‘When I told my parents I’d signed one, they told me to run’: Meet the women who’ve chosen to sign relationship contracts
When Nicole* first told her friends and family that she had signed a relationship contract with her boyfriend of just six months, she received a mixture of responses; none of them positive. “My friends just didn’t understand, they’d never heard of a relationship contract.
“And when I told my parents I’d signed one, they told me to ‘run’,” she tells me, before adding: “Lots of people asked why we didn’t just get married if we wanted something legally binding.”
But for Nicole, and many other women who sign relationship contracts, it’s not a traditional union they’re after, but one that feels safe and has boundaries that they know the other person will adhere to. Despite its legal-sounding name though, a relationship contract isn’t a binding agreement but rather a tool for couples to express their needs and work together to craft the parameters of their own unique relationship: including anything and everything from health and housework, to sex and intimacy.
Goodman Ray Solicitors confirm that, though a relationship isn’t actually legally binding, they have seen a rise in couples who aren’t yet married, or never intend to be, creating some form of relationship document, so that they feel heard, seen and respected by their partner.
“I’d had a few boyfriends before this relationship and I just always felt like our communication was poor and the boundaries were always unclear. I suggested the contract to help keep things simple and straightforward. So many people are in unconscious agreements with their partners anyway, and afraid to ask for what they really want, so why not just formalise it so that everyone knows where they stand?”
“I frequently allowed my needs to get overridden and was too afraid of speaking up out of fear of losing people, specifically men. So, before I even met my now-boyfriend, and after a lot of research, I decided that the next relationship I entered into would involve a contract,” Nicole explains. “Clarity and boundaries were going to be a non-negotiable and addressed upfront, finally!”
But it didn’t happen overnight, when she met her now-boyfriend, Ben, it took a while for Nicole to get up the courage to ask him, and then even longer to convince him. “At first he thought it was personal, like I didn’t trust him specifically,” she says. “But I explained that it wasn’t about punishing or restricting him, but helping us both to feel heard, with no grey areas when it came to understanding what the other wanted.”
And pressure to scrap the idea came from outside the relationship too, particularly from Nicole’s mum, who felt that wanting someone to sign a contract of this nature was a red flag to not really trusting their intent. “It definitely slowed down the process of Ben and my mum getting to know each other. She was really wary and constantly worried that it was actually Ben who was going to benefit from the contract, and he felt resentful that he was being blamed, but it’s worked itself out over time and I think she understands it more now.”
When the pair finally signed the contract, they were careful to make sure it fairly represented both sides: “I wanted things in there like Ben making an effort with my friends (I’d had lots of partners who didn’t care at all and it often caused a bit of a divide), but I also wanted things that I think lots of girls struggle with in relationships, like the promise of emotional support, honesty and honouring commitments that he made, like not cancelling dinner together to see a friend or deciding to work all weekend at the last minute.”
“Of course, I’m not going to drag Ben to court if a big project comes up last minute and he can’t make the cinema, but it does definitely help you to take your partner’s needs a bit more seriously.” And, as Nicole muses, it only took a few hours to draw up. They just “googled” relationship contract examples (“there are literally hundreds online”), wrote their own clauses and then sat down and talked them through to make sure they were both clear. “Then we just signed two copies of the contract and each kept one for ourselves.”