There’s a newish trend among couples getting hitched to create “relationship agreements,” wherein they stipulate in writing before they tie the knot the compromises they’re asking of and willing to make for each other. A relationship agreement is different from a prenup in that it’s generally not legally enforced and it doesn’t involve assets. It’s more like a “business plan” for the relationship, or a “wish list” for the couple. “It’s more about acknowledging the seriousness of the discussion,” said Cheryl Lynn Hepfer, a matrimonial lawyer in Bethesda, Md. “People’s memories fail. So they say, ‘Remember when this was so important to us that we signed, with witnesses?’ ”
What would be number one on your “relationship agreement” if you made one right now with your significant other (hypothetical or real one).
Nookie September 25, 2015, 6:17 am
I voted other because I’d want something that outlines a cleaning schedule. I know I’m a lazy slob but the Cockney far surpasses me on this and I hate having to be the nag that says we need to clean the flat up – even if it is only once a month, when things start to go downhill. Drives me nuts.
Kay September 25, 2015, 6:22 am
Oh, for the love of…
I think this is simply ridiculous. This takes out the communication and the sheer act of working on compromise that are pretty fundamental in a relationship. Not to mention, it seems like another thing that people can use as ammunition – “You wrote it down! With witnesses! Therefore, I’ll hold it against you if you forget!” Seriously, what happened to talking things out?
And honestly, I wouldn’t write one with my S.O. We talk things out. We give each other space (we’re highly independent people by ourselves). We give each other a heads up if we have something that will keep us “off the grid” as it were. And we trust each other. It’s as simple as that.
Nookie September 25, 2015, 7:22 am
I don’t know, maybe I don’t take it as serious but maybe it’s a way for some couples to open up that discussion and compromise?
RedRoverRedRover September 25, 2015, 7:52 am
That’s what I was thinking. A relationship is a constant negotiation. There’s no point laying something out in stone, and then going back and insisting on it later when the situation has changed. What happens when one of you switches jobs and has longer hours? Do you still have to do the same amount of work at home? What about when you have kids? We threw the “whoever doesn’t make dinner cleans up” rule out the window because one of us would do both while the other watched the baby. Things are changing all the time and you have to be able to roll with it together.
I think this would be valuable as an exercise on communication, and also to understand what’s important to you and to your SO. Other than that I think it’s a bad idea.
Skyblossom September 25, 2015, 8:19 am
I was thinking the same thing, there is no flexibility for the changes that happen in life. Doing this struck me as naive, as if the couple writing the document have no idea that their lives won’t continue through life just as they are. There is no room for changing jobs, changing homes, having children, having friends move away or friends who become busy with their own families. No room here for a child’s activities or a child needing help with homework. The only type of couple this might work for in the long term is a couple who are both established in stable careers, who never change jobs and who never have children.
ohsoridiculous September 25, 2015, 8:20 am
Exactly. I think one of the most important things is communication. ASK for what you want or need instead of getting pissy that your spouse isn’t a mind reader. And then be willing to compromise. Like, my husband usually makes dinner and I do the prep work/clean up. But if he isn’t feeling well, he’ll ask me to do the whole thing. The alternative would be him doing it anyway and then being in a bad mood because he’s not feeling well. Communicate. Compromise. Be Flexible.
laurahope September 25, 2015, 6:59 am
I agree. These sound more like New Year’s resolutions and we all know how long those last.
Jane63 September 25, 2015, 8:07 am
Another reason I am proud to be single by choice. Sheesh
Miel September 25, 2015, 8:32 am
I like the idea of talking about those topics and maybe writing down what was talked about with the date, but I don’t really like the signing and the witnesses. For me that’s the difference in between “Let’s make sure we discuss about all of this” and “This is a contract that needs to be respected”. Looking at the list here, I wouldn’t want a contract saying we need one date night per week or limiting the amount of sports that is being watched. Because some weeks it’s the olympics and some weeks my parents are visiting and we shouldn’t really be watching any tv. I would hate to be limited by “the contract” for things like that.
