When you get married, you sign a marriage certificate. This certificate says that you’ll live together as a lawfully wedded couple until death do you part. But along with this marriage certificate, you’re also signing a series of legal contracts as well. These contracts state that if you divorce (i.e. break the marriage contract) that you’ll split assets acquired together during the marriage, split custody of children, etc.These contracts also state what you don’t have to split if one of you is in breach of the marriage contract. For example, you don’t have to split assets that were acquired before either of you were married.
Everyone knows these legal contracts or is at least familiar with them. But as a marriage counselor, I see literally hundreds of other contracts that a couple signs when they get married, too. And the problem is that most couples don’t recognize these contracts they’re signing until after they’ve broke the contract. And the consequences are often a lot steeper than if you break one of the legal ones.
The Christmas Contract
For example, when a couple gets married, there’s an often unspoken contract about what happens at Christmas time. This contract usually says that my spouse will come with me to my families’ house during Christmas. There are even contracts about what my spouses’ behavior will be at the party. They won’t drink too much, they won’t talk about Uncle Carl’s drinking problem and they’ll tell our kids they have to go even if they don’t want to.
If a partner breaks this contract and doesn’t go, or decides to speak up about Uncle Carl’s drinking problem, then there’s all kinds of hell to pay. When that happens, there’s fighting, arguments, silent treatment, and no sex for days. This is all to let your spouse know that they broke the contract and it won’t be tolerated.
The Unspoken Sex Contract
Another unspoken contract that couples often make is around sex – and this one gets broken a lot. Because you two have dated for a while and in one of the critical relationship phases you decided that you’re both compatible, so you decided to get married. And because you’ve decided that you’re “compatible” you expected that you’re expectations (aka contract) around sex is the same, too. In your mind, this sex contract says that my spouse will only have sex with me and I will get to have sex whenever I want, (or don’t want). You think that this contract says that sex will always be spontaneous, that your partner will always want you sexually, and they will never have sexual desires for anyone other than you. Furthermore, this contract also says that your partner won’t flirt with, talk to or even fantasize about anyone other than you.
But did they know they signed this? I mean really, did you talk about each and every one of these? Of course you didn’t! How unromantic is that!? And you had other more important things to do, like planning the wedding. (There were lots of other questions you didn’t ask your spouse before you got married that you probably should have. Click the link to read my Huffington Post article about it).
It makes sense then, that you catch your partner breaking your sex contract sometimes by, say, watching porn or flirting with someone at work. And it makes sense, too, that you two argue about it EVERY time it comes up. Your partner is breaking your rules and you want to let them know that you won’t tolerate it. And in their mind, you’re breaking their rules as well and they want to let you know what their contract states.
How to Handle Contract Breeches
What I have found as a marriage counselor is that instead of reprimanding your partner for breaking a contract they didn’t know they signed, approach the topic with curiosity. This will save you two from a lot of fights and a lot of hurt feelings. It’s tricky because is a pretty taboo topic generally so make sure you’re addressing it sensitively, too. Instead of shouting “what on earth are you watching?” ask something like “what makes you want to watch porn right now?” or “Is that something you want to try with me or do you like to just fantasize about it?” Instead of proclaiming how big of a jerk they are for flirting with that person at the swimming pool, ask them if they think that is being unfaithful or not and what they see their limits of fidelity being.
Like I said before, sex is a pretty taboo topic and it’s also very personal. When you try to get to know each other sexually by talking about topics specifically and with curiosity, you’ll get to know your partner a lot better than by imposing your expectations based on unspoken contracts. And you’ll get to know your partner in ways that nobody else does regardless of who they flirt with or who they fantasize about. And kind of communication and understanding is intimacy at it’s finest.
About the Author
Aaron Anderson is the Director and Lead Therapist at The Marriage and Family Clinic in Denver, Colorado. He’s an avid father, husband and youth soccer coach. He doesn’t have time to write a clever bio because he is too busy doing one of those three things.