, it triggered frustration, anger, and anxiousness, which led to me getting annoyed at my partner, demanding him to buy me presents (bless 🙈), who then felt pushed into a corner and of course didn't want to do it because it felt like a demand vs an unattached share of what matters to me and neither of us was happy.
Obviously, there was some stickiness on my end that I had to clear (which I did), and now when I catch myself having an expectation I just share: "I'll be honest with you, this situation upset me because I think we had different expectations. My understanding was... and your understanding was different. How can we move on from here with a clearer understanding?"
Unspoken expectations can cause a lot of misunderstandings, which is why it's important to become aware of them as soon as possible and share them with your partner. When you voice your expectations and allow your partner to share theirs, you can understand each other better and it will be easier for you to come to a solution that works for both of you.
If your partner respects and values you, they will listen, they will want to honor what matters to you and do their best to find a mutual agreement that fits you both.
🙏🏼 Honoring agreements
In a conscious partnership agreements are sacred. Romantic relationships bring up a lot of vulnerability and core & sensitive material (which is connected to our parents and childhood), and they are the most intimate form of relationships, which is why it's that much more vital to be respectful and to set your agreements with intention and then honor them.
Basic agreements have to be respected between the partners because that builds trust and safety.
The main purpose of a relationship contract is to create safety
In our context, the relationship contract isn't something that is legally binding (like marriage or prenups), it's much more a fluid agreement that you and your partner get to co-create and re-create.
It gets to be whatever both of you would like it to be (it can be written & signed if that's your thing, but you can also create it in a form of a vision board or it can simply be something you talk about on a regular basis). It's mostly an agreement that offers clarity, safety, and freedom around things that are most important to both of you in your relationship.
Contracts between people are nothing new but it's a fairly new concept in the world of romantic relationships because we’re not used to looking at it that way.
But if you think of it, applying clear agreements to relationships makes complete sense.
Think of when you signed your employee agreement: you and your employer drafted the contract, adapted the clauses until they fit both of you and when both of you were 100% happy with it, you signed it and committed to honoring the agreements. Both of you had a clear understanding of your relationship, what is expected and what happens if a certain clause isn't respected.
All of this makes your relationship with your employer very clear and that’s important because clarity creates safety.
How to create your own relationship contract
Start by having an open, honest, and vulnerable conversation about things that matter to both of you when it comes to relationships - things you know are an absolute no-go, things that are a must, things that are important to you, and why.
There's no right or wrong, it's just what's important to both of you.
If you're single, this is a great way for you to get to know each other and see whether entering a conscious relationship makes sense for you and whether your expectations and vision match.
It could be that just through this conversation you notice that you have completely different expectations that neither of you is able to fulfill and that's ok. Maybe one of you wants to travel the world and the other wants to live in their home town and you aren't able to find a creative solution that would work for you both. It's better to be honest about this in the beginning and let each other go. This way you can make space for someone who wants exactly what you want.
The important part is that it 100% works for both of you. Keep on asking yourselves: “Are we on the same page? Are we ok with that?”
The intention isn’t to manipulate what you want from your partner, but to be honest with each other about what is important to you.
Have this be a sacred agreement that you enter with respect towards yourself and your partner.
That means being aware and brutally honest about your boundaries and your truth. If something is a no-go for you, respect that and share that openly and honestly with your partner. Your first responsibility is towards yourself and if you respect your boundaries, your partner will respect them too.
If you want to read more on setting healthy boundaries, read my article here.
I recommend writing the most important things down to really ground them. This can be a beautiful ritual that brings you closer together. You can light a candle, sit under the moonlight, spend time together and reflect.
Know that relationships are much more fluid than you think and are able to transform very quickly, so don't hesitate to bring more of what's important to you into your relationship contract (despite any fears that may be coming up).
Start with the first few most important things that come to mind and then keep on adding and expanding as you go. Your relationship and life will constantly offer you new opportunities where you'll be able to notice your boundaries, what matters to you, and how you want your relationship to be.
The contract doesn’t have to be long but I invite you to include the things that really matter to both of you.
Here are a few examples:
How do you want to be with each other when you get upset? Share how you normally react so the other person knows what to expect and tell them how they can support you best. Maybe you need space to clear your thoughts after an upset - let them know that this is normal for you so that it doesn't trigger their fears of abandonment, etc.
How much time do you generally want to spend together vs alone? What are your expectations around that?
What are your absolute no-gos (for example drugs, alcohol, infidelity, dishonesty, etc.)? What are your must-haves?
Do you have any particular expectations of your partner and / or your life together? (for example, that you spend time with your family, go to bed at the same time) What matters to you? (that you show you a lot of physical affection, that you feel seen and heard etc.)
If you live together, think about the traditional societal expectations you may have (for example, that your partner will cook & clean or be the breadwinner) and have a conversation around that first without assuming.
You can say “Since we live together we have some things to take care of, like finances, the house, the car, etc... How should we split this up? This is what I enjoy. What do you enjoy? Could we outsource what we don’t enjoy (for example cleaning)?
A lot of these things may seem obvious, but it’s when we don’t talk about them that misunderstandings and conflicts are created.
You can also write down your vision and intentions, for example:
Our vision for our relationship is....
Our intention is to hold a safe space for each other when we're upset.
Our intention is to see each other in our innocence when we get reactive.
Our intention is to take personal responsibility and to remove negativity from our relationship.
Our intention is to always be honest with ourselves and each other.
Our intention is to renew our relationship contract every 6 months.
Our intention is to travel together 1 month a year.
Our intention is to have a gratitude circle every evening.
Know that you can write your relationship contract even if you've been in a relationship for some time - it doesn't matter when you start, it will elevate your relationship and your connection regardless.
Renewing your relationship contract
It’s good to keep in mind that relationships are constantly evolving so this isn't a one-and-done type of thing. You're not the same person you were a year ago and neither is your partner - your needs, dreams, and interests are constantly changing, which is why it’s so important to come back to it regularly and change it so it feels aligned to the new version of you.
Most of all, have fun with it and let this be a sacred ritual between you that will deepen your connection.
Let me know in the comments what your biggest insight from this article was and whether you have some type of relationship contract with your partner. If yes, how has it influenced your relationship? I'd love to know. 👇
With all my love & gratitude