For Holly and her husband, writing the rules down was key. "We came up with a verbal agreement together, but I thought it would be a good exercise for us to get it down in writing. You know how memories differ. With us, and I suspect with many people, we come away from a conversation with very different things," she explains.
And what were Holly's sticking points? If she were to return to the marriage, she needed time built into their schedule just for her. "We agreed to a weekend day for me, that is mine to do whatever I chose—usually it's just work time," she adds, but she can make plans with friends or just disappear for the day—without scheduling, juggling, and explaining.
And even if you're relationship isn't in need of immediate repair, love contracts can serve as maintenance. Something as simple as "agreeing to spend a certain amount of time per week just talking and connecting [can keep the relationship running smoothly]," says Crespi. "Or a common one for busy couples who tend to neglect their sex life is having a date night—which they set aside to make love (sex is not mandatory but the conditions for it are made available)."
One couple Crespi worked with set up a system based loosely on a contract, setting aside a time each week to talk, using a clock to limit the time, and addressing whatever might be bothering them or feeling good using the same kind of guidelines that they had in therapy, for example, "active listening."
Holly stands behind the contract wholeheartedly. "I think it would be a great exercise for all couple before marriage or living together to define their needs and expectations in a contract," she says. "It's not an absolute, but it's a great starting place. Really I think it fosters better communication and forces each person to be more sensitive to the other."
Did it work for Holly and her husband – did they reconcile? Yes, they did, and according to her, the contract was integral. "It allowed me to clearly define what I needed in the relationship."