Can you take a moment and think back to the start of your most recent relationship? What was the attraction like? What was it that attracted to the other person? What excited you? Was there a spark or chemistry between you two? Maybe an instant connection, or a friendship that slowly grew into something more. No matter what it was, there were mutual feelings between you and your partner.
This is generally how all couple relationships start out. Then, more often than not, life presents challenges and conflicts arise in your relationship. Some couples work through these times and create a stronger relationship and others struggle and exit their relationship.
When people seek me out, their relationship is generally at a crisis point with at least one person wanting to leave, or feeling so stuck that they see their only option they see is to leave. One common comment I get is “I didn’t sign up for this (relationship)”.
So what did you sign up for?
It has been my experience and observation that most people enter into relationships with their own view what their ideal relationship is, and this is inside their own head. They may feel they have communicated it, yet this is not what they have ended up with. Likewise on the other side of the relationship.
Lets consider that a relationship is an agreement or contract between two people. When people start a job, some sign employee contracts and have job descriptions so they know their responsibilities. If you build a house you sign a contract so you know what you are getting and the builder knows what has been agreed too for them to build.
So I am going to suggest that people have these internal contracts that they have signed and for some reason, believe their partner has signed also. So here we have two people each with an internal contract they signed but their partner hasn’t. You wouldn’t build a house without a physical contract signed by all parties would you? What happens if something goes wrong?
So why do people enter into supposedly lifelong commitments without a clear and understood contract?
At a recent workshop I ran, we spent quite a bit of time looking at relationship contracts. To start of I suggested that there are actually 3 agreements or contracts that we need when we are looking to get into a relationship.
The first one is when we are single and looking around for a potential partner. I call this the Exploration stage. Here there is no exclusivity and no commitment. I suggest we need to share an ‘Exploration Contract’. A couple of key points could be that you let potential people know that you are looking for a partner and that you maybe having catch ups with other people. At this stage I suggest that there should be no sex. Save this for the Dating stage or the Commitment stage.
The second is the Dating Contract. This is where there is exclusivity and no commitment. When you have found someone that there is a mutual attraction and you both are looking to Date to discover more about each other to see whether there is a possibility for a long term commitment. Here I am going to suggest that there need to be some very clear boundaries around Ex partners. This is a time when you are looking to get to know each other, and there maybe trust and insecurity issues from the past that are being carried.
The third state is the Commitment Contract. This is where you are committing to living a life together in what ever that form takes. For most this will include living and sleeping together, working toward some common goals. This is where it is critical to know what each of you has signed up for. Know also that this is subject to change and the changes need to be communicated and worked on.
Here are some examples that are in my relationship contracts.
- We support each other’s vision for the future they are working toward.
- We challenge each other to be better people from a loving space.
- We communicate openly and honestly what is important to us (values) and what we are looking achieve in our individual life and with our relationship.
- We recognise that to grow we must change. Change at times maybe hard and we may need to seek outside help individually and as a couple.
- We have in place a solid process to work through conflict and challenges.
- A common goal personally and with the relationship is to be more happier than we were last year.
- We respect and value our differences.
- We review our relationship contract at least once a year as we will continually be changing.
- We never take the relationship or each other for granted. We continually look for ways to keep the relationship fresh and alive.
- We maintain the strong foundation of our relationship being mutual like (friendship), mutual respect and mutual trust.
- No matter how uncomfortable it may be, at times of being in pain we share openly, honestly and authentically our feelings and needs.
- Out of mutual respect and trust, we listen with an open heart.
Consider how you want your relationship to look like in the future, 5 year from now, when you are retired, when you have grandchildren. What do you want people to say about you at your funeral?
Here is one section that I believe is super important to have in place at the beginning of any relationship.
Ending the Relationship.
In some cases even though everyone has done everything possible to make it work, there may come a time that the relationship may end. In this case, we work together to resolve all issues, resentments, and part as we started, as friends first. Otherwise we will be carrying stuff into our next relationship.
Note that I recommend the “everything possible” include at least one person working with a Relationship Expert to explore all options before the final breakdown. And that the resolving of all issues and resentments also be done with an expert. Because if they exist, people have not been able to resolve them together or the right expert had not been found.
You may be thinking this is clinical, that it is a bit dry. On the other side of the coin, can you see that if you have this place you will have a stronger foundation to work with on creating an exceptional, extraordinary relationship. One where two people are aware and continually working toward a more happier and fulfilling life together.
Here’s to more happy, loving, and fulfilling relationships. Until next time.
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