Rewriting the Relationship Contract
Being in a relationship is a like having a contract. Two people agree to form a partnership, a kind of Corporation called "You & Me, Inc." They pool their resources and agree to abide by certain bylaws. Some of these bylaws are recited at a ceremony: to have and to hold, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health...blah, blah, blah. Others are unwritten, but universally accepted, as a part of the relationship contract whether the partners marry or not: no cheating, be honest, thou shalt carry thy weight in the relationship, etc.
Any long lasting relationship will require that the partners rewrite the terms of the agreement from time to time. Why? Change. People change. Expectations change. What they want out of a relationship, or what they are willing to give to another person, can change. When this happens, it's not the death knell of the relationship. However, both partners must be willing to come to new terms in the agreement if the relationship is to continue.
The changes can generally come about in three different ways: (1) Something more, (2) Something less, and (3) Something different.
One of the partners may develop more expectations of their life. For example, they may want to go back to school and this was never discussed or even anticipated when the couple married. That couple will now need to rewrite their contract and come to a new agreement if they wish to continue the relationship. Who will support the family while the other person is in school? Will this change put off having children? If there are children, how will childcare be arranged? How will the education be paid for? There are a lot of terms to negotiate.
Another type of change is made when a partner wants less of something. A partner may want a less stressful job. This may also translate into less money, in which case, the partners will need to come to new terms of the agreement. How will this effect the budget? A common re-written relationship agreement involves a parent wishing to quit work to stay home with the kids. This will suddenly translate into a one income family, something one of the partners may have never anticipated.
In an ideal world, partners in a relationship would be able to recognize that they want something different and relay this information to their partner in order to come to new terms in the agreement. Unfortunately, most of the time this doesn't happen. One partner, fearful of expressing their need for new terms, engages in behavior which I will call Breach of Contract.
Cheating, people. Cheating.
This is where negotiations can become heated if, in fact, any negotiations take place at all. Rewriting a relationship contract after infidelity is not impossible but it can certainly be difficult.
The partner who wants the change is the one rewriting the contract. In all of the situations above, the other person in the partnership has three choices when presented with the rewritten relationship contract: (1) Accept, (2) Reject, or (3) Counter.
Yes, so people change. We can accept that. A change in job? Sure. Less hours at work? Okay, that can be acceptable. Quitting a job? That can be acceptable to some people. Certainly it's not anything to end a relationship for, although it can add some strain. Those are some examples of rewriting the relationship contract where the change is accepted. Even with cheating, there are partners who accept that it happens and attempt to keep the relationship going, whether the cheating was a one time deal or an ongoing affair.
Rejecting new terms of the relationship contract doesn't necessarily mean that the relationship is ending. If one partner feels strongly enough to reject the new terms, then the other partner may be inclined to keep things the way they are. Stay in the same job? Okay, will do. Keeping a two income family, even with kids? It may be more important for one partner to not be the one sole source of income in the family. Cheating. Well, rejecting that new term in the relationship contract could mean that the contract will not be rewritten if a partner continues to cheat, if the contract can be rewritten at all.
Countering the offer is a creative solution. For example, one partner may change jobs if it allows another partner to pursue avenues in their own career. Also, a partner who wants to quit their job to stay home with the kids may be asked to take on other responsibilities once shared by both parties in the relationship. Cheating? This could signal a rewritten agreement that involves getting therapy.
Whether the changes are small or drastically life changing, rewriting the relationship contract will happen in any long term relationship. How have you rewritten yours?
Robin Sassi is co-author of "Charmed Divorce". She lives in San Diego and is currently in a relationship with herself as a sole-proprietor, single member LLC, or sole shareholder corporation - however you would like to put it.