A recent article in the New York Times, To Stay In Love, Sign on the Dotted Line, describes a more deliberate process – a written relationship contract – for what many (if not most) couples do instinctively. At its simplest, a relationship is a contract – an understanding between two people about a shared life. Formed through ongoing negotiations. Some of which are obviously so, but most of which are subtly so – mere habits – from the casual conversation and acts surrounding daily living… Who’s turn to put the kids to bed? Who’s taking care of dinner tonight? Who’s picking up the dry cleaning?
Communication is the foundation on which a relationship is built, grows, and matures. As described in the article, a relationship contract is just a tool for ongoing, structured communication. Its structure, however, brings deliberate intention to the discussion about a couple’s shared understanding of their relationship. Living intentionally than by happenstance.
If more couples were to approach their relationships as such, would there be a paradigm shift in our thinking about marital agreements? Whether premarital/prenuptial, postmarital/postnuptial, and divorce-related agreements.
A habit of communication paves the way for communication about especially important or difficult topics. Approaching the subject of a premarial agreement may be far less threatening. And separation and divorce requires couples, who choose to settle, to contractualize their relationship going forward – as parents and about financial responsibilities. What was organic and instinctive becomes negotiated and reduced to paper. All through the lens of emotional fallout due to failure of their relationship.
And, thankfully, not all relationships end in separation and divorce. Those couples have the option of reducing to writing their intentions for end of life – living wills, healthcare directives, and last wills and testaments.
Of course a relationship is more than a mere contract. But, if couples start approaching communication in a more structured way – like a relationship contract – will that pave the way for a paradigm shift in thinking about how we talk – and write – about our relationships? As they begin, develop, grow into marriage, may end in separation and divorce or in end of life planning.