Do You Need A Love Contract?


Forget the prenup. Can your relationship benefit from a set of emotional and behavioral rules?

When Madonna and Guy Ritchie split at the end of 2008, the tabloids rejoiced. What fodder to keep churning out rumor after incredulous rumor. The most salacious of them all involved what the media called a "marriage pact." Supposedly devised by the couple's marriage therapist, the contract of sorts was meant to solidify their bond and open up communication. But what it did, in fact, was send the tabloid world into a tailspin.

"Devote time to our sexual expressiveness."


"We will not use sex as a stick to beat one another."

"If we are arguing, I will not shout, but instead look you in the eye and say: 'I understand that my actions have upset you, please work with me to resolve this.'"

Only Madonna, Ritchie, a marriage therapist (and perhaps a therapist's nosy administrative assistant looking to make a few bucks) will ever know whether these tenants truly existed between this former husband and wife. But it does perk our interest. Should we all have one of these? Are they only for the rich and famous? With the right guidelines, do they work?

"Contracts are a common tool used by many couples therapists to help address issues of conflict and compromise," says Lee Crespi, a New York psychotherapist with more than 30 years of experience in relationship and marital conflict. "Oftentimes they are used in relation to concrete issues such as sharing of chores and responsibilities in the relationship, such as household chores and parenting responsibilities."

Hmmm... somehow, I think Guy and Madonna fights did not revolve around who's turn it was to scrub the tub or clean out the fridge. Even those who have hired help to keep up the house (or houses) and tend to the kids may benefit from a contract. Unwritten and unspoken contracts naturally arise in a relationship, but some couples need to use explicit, written structures when working through rough patches.