This is a follow-up to my blog post on Marriage Contracts. Read that post here.
Your relationship goes through many different phases as you age together. It is not the same relationship as when you first coupled up. It will also not be the same relationship as you go through the different phases of your life: as you add children (if you do), add pets, kids leave the house, someone changes careers or jobs, take care of aging parents, face illness or death together, someone overcomes an addiction, someone finds a new passion or hobby, etc.
Your relationship needs to adjust as you each go through changes in life, because you will go through changes.
Nothing ever stays the same. The tension we feel in our relationships is when we try to operate the way we used to operate but under different circumstances. So this is where I want you to start having "Marriage Contract Conversations." It's time to "re-negotiate" what your relationship looks like in order for it to be successful through these different life transitions. Honestly though, I prefer the term trouble-shoot versus negotiate. Trouble-shooting sounds more like you are in this together versus negotiating from opposite ends of the table, each fighting for your own needs.
You need to have these conversations trouble-shooting and discussing how you will adjust your relationship so it meets both your needs. Also to meet the needs of the relationship. This will set you all up for success and experience a fulfilling relationship.
Because I truly and honestly believe that a strong relationship is an asset.
It can carry you through the most difficult times of life. You can conquer anything when you know someone will always have your back. When you know where home is, no matter where you go, you will have that compass guiding you back. A strong relationship is grounding. It is strength-building. It can give you the armor to weather the worst of the battles out there.
Anyway, that is enough of my relationship rah-rahing. Read below for some guidelines on the topics to cover and things to think about as you trouble-shoot your relationship.
First, let's talk about how I want you to orient yourself in these conversations. You are a partnership. In this partnership, there are 3 people. You, your partner, and your relationship. Your relationship is a third party all unto-itself. It has it's own needs. Sometimes we need to compromise a little on our personal needs in order to take care of the needs of the relationship.
When you are having these conversations, now is not the time to try to win.
| If either of you wins, the relationship loses. |
So put the relationship first. Make sure your relationship is the one winning. Be open and curious about the other person.
When you are talking about you wants and needs, only speak for yourself. It's best if you can construct your sentence a little like this, "I feel _________, about _______, and what I need is ________." It's difficult at first. You might be a little clumsy. But eventually, you will make this your own. Talk about the topic, how it makes you feel, and what you need in the future.
Here is an example, "I've been feeling worried about money lately because I know it's our goal to save up for a vacation. What I'd like is for us to find some time to sit down and talk about our budget and plan to continue saving for that vacation. Do you have any time this week where we can do that?" This gets easier to do the more you do it. Notice how there was only speaking for yourself in that conversation.
Reach out if you want help learning how to put this into practice. It's a new way to communicate for most people and it can take some coaching. (Send me a message by clicking here.)
Here are the topics.
Discuss money and finances. Cover your goals, both personal and together. Also talk about expectations and how to keep this an open conversation in the future. Discuss who will be responsible for what and the different ways you can organize your money. Below are some questions to consider.
What are our money goals? Do we share money? How many bank accounts do we have? How can we make money feel fair and not something that comes between us? How can we respect that we probably grew up in different money environments and create space for that as we figure this out together? Is it best if you have your account, I have my account and then we both contribute to bills? Is there a main goal that we would like to work together towards? How can we bring this topic forward in the future if this isn't working for one of us?
*Remember: you are on the same team. Money is one of the most difficult topics for people to discuss. it is the number one reason for divorce. It does not need to become a me vs. them conversation. Even if you do not see eye-to-eye on all of the different ways we can think about money, focus on how money makes each of you feel. You want to feel like you are in this together. You want both people to feel secure and respected.
Our social lives are just as important when we are a couple as when we are single. We are a social species. It's important to feel connected to others. Discuss your thoughts on spending time with others. Consider each other's feelings and trouble-shoot finding time for you both to spend socially, especially after having children. Consider the questions below.
Where do we spend our time? Who goes to what events? Is it okay if we do not attend all events together? Are there important events to us that we want to make sure we are there together (funerals, weddings, birthday parties, etc.)? How do we spend time with friends? Sometimes together and sometimes with just our own friends? How do we talk about when we need our separate time with friends? Can we trouble-shoot a way for us each to get some social time alone with our friends and then some time together with friends? How do we talk about our relationship with others? Are there some things that remain private and others we can discuss with friends if we are having problems but in a way that still respects our relationship privacy?
Division of House-hold Duties
This one is my favorite. A real, honest-to-goodness conversation needs to happen here. Especially in heterosexual relationships. Most likely, you are both operating under different expectations. Get aligned. Your relationship will thank you. Discuss what you want your home to look like, compromise on duties, divide those duties up equally and then each person takes responsibility. Consider the questions below as you have these very important conversations.
How do each of us like the house to feel as far as tidiness goes? Who is better at what? How can we split household tasks up so it feels fair? When someone doesn't like what is happening, how can they bring it up so we can sit-down and trouble-shoot this again? How can we communicate with each other about house-hold duties when we are not able to get to something so the other person knows we are getting to it? What can we ask for help with or bring in a provider to accomplish?
*As children enter the equation, this is one of the most common reasons I see couples in counseling. A relationship that feels equitable is a stronger relationship. Do not take this for granted and think that a few complaints will be okay. Talk about this one. Do not let the resentment build. If you need help, come see me.
