Relationship contracts are the hot new thing, apparently. I mean, Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan had one, and now they’re married billionaires! In fact, these contracts are such a thing that even The New York Times has deemed them a trend. It could happen to you!
But what is a relationship contract? Should you create one? It's actually pretty self-evident what a relationship contract is — it offers a partner or partners the chance to detail what they expect of their significant other. So the more important question is: is it a really a trend and, if so, is your life lacking if you lack one?
Priscilla Chan famously detailed her requirements of Mark Zuckerberg in a relationship contract before moving to California to be with him. Notably, she requested 100 minutes of shared time (neither to be spent in his apartment or in the Facebook headquarters) per week. Additionally, she required one date night per week. It makes a lot of sense to place a specific time requirement on the CEO of a multi-billion-dollar company, but what about your relationship with a normal guy or gal?
According to the Times, official relationship contracts are far from common, but couples are increasingly moving from oral “contracts” of expectations to written contracts authored with the help of couples counselors or lawyers. Now there's no more shirking responsibility: Are you too tired to do the dishes? Please refer to the ninth paragraph of our agreement, and then maybe you'll reconsider.
Joking aside, relationship contracts have evolved out of cohabitation agreements relied upon by same-sex couples denied the right to actually marry one another. But couples of all persuasions are increasingly cohabitating before (or instead of) marrying one another, so maybe some safeguards and delineated expectations aren't a bad thing.
Relationship contracts have hit the big time!
One cohabitation agreement drafted by Ken Altshuler, a lawyer from Portland, Maine, found a creative solution for a couples differing loves of maritime pleasures. A partner prone to seasickness allowed his partner to take one cruise-ship vacation a year, alone. The seasick partner could not “berate or complain” about cruises, and was prohibited from blasting the theme from “The Love Boat” in protest. A unique solution for a unique couple.
Manhattan therapist Paul Hokemeyer views the evolution of relationship contracts in terms of furthering gender equity: “Women are saying: 'I have a place in the world. I won't just wait around and expect you to be kind and generous. Let's nail this down.'” And this makes sense. If either partner puts his or her own goals and aspirations on hold to further the relationship or to further their partner's career, then there is the reasonable expectation of recompense. Without any agreement, there's no way of ensuring it.
Gender roles are, of course, rapidly changing, but the truth is that it's traditionally been women who sacrifice their own careers for their male partners. In Kevin Smith's recent autobiography, he details how his wife gave up her career to be with him. But what if they hadn't gotten married? What if they had merely attempted a serious relationship, cohabitated, and it hadn't worked out? Of course that's the risk we all take when we sacrifice our own aspirations for those of a partner, but relationships often necessitate compromise and sacrifice. Those things are ultimately unavoidable.
Relationship contracts merely outlining behavioral expectations are not legally binding. You cannot, unfortunately, call the police on your partner for vindictively blasting the theme to “The Love Boat,” though you may want to. The emotional and behavioral guidelines are just a useful tool for reminding couples of the"commitments they made, commitments that might fade in either partner's selective memory. The contracts are also useful for “defining the relationship” or “dtr,” an acronym the Times' hip, current writer definitely knows about (an acronym which is unsettlingly close to another common acronym denoting sexual availability). The Times suggests that once you dtr via a relationship contract, you then post the terms as a Facebook update? Which is a confusing line that is likely intended to be a joke. But nevertheless, fight for your God-given 100 minutes a week, ladies and gentlemen. Everyone is doing it.
Follow Kelly Bourdet on Twitter: @kellybourdet.