Hi there. Nice to see you again.
You know, marriage is a strange phenomenon. At least mine was. It was surreal and magical and a whole lot of WTF is happening and how am I here right now, doing this, with this person, whom I’ve known for all of 17 months?!
But when you know you know. And then you figure it out from there: No Plan B.
It has been one year since the hitching of this horse to that cart. (Ha – totally kidding! It was honestly the second most glorious day of my life, after the birth of my sister. Sorry, D, you knew that going in.). And I’ve been thinking a lot about love contracts, because I read a few articles about them recently.
What’s a love contract, you might ask? It’s a relationship contract written by two people in the intimate relationship. They usually sign it, but not always. To me, it’s kind of like a prenup – but not legally binding.
I don’t really like it. I mean, I can see how it could be helpful: Here’s what I’m working on, here’s what you’re working on, and here’s what our relationship means to us. Here’s what’s important, and here’s what makes us feel loved, respected, and cared for.
Communication is often an ongoing challenge in any relationship. Two completely different communicators – or, you know, species – trying to connect through verbal and nonverbal language? It can feel darn near impossible sometimes. A love contract is an opportunity to be “100% transparent and honest about what is important to you in your relationship”. It helps bring clarity and alignment to your intentions and desires.
But I don’t really like it. I like that it helps you articulate your needs, but why do you need an official “contract” to do that? It kind of rubs me the wrong way, like a crew neck t-shirt that sits a little too high on your neck.
I’m more of the “understand each others' love languages” type. What is a love language? Well, there are five love languages: Physical touch, words of affirmation, quality time, acts of service, and receiving gifts. According to this theory, all of us have primary love languages – ways that we prefer to express and receive love. The key is learning how to honor and "speak" each other's love languages. I find this a much more valuable relationship booster than a love contract, and here are two reasons why:
1. While a love contract can be a very helpful way to lay it on the table, there are many other ways that work just as well, or even better.
Learning my husband D’s love languages helped me speak those that make him feel most loved. In his case, he’s all about physical touch and words of affirmation. Therefore, though I'm already pretty touch-oriented (it's actually an ongoing joke among some circles of friends), I make a concerted effort to hold his hand and rub his back and snuggle just a little longer than I might otherwise, because I know that he cherishes that. And though I never really need words of affirmation, I try to remember to give him plenty.
I’m more an acts of service type, which sounds so unromantic at first, but trust me: It's just as romantic. I also like physical touch, especially when we're out and about. Maybe it's the PDA lover in me? I don't know.
Anyway, D and I have some differences, but we’re both more about quality time and less about receiving gifts. Efforts to speak each other's languages go a long way.
2. It’s ultimately your responsibility to meet your own needs.
Of course you want a partner you loves you and respects you and cherishes you like no other. But that person can’t be everything for you, and they’ll probably never fully understand you because humans are complex creatures and most of us don’t even fully understand ourselves.
A love contract isn’t going to cut it unless you emphasize not only sharing your needs, but also taking responsibility for your needs.
Okay, so now I'm going to do a total 180 and say that, in the spirit of our one-year anniversary, I decided to put a twist on this whole love contract idea. (Plus, paper is the traditional gift for Year #1, so I can print this puppy out and kill two birds with one stone. How’s that for both doing less and loving better, am I right?!)
Coming up with a list like the one I'm about to share not only encourages you to keep putting positive effort into your relationship, it also reminds you of how far you've come and of how much you're already working on. This is a good thing! Again, relationships are beautiful and romantic and full of sunshine-y days and wine-soaked evenings, but they're also challenging. How can they not be? That's part of the ongoing journey that makes them so worthwhile: Figuring out how to navigate challenges together.
So, thinking about this past year, and where I tend to get stuck in stupid muck, I whipped up some meaningful intentions. And, no, this is not being a hypocrite. This is me being open-minded and making it work for me.
My Love List
I will continue to speak your love languages – and I will try not to mind when you slap my butt one too many times, because I know that physical touch is your primary love language (even if it’s not mine), so it’s instinctual for you, and I know that, while you're learning my love languages, learning is a process.
I will always try to go back to the big picture – aka, I will not nitpick as much.
I will try not to get up quite as often during movies or TV shows.
I will be a little more lenient in my standards for movies or TV shows.
I will attempt to stay awake long enough for some pillow talk – because, in a complete role reversal, you’re the one who always looks forward to that.
I will refrain from losing it due to the accumulation of ugly and earth-killing plastic bags under the sink. Okay, okay, I'll try to loosen my grip in general. I know I keep saying this, but that's really hard for me sometimes, so please try to be patient and know that I'm trying – even if I forget or can't quite do it sometimes.
I will give you a spoon – not a fork – with your eggs and avocado.
I will try not to express my wine snobbery quite so explicitly.
I will be better about sharing.
I will continue to work on patience – aka not losing my shit when I can't get the lid off a jar, or fix the toilet flusher, or something else equally not nearly as deserving of flaring nostrils, pursed lips, loud grunts, and visibly popping neck veins.
I will not give you a hard time for a very long train of very loud farts, because, in our marriage vows, I spoke about the importance of farting freely, and I want to honor that, because you always accept mine fully. And I know what a gift it is to be able to fart freely, as most women I know do not.
I will be more sensitive with my choice of words if I think something might ruffle you.
I will always be honest with you – unless it’s a white lie told to spare you from stress-inducing exasperation.
I will snuggle a little longer if you want to – because, again, in a complete role reversal, you’re usually the one who wants to do so.
I will try to be on your side more obviously – because, apart from what you might think, I’m always on your side.
I will take responsibility for my own crazy emotions.
I will actively avoid the “four horsemen”: Criticism, defensiveness, contempt, and stonewalling. I’m an imperfect human, so these things will come up for us from time to time. But I’m proud of how well we do in these areas already, and I know that we’re continuing to learn how to communicate with each other in more effective ways.
I will continue to learn the value, sometimes, of talking less and smiling more – and I’ll always think of that Hamilton song, because I know how much you love that musical.
I will try not to judge you when you make blanket statements like, “Hamilton is the best musical of all time – and that’s not my opinion, that’s just a fact.” In fact, I will try to simply smile and not even go there – because it’s just not worth it.
I will constantly return to how much you love me and how good and devoted and full of positive intentions you are.
To sum it all up, I will continue to love you with all of my heart, and I will always go back to gratitude at the magic of crossing paths with a man who is so perfectly my idealistically romantic, ox-headed partner in this beautiful life of ours.
What about you? Have you ever thought about anything like a love contract with a partner, family member, or friend? What would you include? Why would you choose this route – or another route instead?