Let's Make a Deal: Love Contracts
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because why bother arguing?
By Rachel Levin
It’s not about the money … it’s about who cooks dinner. How much ESPN can be watched. Who changes the diapers. How often you have sex.
Whether they’re just dating or long married with kids, what couples seem to argue most about is the day-to-day crap. Who plans date night? How many weekends can be spent fishing? How often do you have to visit the in-laws? It gets kind of exhausting.
What if instead of bickering, discussing, and keeping score, you just put it down on paper — typed up a contract instead of having an ongoing discussion. Wouldn’t that leave more time for what a relationship is supposedly all about? (You know, love.)
If you just put it all down on paper, wouldn’t that leave more time for what a relationship is supposedly all about?
My husband, Josh, and I have loose deals about everything from who opens the mail (he does) to who orders the takeout (I do) to who puts our kids to bed every night (we alternate). All silly, stupid, unwritten rules — and it works pretty well. Still, I wonder, what if we were to really spell it all out? Even the big stuff?
These days, “there’s certainly more talk about so-called love contracts,” says Martha Ertman, a law professor at the University of Maryland and the author of Love & Contracts, which will be published by Beacon Press in 2014. But couples have, of course, been making agreements for centuries. Engagement itself was a legally binding contract in the 19th century, says Ertman, and lawsuits for breach of contract to marry “clogged the courthouse dockets” until the 1930s.
Today, an engagement can be called off via email, for crying out loud. But email messages can also be used to cement “rules” for a relationship. Even a quick text exchange could be considered a type of contract in the eyes of a couple. Who needs a high-priced lawyer?
Well, maybe Jessica Biel — for her $500K deal with Justin Timberlake if he ever cheats on her. (Only half a million? Catherine Zeta-Jones reportedly requested 10 times that.)
Like adultery, kids or no kids is a major issue among couples. One Bay Area woman once demanded that her boyfriend get a vasectomy — and then dumped him six months later. A contract would have been wise in this case, wouldn’t you say? It could’ve at least help pay for the eight surgeries he underwent to reverse it a couple of years later.
Drugs, too. Keith Urban supposedly won’t get a penny of Nicole Kidman’s money if he ever again snorts cocaine.
Life agreements are informal and never meant to be legally enforceable…“Enforcement comes socially — what economists call ‘burned toast’
Religion. Tiger mom Amy Chua agreed with her (Jewish) husband to raise their daughters Jewish only if the girls also learned Mandarin.
Even something as seemingly simple as quiet time can be considered contract fodder. Michelle Obama agreed to actively support Barack in his presidential bid only if he promised to spend a certain amount of time with his daughters. And the press had a field day when Priscilla Chan reportedly called for one date night plus 100 minutes of alone time a week before she agreed to marry Mark Zuckerberg last May. (Innocuous request, relatively speaking. Still, has he kept his word? And what does she get if he doesn’t?)
“Since these kind of day-to-day life agreements are so informal and never meant to be legally enforceable, it doesn’t really matter whether they’re oral or in writing, as long as people understand each other,” says Ertman. “Enforcement comes socially — what economists call ‘burned toast’ — through retributions mild or extreme on the home front.”
One 40-year-old woman from New York has two deals with her husband: sex twice a week and no one gets fat. “He’s already hairy,” she says. “Can you imagine if he were also fat?”
OK, so this kind of “love contract” might not be a legally binding agreement in the eyes of the Supreme Court, but it arguably helps keep the peace. And it can foster a healthier, happier relationship.
After balking at my husband’s plea for a second kid, I acquiesced — in exchange for one solo week (or two…) overseas per year. Three years in, the deal has done wonders for my psyche (and assortment of passport stamps). Lest he forget in 2014, I think I’ll just ask him to, you know, sign something.