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Renegotiating your wedding vows

Relationship advice | improve your relationship

Picture this: It is a warm spring day and it is our anniversary. How to celebrate this romantic occasion?

We go out for a drink, enjoy a nice dinner, and engage in a little contract renegotiation before we slide between the sheets.

Wait a second…did she say contract renegotiation? Is that a euphemism for a new sexual position? 

Not quite.

The weakness in the original contract

The day you get married/partnered/cohabitate/exchange “I love yous” is a day worth remembering. It is the start of something important in your life and a public commitment to share it with another person. You are high on love that day, and depending on who’s in charge of the punch, possibly also drunk as a skunk.

You begin your life together with the highest aspirations and best hopes.

  • You work hard to please your mate.
  • You can’t wait to see him/her walk through the door at the end of the day.
  • Your bedroom is like a private Circ du Soleil show every night.

Over time, the “new” of your relationship begins to wane and other things regain focus in your life.

  • Work becomes more important as you strive to create a successful career and solid financial foundation
  • Family takes priority as you have children or begin caring for aging parents
  • Financial obligations soar as you buy a home and cars and vacations and college educations – all the trappings of success

This is where your original vows to each other begin to fade into the background as the urgencies of everyday life intrude on your bond. You begin taking your partner for granted, forgetting the ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ of your earlier days. Instead of working hard to please your mate, you begin to wonder why he/she isn’t pulling the fair share of weight in your household or financial obligations. You rush through dinner conversation so you can get back to your laptop and answer emails from work that could easily wait until tomorrow.

Maybe you hide your frustration with each other in sharp comments, chilly silence, or a gap in the middle of the bed where you used to curl up together.

Whether you are at the light end of this scenario and have just a few simmering resentments or so far at the extreme you wear body armor just to say good morning, there is a lot you can learn from the business world in strengthening your marriage.

Improve your relationship with a contract renegotiation

What trips so many good relationships up is waiting too long to fix the problems. And let’s face it: We all have problems in our relationships. You are not alone – not by a long shot.

When you look at your relationship as a series of one-year contracts, open to renegotiation every year, you will be far less likely to wake up one day and realize you don’t even like your partner anymore.

By giving him or her the chance to grow with you by providing ongoing feedback – and by being open to the same yourself – you give your relationship more than a fighting chance of succeeding.

We all grow and change over time, and we cannot expect our partners to read our minds and simply adjust. Nor can we expect to shrug the frustration off, saying it is our problem and not theirs. Any problem in a relationship is the problem of the relationship and needs to be dealt with by both parties.

When you stay in touch with your partner, discuss the ways you are growing and changing individually and together through life, and make promises to adjust your relationship accordingly, you are experiencing the highest form of partnership. Isn’t that why you signed up?

How to perform an annual contract renegotiation

It really isn’t as hard as it sounds. In fact, done right it can make your next anniversary the best one you’ve ever had. (And if it is too long to wait til your next anniversary, go ahead and have a mid-year renewal. It’s okay.)

First, consider the value of your relationship as a whole and as individuals.

Two business entities would realize what each brings to the table and how they are mutually benefitting the other. You each have a strong position from which to start and more to gain by working with each other. Negotiations are better when both parties realize this.

Think of all the ways your partner makes you happy, contributes to your overall well-being, and rounds out your life. Then think of all the ways you do the same for him or her.

Once you have this appreciative mindset, you are in the right frame of mind to start the process.

Begin with the good stuff.

Tell your partner what you were just thinking and how he or she rocks your world. Get into it and tell them all the things you sometimes take for granted. No need to make up a long list of little things to sound more appreciative, but do cover the big ones and mention some that you may have kept to yourself all these years.

“You make our home such a sanctuary from the stress of life, and I feel better every day just walking through the door.”

Starting with all the ways your relationship is working puts your few problems into perspective.

Next, calmly state the thing(s) your partner does or does not do that impacts your satisfaction level and ask how it can be resolved.

This is not a time to bring out a laundry list of gripes and complaints. A company renegotiating terms of a contract may discuss an overall problem with delivery, not a specific order that got messed up. When discussing problems, you should take the same overall view.

“I would like to have sex more often. What can we do to make that happen?”

This opens the door to finding out why one party is reluctant to have sex and how the outlying problem affecting that (work, kids, simmering resentments, incompatible foreplay, physical problems, timing) can usually be resolved. This is so much more productive than “You are withholding sex from me,” which sets the other person on the defensive right away.

Imagine the big fight that would start, especially if the answer to getting more sex is as simple as helping her tidy up the kitchen every night and put the kids to bed.

No interruptions, excuses, or fighting allowed.

Remember, this is a contract renegotiation, not fight. We are just talking terms that will make the overall arrangement more lucrative for both parties. It is not a time to get down in the weeds and fail to see the bigger objective. Listen calmly, with an open mind, and try to see the situation from your partner’s perspective.

Somewhere between the stating of the problem and your gut reaction to it is a solution that will work for your relationship.

Focus on solutions, not the problems.

If she hates it that you work every Saturday morning instead of spending it with the family over a leisurely pancake breakfast, could you negotiate a late night of work on Thursday to allow for more family time at the weekend? The problem is not that you work; it is that you work when the rest of the family is available and wants to spend time with you. If you hate pancakes and are not a morning person, perhaps you can change your family time to Saturday afternoon instead. Or switch to omelettes.

If he thinks you nag too much, find out where it is coming from. The nagging is a symptom of the real problem. Are you worried about something in particular, feel like he’s not listening so you have to repeat yourself, or something else? Getting to the root of the problem will soothe your worries and resolve his complaint.

Sometimes we realize that we are the instigators of actions we don’t like in the other person – and that we can do something about it.

Restate the solutions out loud to each other.

Make sure you are both seeing the solution the same way by saying it out loud to each other. Know your part in resolving the issue going forward and how this act will strengthen your relationship. Make sure your partner restates the solution in a way that will resolve the issue for you.

Clarify if needed, and accept clarification if given.

Last, you seal the deal by signing on the dotted line.

You are recommitting to another year of life together with a slight adjustment in terms to accommodate your changing lives, and it deserves some special attention. Though since there is no real paper in this exchange you’ll have to find another way to document your agreement.

I don’t think you need my help with that one.

Need a little extra help speaking up during your renegotiations? We’ve got the answer right here, in Kindle or paperback.

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About Betsy

Betsy Talbot can't live without a Moleskine notebook, her passport, and happy hour. She sold everything she owned to travel the world with her husband Warren in 2010, and she's been enjoying her midlife crisis ever since. Betsy writes about creating the life you want from the life you already have in her books and on the Married with Luggage website. Drop her an email at btalbot (at) marriedwithluggage (dot) com and check out her Google+ page.

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  1. [...] couple weeks ago I dug into my heart and past to write about the death of my father. Sharing my thoughts and emotions has turned about to be a cathartic [...]

  2. [...] (And no sweat if your relationship is not new and you haven’t tried this before. Just bring it up during your  next marriage contract review.) [...]

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