I think it’s good to outline the expectations, but once we did that, there needs to be some freedom and some leeway. It’s good to say “My ideal frequency for sex is three time a week, big minimum of once per week”, but I think it’s horrible to say “it’s been 6 days without sex, we have to do it tonight otherwise YOU are not respecting the CONTRACT !”
Portia September 25, 2015, 8:41 am
I think these types of agreements would actually be a good idea if someone was moving or otherwise making a large sacrifice for the other person. I can see how it would force certain conversations that otherwise would be pushed under the rug and also put important agreements in writing. We didn’t have one of these, but we did write up a non-enforceable cohabitation agreement when he bought a condo and I wish that we had had some sort of agreement when I moved to a different city with him. We had made some verbal agreements but when certain situations changed, it made it hard to have that conversation and consider all the decisions we had previously made.
I think one thing that the article is missing (and based on some comments here, what others are thinking) is some acknowledgement that the situation may change and that it needs to be renegotiated. Ours had clauses like that for both foreseeable (losing grad school funding, doing fieldwork elsewhere, getting married) and unforeseeable circumstances.
Miss MJ September 25, 2015, 8:43 am
This is just so, I don’t know, childish? Emotionally immature? Writing out Rules for the Relationship like this sounds like something a child would come up with before they understand the ways of communication, social contracts, respecting another’s feelings and the other social cues and emotional maturity that most people seem to learn at some point so that they can live without reliance on a concrete written “agreement” to tell them what they have to do or can “make” their partner do. When did people stop learning how to be emotionally mature and functional adults? This is just stupid. And sad.
Skyblossom September 25, 2015, 8:46 am
This is like Sheldon on Big Bang Theory except fewer rules.
Skyblossom September 25, 2015, 8:45 am
There is also no flexibility in this kind of contract for health problems. We had an infant when my husband had cancer. I’d have a lot more respect for a document that talked about flexibility and communication around life changing events. This seems like people trying to protect the status quo when life is full of change.
mrmidtwenties September 25, 2015, 8:50 am
I don’t know why so much hate on this. It sounds like a really good tool, especially for people who are extremely busy or are very different from each other personality wise. I don’t know if you need witnesses to sign it, but whatever. I would equate it to a business plan, and the thing about business plans is that they often change, just like a relationship plan would have to adapt to a variety of factors. Look at IBM or GE, their plans have changed drastically since their inceptions, just like a relationship plan would.
RedRoverRedRover September 25, 2015, 9:21 am
I think it’s the idea of having it signed by witnesses that’s leaving a bad taste in my mouth. It shouldn’t be “official”. I agree it would be a good tool for a point-in-time agreement. But it should never be considered set in stone. Both parties need to be prepared at any time to come back to it and change it, based on changing circumstances, or just based on it not really working out how they thought it would. And when you look at it that way, it ends up being no different than what people have been doing for ages – just discussing issues and coming up with agreements together on the resolution.
ktfran September 25, 2015, 9:31 am
If they sat down, discussed expectations, and came up with a plan, maybe even wrote it down, I could see your point. What I cannot see is making it into a contract. It’s much easier to discuss and change a business plan (or marriage plan, whatever) than it is to renegotiate a contract.
Not only that, what if I were in a horrible accident and couldn’t meet all the terms of said contract. I wouldn’t want someone throwing that in my face because for a few weeks, I couldn’t hold up my end. Or to take it to less extremes, what if we decided to have children and one of the terms of the contract was that we had sex twice a week. Well… I’m sorry, but I wouldn’t want my husband throwing said contract in my face because after a baby came out of my vagina, I didn’t feel like having sex for a while. Also, I wouldn’t want to have to take the time to renegotiate the contract before the pregnancy.
IDK, here’s an idea, TALK TO YOUR PARTNER. That just seems a hell of a lot easier.
