The Emotional Contract You've Never Heard Of
We may not realise it but all relationships are based on contractual obligations or lack thereof. There are certain rules and behaviour that we instinctively know or are made aware of when interacting with others. The problem is that most of us enter into these contracts with very little understanding of what exactly is expected of us.
Take the example of a new couple who have decided to become exclusive with one another. Let's look at a few assumptions that most of us would automatically expect to be included:
1. Don't cheat 2. Don't lie 3. Show affection 4. Be considerate 5. Listen to what I have to say 6. Support me when I need it 7. Satisfy me sexually 8. Make me laugh 9. Protect me 10. Cherish me
These are all fairly common and perfectly acceptable requirements for one to expect from a partner but there are a few issues that are often overlooked.
Firstly, these requirements are usually communicated indirectly with no real coherence because they are expected. The problem is that everything I've listed is subjective and open to interpretation and for the most part, the parties entering into this contract are blissfully unaware of this.
Secondly, the contract is usually extracted subconsciously from various threads of conversation that occur during the courting stage with no reliable method of communicating all of our expectations as times change.
This often results in an injured party taking issue with the actions of their partner and subsequently informing them of their transgressions in the hope that they will amend their behaviour to cater to their needs. When they are no longer able to agree upon a mutually acceptable course of action, the agreement breaks down which we see all the time.
Ok, that's enough of the contract jargon, I think you get the point. This became apparent to me through my experience with BDSM and Dominant/submissive (D/s) relationships where full written contracts are much more common considering the potential danger involved.
Here are some of the things that a D/s contract may include:
1. I will take an active interest in your overall wellbeing, including sexual, mental and physical. 2. I will do everything within my power to train, educate and mould you into the best sub possible. 3. I will provide emotional support to you when required. 4. I will not become jealous, possessive, spiteful or abusive. 5. I will not abuse my authority over you by making unfair demands.
1. i will never lie to you. 2. i will do everything in my power to please you and make you proud of me. 3. i will address you as Sir at all times, especially when in public. 4. My body and mind will belong to you completely within the context of our agreement. 5. i will make myself available for your pleasure sexual or otherwise as and when you choose.
This type of explicit contract may not sit well with most vanilla couples but this is exactly what you're already doing, it's only the content and format that differs.
I suspect that if a new partner pulled out a 5-page contract and asked you to sign you'd probably think they'd lost the plot. Not very romantic? Too rigid? Why not let love guide the way?
Well, I beg to differ, I think the real issue is our reluctance to discuss what we want and how we want it for fear of confrontation or losing a potential partner. I think we prefer to rely on the honeymoon period induced optimism that really has no substance long term. In reality, we become reactive like a fireman trying to douse the flames of discord.
Imagine attempting to extinguish a fire that is constantly shapeshifting from one moment to the next. It's exhausting, and before you know it, the beautiful landscape that you both enjoyed is now looking like a crash site with smoking debris littered all around.
The point is that if we are seriously committed to pleasing ourselves and our partner long term, we need to be comfortable discussing all the things that we were told we shouldn't and this needs to be established from day one, warts and all.
But instead, we literally do the opposite. We sugar coat stuff to spare their feelings. We hold back in the hope that issues will work themselves out like a non-iron shirt. We drop clues and hints in the hope that they'll figure it out. And when that fails, we explode in frustration because they don't get it.
It's not about blame or finger-pointing, it's about being honest with ourselves knowing that they may not meet our criteria in the cold light of day. If we can't have a mature conversation about sensitive issues without putting the ego aside, how is reconciliation to take place?
Take, for example, a lazy partner in bed - the one who's done before you even get started. The one who has a set routine for their sexual gratification and if you miss the boat, tough luck.
As much as we may scorn this type of partner, the responsibility for our sexual gratification is completely down to us and by not communicating clearly or establishing 'acceptable behaviour' in the bedroom, WE are enabling their lazy behaviour.
I'm not suggesting that every couple should create a 5-page contract stipulating how they should interact, but the fact is, we already have 'contracts' in place from the moment we decide to commit to another in any shape or form.
Having a clear understanding of expectations on both sides with the scope for amendment as requirements change is essential. But in order to achieve this, there has to be a genuine desire to please. With both parties keenly aware of what is expected of them, there is less confusion and more accountability.
If a partner is unable or unwilling to meet their contractual obligation, the responsibility is on the injured party to resolve the issue however they see fit. Ultimately we are responsible for our own happiness so relying on the emotional intelligence of others to read between the ever-changing lines doesn't seem to be the most effective path for achieving relationship bliss.
This is an interesting topic to discuss because the concept of using a contract to stipulate behaviour seems on the face of it, somewhat bizarre until we really assess how we form relationships in general. Whether written, verbal or undefined, we all have expectations and the more clearly we're able to communicate them, the more likely we are to get what we want.
Peace and Love,
Disclaimer: If you're curious about what a real D/s contract looks like you can view a sample here. If you would like to use this contract in a BDSM or D/s setting, I strongly advise you to take time in discussing what works best for all parties involved and tailoring the contract to suit your needs.