Author Mandy Len Catron recently penned an article for the New York Times’ ‘Modern Love’ column about the relationship contract she and her partner have signed for the past two years on their anniversary – a four page, single-spaced document reviewing everything from their sex life to how long guests are allowed to stay at their house (“guests can stay for up to two weeks but must be mutually vetted”).
It’s safe to say Catron takes a pretty practical approach to her relationships – she and her partner spent their first date testing out a psychological experiment designed to help two strangers fall for each other. The pair don’t see their love as something that’s happened to them, but rather it’s something they’re making together: “The experience helped us to think about love not as luck or fate, but as the practice of really bothering to know someone… Being intentional about love seems to suit us well.”
Not the most romantic sentiment we’ve ever heard, but Catron believes relationship contracts aren’t as much of a romance dampener as they sound. As she says, “Every relationship is contractual; we’re just making the terms more explicit.”
Essentially, it’s just working out what works for you in your relationship and writing it all down. It involves looking at the intimate minutiae of your day-to-day life – like who’s going to walk the dog, or how often you’d like to have sex a week – and can involve some hard bargaining. But really, what is a relationship without a little compromise? It may sound like a cold and calculated practice, but once you’ve reached an agreement and it’s signed for another year, you’re able to continue in a harmonious relationship knowing exactly what your relationship is, how it works, and your role in it.
While Catron’s relationship contract is casual, between her and her partner alone, some couples go as far as getting theirs finalised by a lawyer. In a separate New York Times piece on the subject, Ken Altshuler, President of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, revealed he’d drafted one formal agreement in which a man prone to seasickness allowed his partner to go on one cruise holiday a year, alone. In return, the seasick-prone partner could not “berate or complain” about cruises, including such digs as “blasting the theme from The Love Boat”.
Hearing the theme tune to a 70s rom-com series might not seem irksome to most, but outlining such strictures is proven to help relationships last in the long-run. A study by the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia looked at more than a thousand adults, and found that couples who took the time to talk through big decisions together, instead of awkwardly avoiding them, were more happy both as individuals and as a couple. “Deciding rather than sliding revolves around commitment – not just to each other, but to the decision itself,” said the study’s co-author Galena K Rhodes, a psychology professor and licensed marriage counsellor.
Considering millennials are far less keen to get married than previous generations, could relationship contracts be the future of commitment? Mairead Molloy, psychologist and Global Director of Berkeley International, notes that these types of agreements are particularly appealing to couples who aren’t wed, adding that their popularity could be down to their changeable nature: “This flexibility is a key reason why contracts are so attractive to those taking a pragmatic approach to their personal relationships.”
Ultimately, the act of choosing to use a relationship contract comes down to what you want from your relationship and your partner. There’s no doubting love flourishes on spontaneous acts of romance, but in the long-term, that’s not what loving relationships are built on. Serious partnerships thrive on being a strong team that works together – and teams succeed when they’re working towards the same goal. Whether you need a lawyer to hold you to it, though, may depend on how strongly your partner feels about cruises…