The Top 10 Most Important Things To Have In A Relationship Contract

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man and woman having a pillow fight

Surprises can be great gifts. But, when it comes to committing to an intimate partner, you tend to want to know what you're signing up for with confidence.

Couples I’ve worked with through the years have expressed their longing for balance, equality, and appreciation in the partnership.

But what's consistently missing is their ability to communicate what that looks like in daily living. By the time they get to me, their resentment, bitterness, and anger have them feeling defeated.

What would be different if they had started with one simple tool to help them avoid destructive relationship patterns and thoughts of divorce as the answer?

RELATED: 5 Relationship Contract Ideas That Could Benefit Even The Strongest Couples

A relationship contract is a communication tool designed to go beyond good intentions and get couples on the same page.

It sets up the terms of the relationship, literally defining what they are signing up for by creating a foundation of collaborative decision-making.

It may not be right for everyone, but if you're struggling with "surprises," the ability to communicate clearly, and your needs are going unmet, a relationship contract may be for you.

Here are the top 10 things to have in a relationship contract.

1. Communication

The foundation of a healthy relationship is communication

Agreeing on frequency, duration, being responsive and engaged, and the rules of engagement, such as a promise to always speak with respect, never threatening — even if the subject is disagreeable — to avoid creating insecurities and unnecessary misunderstandings.

A dedication to quality time spent communicating helps create and maintain intimacy.

2. Sex

It's important to define what each of you wants and expects sexually, including frequency, foreplay, and forms of stimulation.

What do you want more of? Less of? Be clear without assumptions.

What are the boundaries and deal breakers? Is pornography desired? Allowed?

This may not be the most comfortable conversation, but it will prove to be one of the most vital in the overall health and longevity of the relationship.

3. Finances

Co-creating a budget allows you to work toward shared and individual goals. It empowers you both as you agree on fair divisions of debt and both become conscious in your spending to support the goals you have set together.

Be sure you are both building individual credit, and if you choose to have a joint bank account for certain debt and expenditures, know the benefits of maintaining separate accounts as well.

4. Trust

You both are bringing your prior relationship history with you. So, what do you need to be able to trust?

Consider always giving one another the benefit of the doubt, always being willing to address whatever you’re feeling in a timely manner, and asking for what you need emotionally to remove guesswork and defensiveness.

5.  Parenting

No children? Just in case they're in the long-term plan, perhaps the most important point to know in advance is how you will parent. That difference can build walls between people that armies can't tear down.

If there are children, sharing the labor of love is critical to bonding as well as your energy and stress levels.

This may come by trial and error and have to be part of ongoing communication, but who is feeding, bathing, driving, reading, putting to bed, staying up at night, cooking, prepping lunches, overseeing extracurriculars, homework, etc.?

It’s a lot and can become a point of contention about who is doing more, especially when both parents work outside the home. Check in with one another. Do you need to hire a sitter? A tutor?

Pets are family, too. How will those responsibilities be shared? Who scoops and who feeds?

RELATED: Agreeing To This 23-Point Relationship Contract Can Help Strengthen Your Connection

6. Family

And then there's your extended family. Agreeing now on how you will navigate and accommodate visits, visitors and holidays will save undue stress on your relationship later.

Whose Thanksgiving Day Dinner is most important to attend? How will you rotate or share holidays? How long can Mom stay? How long and where will you stay? What will travel look like?

Decide now when the pressure is not on from the family. Resentment builds quickly in this category.

7. Work

Discuss career and professional goals. Are there boundaries around jobs requiring travel, relocations, weekend or evening hours? What are the compromises and the conditions?

How will decisions be made if/when offers come in? Prevent the "I didn’t sign up for this!" that's common with this category.

8. Play

Get creative and plan some recreation and leisure activities to pursue as companions, including date nights, vacation getaways, hosting game nights, or attending get-togethers with others.

Do you want to join a bowling league together? Take ballroom dancing?

Also, consider what do you want to do independently. Book club? Fantasy football league? 

Agree to support one another in your social relationships and activities.

9. Home

How do you conceptualize your shared living space? Perhaps one of you is clean and the other is tidy; those are not one and the same. Roommate-type issues can become "irreconcilable differences" if not negotiated respectfully.

His habit of a weeks’ worth of socks on the floor that you thought was because he lived with the guys before, and her habit of leaving the bathroom a wreck with her cosmetics strewn all across the counter because she was in a hurry to see you is actually their habitual mode of operation.

Now, it's annoying. What is the solution or compromise that removes the roadblock to happy living?

10. Health and aging

Outline your common goals and how you will support one another. You will have the greatest influence on one another in how well you eat and exercise — or don’t.

Consider including what regular medical and dental checkups you will schedule and follow up on, and how you will measure and monitor progress or success in your goals.

Putting these 10 things in your relationship contract is like setting your GPS and saying, "This is where we're going and how we will get there."

Having a shared vision and commitment while using a tool to facilitate open and honest dialogue with your partner where both voices are equally valued will keep the relationship headed in the right direction.

Like any "contract," revisit the terms on a periodic basis and renegotiate as circumstances, needs, and goals change. This certainly sounds like it takes the spontaneity out of a relationship, but it doesn’t have to at all.

While some may see it as cold and corporate, others see it as clarifying and comforting.

Many couples report enjoying the process so much that they get excited about their scheduled check-ins, that they have matured in the manner in which they communicate, and have even learned to laugh when things don’t always go as planned.

It’s about perspective. It’s about not letting the fantasy of how things should be get in the way of the reality of what is — two very real people who want a healthy, happy, and strong relationship.

RELATED: Why Creating A "Relationship Contract" Builds A Stronger Relationship — And The 5 Things It Needs

Ann Papayoti, PCC, is an author, speaker, and coach helping people untangle from their past, heal their hearts, and unlock their best life. She is the co-author of the intimate self-help guide, The Gift of Shift. For more information on how she can help you, visit her website.