Guest post by Celeste Hirschman and Danielle Harel
No two relationships are exactly alike, yet we often make assumptions about how relationships are supposed to be. There is a lot of societal pressure, for example, to have a relationship where your agreements are assumed instead of overtly communicated and where you are expected to follow a particular relationship trajectory: you fall in love which generally includes meeting, dating, and becoming monogamous, then you solidify the relationship by moving in (and sometimes getting married), then you become a family (which may include children), and then you stay together into your old age.
The more relationships we see in our sex therapy and relationship coaching practice and the more we read the research, the more we are aware that this particular formula does not work for everyone (or even the majority of people). Yet, people judge themselves and their partners on their success or failure based on their ability to make the trajectory happen. We help people replace this static, assumption-based approach to relationships so that people can honor their unique and changing desires and boundaries in service of having sustainable, loving relationships.
We suggest you start with the following assumption: There is no right way to have a relationship and the most successful relationships account for the beautifully unique needs of the people in them. For example, we have seen wonderful marriages where the couple does not live together, delightful relationships that never result in marriage and generous couples who decide that the most loving, supportive thing they can do for one another is break up. We have seen relationships revived by an affair, and ones that were ruined by the monotony and boredom of trying to fit into society’s mold.
We invite you to examine the contract you have with fresh eyes and creativity and to be willing to continue to look at it throughout your relationship as you change and grow. Notice all the ways you have let yourself fall into default settings and see where this is or is not serving you. Even if you want aspects of the trajectory, bring them up and make sure you and your partner’s needs are both heard. Here are a few questions that might help you make your contract more transparent:
- How have you decided to share money?
- How do you approach attending social engagements (together or separate or both)?
- How do you sleep (i.e. in the same bed or not, at the same time or not)?
- Do you assume there is a right way to do some things in your relationship and get angry and blamey if it is not happening the way you want it to?
- What things do you really want that you have decided, consciously or unconsciously, not to ask for because it might upset your partner or it “just isn’t done”?
Once you approach your relationship contract as a dynamic, negotiable and non-judgmental process, we believe you will have a lot less undue suffering and frustration and a lot more of what you really want your relationship to be!
Follow Celeste & Danielle on Twitter @SexAndIntimacy