C.  Do Contracts Undermine Trust?

     Men tend to believe that relationship contracts are unnecessary
because women should trust them to do the right things.
But women tend to be the ones who see the advantages of a contract
because they know that "trust me" often means
that they will end up doing the disputed tasks,
especially if those tasks have traditionally been 'women's work'.

     This might be a reversal of our normal expectations,
where we think of men wanting more structure
and women wanting a more emotional relationship.

     Men might believe they will get the better part of marriage
by depending on the informal (and unequal) traditions of marriage.
Women favor contracts because they want more equality
than the marriage tradition usually provides.
The tradition gives more power and authority to the man.
And the wife ends up with more responsibilities.

     When men say "trust me", it means
that they will do the right thing without having it written down.
But the actual experience of many couples
shows that husbands fail to fulfill their part of the bargain
more often than wives break their promises.
And if they separate, it is usually because the wife is dissatisfied.
She will end up raising their children alone;
and frequently he will not even pay his court-ordered child-support.
Weren't these failed marriages based on trust?

     In unequal relationships, weaker partners gain more
by having all rights and responsibilities spelled out in writing.
Before you begin a new relationship, both parties are equal.
And neither of you is trying to 'pull something' on the other
by putting something unfair into a relationship contract.
You equally and freely agree to whatever you want to include.

     But there might be some danger that one partner
—perhaps deeply under the influence of romantic love—
will sign an unfavorable contract proposed by the clear-headed partner.
Psychologically the weaker partner might not be ready
to state his or her rights in black and white.


     And perhaps there should be some way to protect weaker partners
from agreeing to relationship contracts even worse than marriage.
But we would probably not want a public official to review contracts.
That might just impose more traditional ideas on the couple.
Perhaps you could share drafts of your relationship contract
with trusted friends to see if the provisions seem reasonable.
And maybe marriage counselors will develop expertise in this area,
because they already know the patterns and problems of marriage.

     If you create your own relationship contract,
you are more likely to have a balanced relationship
because you have agreed in advance to share housework and child-care.
If you have voluntarily put such agreements into your contract,
you are much more likely to fulfill your commitments
than if you sign an unread list of promises
created by thousands of years of tradition
but which you have never even discussed—much less explicitly agreed upon.
The standard provisions of the marriage contract
might not be the promises you would choose for yourselves.

     If you base your relationship on 'trust' alone,
your actual day-to-day behavior is not likely to be egalitarian.
If you are the husband and father,
you might say you want to be more involved with your home and family,
but when you allocate your time and money, other priorities come first.

     If your wife reminds you of your frequent claim
of wanting more time with the family,
you might experience such reminders as nagging.
You might feel that your wife is attempting to force you
to fulfill commitments you never really made.
But if you have discussed such matters in advance
—and put your agreement into writing—
there should be less conflict in your life together.

     When housework and child-care are left to 'trust',
these responsibilities usually are left for your wife.
And sometimes she can get you to help her with her tasks.
If these were your responsibilities, then she would be helping you.
If you are a deadline-driven person,
who always leaves your responsibilities to the last possible minute,
some of those deadlines are going to be missed,
which might mean that your wife will have to pick up the pieces.

DO RELATIONSHIP CONTRACTS UNDERMINE TRUST?               by James Park             179

The two pages constitute most of this section discussing trust in relationships from Designer Marriage.

Return to the table of contents for

Designer Marriage: Write Your Own Relationship Contract

Created December 23, 2009; Revised

Return to the LOVE page.

Go to the opening page for this website:
An Existential Philosopher's Museum

The views and opinions expressed in this page are strictly those of the page author.
The contents of this page have not been reviewed or approved by the University of Minnesota.