Relationships are the cornerstones of our everyday lives — parental, romantic, familial, professional, and, of course, friendship. A relationship contract can be loosely defined as what each party expects from the other. Too often, unspoken expectations can determine its success or failure, its joy or sorrow.
Romantic relationships can fit into a few categories. Some relationships are monogamous based on mutual agreement. Others are more casual or open. Traditional gender roles make some couples feel more comfortable. For example, the man might earn the greater salary while the female manages the household. Other ‘contractual issues’ might include how shared finances are spent. Perhaps a couple might set limits on free time — how and when its spent — together or apart, which pet to adopt, and how they’ll divvy up family time during holidays.
Almost everything is negotiable. It’s less important that you have similar tastes and preferences than it is that you understand the expectations and needs each party brings to the table. Once the issues are clearly communicated and understood, any violation of the contract suggests a need to reevaluate the contract — or the relationship itself.
With so much at stake, it’s easy to see how things can get ‘messy’ in relationships. After all, people change, disappoint one another, and make bad choices. As humans, these things are inevitable. So it really is beneficial to avoid the pitfall of lacking clarity — right from the start.
If we begin our interactions with a plain and simple appreciation of the other person’s needs and desires, we’ll have fewer problems, disappointments, hurt feelings, and anger. Too often, each person expects the other to automatically share his or her feelings — and the ways they are expressed or reciprocated. Partners come to expect their mates to enjoy the same things, have similar goals, etc. In reality, this is rarely true.
Non-confrontational types refrain from expressing their actual feelings, hoping that the other person will come around. All this does is pave the way for disappointment, long-standing resentment, and it can impede any possibility for a mutually rewarding relationship.
Looking back at my myriad relationships through the years, I recall the healthiest ones had the clearest boundaries. We knew what our roles were, who were to each other, what we expected from one another, and finally what each of us was able to deliver for the other’s benefit. The most hurtful relationships consisted of expectations and holding out for certain behaviors I wanted my mate to embody. But I never communicated these desires, nor were they fulfilled. These relationships never lasted long, and usually ended badly. Why? Clear communication and guidelines were never established.
We all know communication is key to any relationship. So be honest and upfront about what you want and expect, and what you intend to deliver, no matter what type of relationship you’re in. Even if it’s casual, define what that means — as specifically as possible. Insist upon a ‘clear contract,’ where you communicate what you expect from the other person and ask them to do the same. In the long run, it makes for healthier, happier relationships. You’ll cheer up when you clear it up!
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