The Killer Of Many Relationships No One Ever Talks About

Don’t let covert contracts ruin your relationships.

sad woman laying in bed - Yuri A / Shutterstock

Here’s a fact that disturbs me to my very core: There are more people on this planet than ever, yet a lesser number of meaningful relationships.

Here’s the reason: People don’t understand that building meaningful relationships takes hard work. Because while building meaningful relationships is one of our most basic needs, it’s not that easy. There are several obstacles you must overcome if you want real relationships.


One of them — which is rarely talked about — is covert contracts.

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What are covert contracts?

It’s a term coined by Dr Rober Glover in his book No More Mr. Nice Guy. Covert contracts are hidden contracts we make up in our heads without the knowledge or acceptance of the other person.


How about some examples?

  • You pick up a friend from the airport, so you expect that they’ll do the same for you when you return from somewhere.
  • You watch a movie of your girlfriend’s choice in hopes that next time you get to see a movie of your choice.
  • You cooked dinner, so you expect your boyfriend to do the dishes.

All of these expectations are valid and may not be a problem unless they’re not communicated.

These are reasonable expectations on your part, which is why you may not feel the need to communicate them — and that is when a covert contract is born. You assume that they think the same way and that they know you’re expecting what you’re expecting.

If the person lives up to these expectations, it’s not a problem. However, if they fail to do so, a little resentment may emerge within you.


“How can they not do it when I expected them to do it?”

If repeated enough times in different ways, this little resentment can quickly turn into a snowball going downhill. Resentment emerges because you feel they’re deliberately disrespecting your needs and desires.

But what you fail to realize is that you never stated your expectations in the first place. They’re not breaking your expectations out of disrespect but out of ignorance.

The situations I stated above were just a few examples. But covert contracts are much more prevalent than you may realize.

People may fail to convey their expectations because they think the other person already knows them or thinks in the same way. Or, they want to avoid confrontation. Either way, covert contracts will inevitably lead to conflicts in the future.


Conflicts in any relationship are just mismatches between expectations and actions. Such expectations may range from being minor to even dealbreakers in some cases. If not kept in check, they might ruin your relationships and in turn, your life.

Here’s how to not let covert contracts ruin your life.

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Empty Your Reservoir of Expectations

In 2018, I attended a 10-day silent meditation retreat by the name Vipassana. It was a challenging yet wonderful experience. The life lessons taught were invaluable, and they improved my life massively.

But here’s something most people don’t believe when I first tell them — it was 100% free of cost. Ten days of stay on a beautiful campus, food and all the invaluable life lessons — all for zero bucks.


My brother and I weren’t expecting much considering they weren’t charging anything for it. And that is precisely what made our experience 10x better.

Because all feelings are just a result of a simple arithmetic equation — what you receive minus your expectations equals how much joy or pain you’ll feel.

If you expect a lot and receive little, you’re going to be depressed. If you expect little and receive a lot, you’re going to be elated.

And the truth is, rarely is what we receive in our control. What we can control are our expectations. Lowering your expectations is the most straightforward hack for a better life.

The principle applies here too. If you start practising lowering your expectations of people, you won’t form covert contracts in the first place.


I’ll be the first to tell you that it’s much easier said than done. And that it gets particularly difficult to let go of your expectations from people who are close to you. But if you train yourself to do that, I promise you, a better life will unlock.

Practise keeping your expectations from people to a bare minimum to have better relationships. This is not about giving up on people. It’s just logical.

When your expectations from Life start to ebb, the quality of your life starts to rise.

Speak Your Truth

Lowered expectations lead to a good life. That said, you can’t get rid of all of your expectations from people. There’s always going to be some residual amount of expectations in your emotional reservoir.


And that’s fine. The key is to voice them. Use your tongue. Please don’t assume that the person in question understands your expectations by themselves. They can’t read your mind.

Make sure the person knows exactly what you expect of them. Otherwise, the friction that follows — and I promise you, it will — will be your fault.

Hidden expectations don’t do you any favour. Voice them. You may be hesitant to convey some of your expectations because you want to avoid confrontation.

In that case, you have two options. Either you get over it and get the words out of your mouth, or you let go of it altogether.

Follow this rule — if you can’t voice it, you can’t expect it. Fair?


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Slip Into a Default State of Compassion

You’re now living a life with bare minimum expectations, and you make sure you voice all your expectations. But what if people still let you down? What if they don’t fulfil even the most basic of your expectations?

There’s a scene on How I Met Your Mother that may provide us with a solution. It goes like this.

Lily: Ted, if you kill me and bury me in New Jersey, I will haunt you forever.
Ted: What if I kill you and bury you somewhere else?
Lily: Eh, I’ll leave you alone. I’m sure you had your reasons.

(If anyone from New Jersey is reading this, chill, it’s just a joke.)


Lily might have said that in the context of a joke but that last line is an actual jackpot if you want to live a happier life. Every time people fail to meet your expectations, tell yourself, “Eh, I’m sure there’s a reason.”

Your girlfriend didn’t respond to your 18 calls in the last 7 hours? Instead of being mad at her, tell yourself — “Eh, I’m sure there’s a reason.”

Your colleague went back on his promise of helping you out with your project. Don’t resent him. Tell yourself — “Eh, I’m sure there’s a reason.”

Maybe there is no reason. But this is for your own peace of mind. When you get mad at people, it’s you who is losing your calm. This is why the more times you’re able to repeat this sentence to yourself, the happier you’ll be.


Because the important thing about people is that they will let you down, and feeling bad about that, while valid is not the best solution to the situation.

There’s a great article by one of my favourite writers Niklas Göke. In it, he captures all of this beautifully. He says, “Every broken promise is a chance to be compassionate.”

This too is easier said than done. But like any skill, you can work on it and in the future you’ll be a pro.


A pro at this skill doesn’t ask for explanations. A pro doesn’t get frustrated when people let them down. Be a pro. Slip into a default state of compassion and understanding. You’ll live a life much more calm and peaceful.

Caution: Don’t Be Naive

While it helps to be understanding, be careful not to be too naive. When someone ignores your expectations too often, maybe they don’t care about you. In that case, they’re not someone worth having a relationship with.

Be able to recognize such people, and even then, don’t be frustrated. Just change your priorities and let them go.

Covert contracts can be a death sentence for relationships. Here’s how to not let them trash your life.


Lower your expectations. Lowering your expectations is the simplest — although not the easiest — hack to have better relationships and a better life.

Voice your expectations. Whatever you expect of someone, tell them. Stop forcing people around you to play the guessing game.

Be compassionate. Remember, people will let you down. That is the truth of life you need to accept. Don’t be frustrated when that happens. Treat it as an opportunity to be compassionate. Tell yourself, “Eh, I’m sure there’s a reason.”

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Akshad Singi, M.D. has been published in Better Humans, Mind Cafe, and more.