SasLinna September 25, 2015, 10:17 am
Yeah, not really seeing why it should be considered ridiculous. There are contracts and agreements in almost every area of life, and it’s considered normal. At your job, you probably have a job description, for example. Doesn’t mean it can never change. Relationships, in contrast, either have a one-size-fits-all contract that doesn’t actually stipulate that much and leaves out many important areas (marriage) or nothing at all. Given the importance of relationships, it seems reasonable and prudent to do something like this. It would probably really helpt with getting clear about expectations. Now what the content should be is another question. I would probably not put something like “sex once week” in it. Nor would I call for witnesses, they’re not needed. But why not make certain important agreements ‘official’ by writing them down? I don’t get it.
RedRoverRedRover September 25, 2015, 10:29 am
For me personally, I see a clear difference between a contract like I have with my workplace, and the relationship between me and my husband. A contract makes complete sense for my job, because otherwise there’s no relationship. They give me something and I give them something, and that’s the end of it. If the contract didn’t exist, neither of us would do anything for each other.
But a relationship is not based on agreeing on what you will give and what you will take. Typically, it’s based on love. That makes it a whole different animal. The relationship exists without the contract. Of course it’s still necessary for each person to make sure their needs are met, and you should always be having those discussions. If writing it down makes you happy, then sure, write it down. But if the purpose of writing it down is to use it at a later date to “force” your partner into doing something, then I don’t think your relationship is working. If a verbal agreement already doesn’t work, then how is having it on paper going to help?
Miss MJ September 25, 2015, 10:44 am
Right. Why is this even necessary? Who needs this level of relationship management and, IDK, specificity. Date night once a week. Sex once a week. Cooking and clean up agreements. Really? People have to write this stuff down? These aren’t things you contract with another person to force them to do for you. Why not just say, “hey partner, it’s been awhile since we had quality time alone – let’s go out Friday” or “let’s have sex” (or just initiate it) or “I cooked, you clean!” In my opinion, in a mature and secure relationship, you don’t need to sit down and have a formal meeting to discuss these things and then write it down like it’s a school project and that agreement binds you to it – there Perfect Relationship Achieved. That’s just silly and unrealistic. Life changes. Things happen. And, these are just those things that ebb and flow naturally in a relationship that’s healthy without the need for a written agreement that one party or the other can point to and say “You HAVE to do this because you agreed!!” So odd.
SasLinna September 25, 2015, 3:35 pm
I think the examples are not ones that would work well. They’re too rigid & generate this impression that people would point to the contract and try to use that to enforce certain things in their relationship, which clearly would not work and seems silly. To my mind, the purpose of something like this would have to be to get clearer about each partner’s needs and expectations. Of course you discuss this stuff all the time in a relationship, but there’s a place for having more general discussions that go beyond the day-to-day. From having that type of discussion where you take the pulse of the relationship and see if anything needs to change to writing down the results it’s really just a small step. Writing stuff down could also help for planning purposes if you have complex transitions coming up. Basically, to me it just sounds like a tool that makes people more aware of what’s happening in their relationships.
ktfran September 25, 2015, 1:09 pm
You said this much better than I.
SasLinna September 25, 2015, 3:26 pm
Then what’s the purpose of marriage? It’s also a contract, but not the basis of the relationship. For me, these agreements sound sort of like “marriage light”, or actually, like what might be mentioned in prenups. So it just doesn’t look that novel or odd to me.
RedRoverRedRover September 25, 2015, 6:09 pm
I think the difference is that marriage vows are a lot more high-level than this. Things like will we stay together through good times and bad. Things on the level of “lifetime”, not “day to day”. You don’t see marriage vows about who’s going to take out the garbage. You do see pre-nups with very specific stuff, which is one reason I don’t like them. This is much closer to a pre-nup than a marriage. Pre-nups are “do this or else”. Marriage is “we’re in this together”.
