"For couples who have issues of trust, it may be necessary to have a contract rather than relying on a mutual understanding of each other's wishes and vulnerabilities," says Crespi. "Hopefully, over time the need for the structure will fall away and the ability to allow for each others needs will come from trust and caring."
So, the question is, do they really work? Or will they suffer the same fate as the other trends we voraciously scoop up then abandon? (New Year's resolution, anyone?) "Our contract revolved around time management and to creating individual space for ourselves. That's the hardest part of parenting small children," says 39-year-old Holly Carpenter. "It's so hard to have an independent life simultaneously with a family life," The Portland, Oregon, resident and mom of two drew up rules with her husband at the suggestion of their therapist about a year after they separated.
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Their therapist suggested that the contract serve as a means to not just a patching up of the old relationship but the pathway to a new one. "[Our therapist] suggested it because I was terrified that along with giving up my new autonomy, returning to the relationship would eventually result in me giving up myself," adds Carpenter.
"I think that couples can benefit from the use of contracts as it helps articulate their needs to each other and makes the commitment to the relationship clearer and less threatening," notes Crespi. Picture it: You and your significant other with a third, neutral party helping to negotiate the rules. The very process of developing the contract could be thought of as therapeutic.
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According to Crespi, each partner identifies what it is that he/she needs from the other and then the other partner examines whether and how she/he can meet that need. If there is disagreement, the therapist helps each partner clarify and explore what the obstacles are to agreement until the two partners feel comfortable and clear about the expectations of the contract.