Now this is one topic that should be covered before having children. If it wasn't, it's never too late to go back and talk about it. You and your partner are the captains of the ship. The ship is your family. The ship fares far better when the captains are aligned, working together, have a plan and both follow the same plan. Talk about each of your roles as parents, what's important to you, the type of values you want your family to exude, and the things you want to avoid. Create a plan for addressing undesirable behaviors. Discuss family time and how to address issues with each other in the future. Consider the following questions as you discuss.
What are each of our parenting styles? What's important to us as we parent? What types of messages would we like to teach our kids? What are our values we would like to pass down? How do talk about consequences and reorient our kids when there is a behavior we do not want? How can we create an environment where each parent is equally respected? How should we communicate about the children so we are always on the same page (ex: family electronic calendar, texts throughout the day, emails, a conversation at the end of the day, etc.)? Who should be at what events? Is it okay for some people to not attend events? How do we get on the same page when it comes to dealing with our children's grandparents (our parents)?
Let's face it, you're going to argue. There are just some things you will not agree on. Maybe it's not a fight, but you just don't see eye-to-eye on it. Well how do you deal with this? Discuss how you will handle disagreements and what you will each do if an argument escalates. Create a plan for repairing the relationship after. Think about how you will communicate apologies. Once again, consider the questions below in your discussions.
Is there a way you can sit down and talk about things you are disagreeing about? How can you do it respectfully? Is there a better time than others (ex: later at night, early in the morning)? If things escalate, how can we bring it back down? Do we take a time-out and come back 10-20 minutes later? Do we write it out then discuss the letters? How do we repair our relationship after an argument (ex: hug, apologize, make a joke, watch tv together, etc.)?
*Understanding your pattern of arguing can help you find your way back from a relationship filled with conflict. In the therapy I practice RLT, we call this "The More-the-More." Ex: the more she yells, the more he gets quiet, so the more she yells, etc. As a relationship therapist, we are really great at determining these patterns and helping you create new, more effective ones to set your relationship up for success. If you need help in this area, please reach out.
Not only is there social time but couple time to consider. We all have different expectations and needs on how much time together we require to feel connected. Some people need date-nights out while others are happy with watching a show together weekly. Trouble-shoot how couple time is organized, the amount, and how to communicate/ask for something else during different phases of your life.
How much couple time do we need to feel connected? How should we organize our time (the couple alone, out socially, etc.)? How can we build in couple time and make it a priority even when life gets busy (ex: waking up earlier to eat breakfast together, holding hands as you fall asleep, going for quick walks after dinner)? Does one of us need more couple time than the other? If so, how can that person bring this up in the future when they need a little more?
Okay, I lied above. My favorite conversations are the ones about sex. We don't talk about sex nearly enough. Most of us have been socialized to be embarrassed to discuss sex. There's lots of people out there having sex but never speaking about it. This is where we get into trouble. Things you want to discuss are different needs, expectations, desires, and ways you can continue these conversations in the future. If you really want to be successful in this area, consider doing sex therapy where you can learn new ways of communicating, connecting, trouble-shooting issues, and achieving more intimacy. Below are some good questions to think about while discussing.
Are we both currently feeling good about the amount and quality of our sex life? Is there something someone would like changed? Are we flexible and open to what sex looks like for us as a couple? Can we have different types of sex or methods of intimacy to increase connection when we are too busy or stressed (ex: video while traveling, mutual masturbation, oral for one or both without then having intercourse, showering together without any penetration, etc.)? How can we start talking about our sex life more?
*Sex is another important conversation to have, one that many never talk about in the relationship. A lot of feelings can flow underneath not talking about it. Talk about it! Trouble-shoot this together! I know when you are thinking about it, the first place our brain jumps to is sex=intercourse. Sex doesn't need to equal intercourse. There are a lot of other activities that create satisfaction and connection. In fact, relationships do much better (for both people!) when we open this expectation up and have conversations. Many people have a lot of different needs in their sex life of which they aren't even aware. So please, start talking about it today!
Alcohol is another important conversation to have as we travel through the different phases of our life. Maybe when you were younger, alcohol was a more prominent part of your relationship. After children, maybe alcohol needs to take a back-seat for awhile as your priorities and responsibilities change. This is another topic where partners can have different expectations and it can be easy to cross a line that you didn't know was there. Talk about this before it's a problem. Or if it's a problem now, it's definitely time to have these discussions.
Do we drink? How much is appropriate to drink at a time? How can we be safe when drinking? How can we communicate about this? When is it more appropriate not to drink? Do we have any deep-held beliefs about alcohol? Has either of us had traumatic experiences related to alcohol? How can we respect each other and collaborate on how to handle alcohol in our relationship? How can we have conversations about this in the future if it isn't working for one of us?
So there you have it! Marriage Contract Conversations you should be having as you go through different life transitions. I had one professor who said he and his wife sat down every 2-4 years to go over these topics to make sure they are aligned. One thing I think is for sure, you will benefit from talking about this stuff. Maybe you won't agree completely on everything, and that is okay!, just start talking about it today.
If you have trouble having these conversations on your own, couples counseling can help! Sometimes it just takes a little adjusting on how we communicate about these issues. If you find yourself getting off-track, or having a lot of difficulty, it might be best to have these conversations with a couples therapist. If you would like that to be me, please reach out by clicking here to send a message.
Corrin Voeller is a relationship therapist in St. Louis Park, Minnesota. She does in-person and online counseling and coaching with couples and individuals to improve the relationships in their lives. She lives with her husband, children, and extremely fat dog.
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