SasLinna September 26, 2015, 4:58 am
Well, marriage vows about who’s going to take out the trash would be kind of hilarious… If I got married I’d have a prenup but only with stuff like asset division in the case of divorce etc. not about specific behavior in the marriage. As for the marriage “business plans” I think I’m just imagining it differently than others – I would see it as covering the mid-level, something between the highly abstract “we’re in this together” and “I will take out the trash on Tuesdays.” And I can see the point of that since it’s pretty easy to get lost in day-to-day discussions and it might be useful to have something more specific to refer to for guidance than “we love each other and will support each other”. I’d love to see a real example that doesn’t include silly stuff.
RedRoverRedRover September 26, 2015, 12:14 pm
That’s the thing… I don’t think there is a real example that doesn’t include silly stuff. 🙂 That’s why people are making fun of this.
Skyblossom September 25, 2015, 11:28 am
It just doesn’t seem practical. If it was an agreement on ways to talk things through and work things out when needed I’d think it was great. The examples given are about very specific things being done generally at specific intervals. Real life changes constantly so the contract that works today won’t necessarily work next week, let alone next year or next decade. I can’t imagine trying to keep living by any contract we could have written when we first got married. Life changes and changes and changes. Your location of work changes, your workload changes, you change where you live and many people have children. Illness happens.
When I was pregnant with our son I spent six weeks on total bed rest. One day the pregnancy was fine and the next day it was a threatened miscarriage. My husband took over doing everything. You’ll assume, of course he would, but these agreements don’t mention any changes as if life will just roll along in the same fashion for the rest of their lives. When my husband had cancer and was getting his radiation treatments I cooked dinner and did the dishes and took care of the baby and helped our son with homework and took him to his activities and packed his lunch and put him to bed. One day life was fine and suddenly there was cancer. You can’t write a document that covers life. You can only write a document that works for now but these documents don’t seem to acknowledge that life changes, sometimes rapidly and unexpectedly. I think they would be better off if they wrote a document that said everything can and will be renegotiated at the request of either partner, That would be living in the real world. It seems unrealistic to think that you can order your life, for life, before getting married.
snoopy128 September 25, 2015, 3:53 pm
That’s the issue I had when I was trying to pick what my ‘thing’ would be in the poll. Like, sex minimum 1x a week sounds great. But then you put it into a contract and it becomes a chore and it doesn’t allow for flexibility and compromise. Same with ‘you cook, I clean’- generally, we follow that principle, but some nights, I will cook and clean (and vice versa) as a nice gesture. Or I need him to do both because I’m absolutely swamped.
I get the list as a tool and a conversation starter. I just couldn’t imagine what concrete ‘things’ I would want in my list (things like openness and trust aren’t concrete ‘things’ to me).
Jessibel5 September 25, 2015, 10:59 am
Isn’t this very similar to a Ketubah?
Taylor September 25, 2015, 1:00 pm
Hey, if we make rules nobody will get hurt!
What the list needs is constant kindness and forgiveness, for both your SO and yourself.
RedRoverRedRover September 25, 2015, 1:40 pm
Great point. If the contract nails down things like “regular open communication, listening to each other, treating the other’s opinion with respect, working on compromises when one person is unhappy with the situation”, then THAT would make total sense to me. If you have that, then you don’t need to specify all these fiddly little things. That stuff will work itself out in the process of communication and compromise.
But again, in my opinion, if you DON’T have this stuff, then your relationship’s already in trouble. These are the basic things you need for the relationship to work. If you’re at the point where the only way your partner will listen to your needs is by having a contract that says they have to, then it’s over already.
d2 September 25, 2015, 1:55 pm
I like the idea of sitting down with your SO and reviewing what’s important in each of your lives. I also like periodically reviewing to make sure the two of you are on the same page.
However, I don’t like the idea of creating a document that has long-term intent because people change and life happens.
K September 28, 2015, 1:41 pm
I’m surprised that one date a week is the most popular option. What constitutes a date? The two of you going out to dinner alone? My guy and I do that often, but I don’t necessarily consider it a date. Maybe if we went someplace fancy.