Marriage and Family — 31 October 2003
The secret types of marriage contracts

The secret types of marriage contracts.

Marriage is a contractual commitment of two people intending to share
their lives together in love. Some couples write their own service,
exchange their unique set of vows and state their promises publicly.
Others exchange more traditional ceremonial phrases that bind them.

However, each couple has an additional contract, never voiced, but clear
to both partners, about the nature of their marriage.

There are many types of these unwritten and unspoken understanding
between spouses. Here are examples of a few.

The Utilitarian- “me” Marriage _ is propelled by one overriding
attribute each partner requires of the other. For example, one groom
laughingly announced “I am marrying her for her beauty, she is marrying
me for my money”. If indeed this couple’s unwritten contract is
predominantly based on these two factors, they have a “me ” marriage.
Each partner is most interested in one determining asset of the other to
serve his or her needs. In this example their arrangement may become
very disappointing should their assets falter.

Another example may be a woman who feels very vulnerable and chooses a
man who will protect her. She offers great admiration for his strength
and may settle for his violence towards others as a trade off for her
sense of safety.

The Altruistic- “you” Marriage- is based on the nonverbal understanding
that one partner will be the recipient of most of the attention and
energy within the union. ” My partner is a brilliant musician (or
writer, politician, teacher, etc.) I and the children do everything
needed to support him”. The supportive partner is the _wind beneath the
wings_ of the designated “important” mate. All energies are geared
toward facilitating the life and work of the valued individual.

In this type of contract, one partner and the children defer or
subjugate their needs for the sake of one partner.
Though this is often done lovingly, it nonetheless creates an uneven
partnership.

The Business – “our” Marriage- is based on the model of a successful
partnership, where both mates share the responsibilities of jobs,
children, chores and recreation. They respect each other’s competency
and divide the roles by their specific talents.
Their marriage is run very well, efficiently and cooperatively.

Some of these business marriages may neglect the couple connection. They
may be so consumed with doing all the tasks well that keeping a playful,
loving and romantic bond eludes them. When this part of their emotional
life is neglected, they may feel respected but not cherished enough by
each other.

The Lovers “we are one” Marriage- is the nonverbal contract based on the
centrality of the couple’s connection above and beyond all other
relationships. The lovers place most of their attention exclusively on
each other.
Children raised in a Lovers Marriage describe knowing very early in life
that their parents_ connection is special, unique and sacred. It is
given first priority in terms of time, energy and love.
Though the children believe they are loved, they often feel that their
mere presence in the household is an intrusion upon their parents_ privacy. Nannies and other caregivers raise some of these children. Though they
are well cared for they do not feel close to either parent. Many are
sent to boarding school at a young age and feel like guests on their
visits home.

The Balanced -“we” Marriage – is based on love, respect, trust and
attraction. Both partners understand the core contract as of life mates
for “better or worse”. They commit to being good partners while
preserving their love. They share tasks, support each other and make
everyone in the family feel special.

All these marriage models can be happy, successful marriages. Your
marriage may have its own set of non-verbalized agreements, which differ
from any of the above.

  • Ask yourself, what basic assumptions you hold about your marriage that
    are understood yet- never discussed with your partner.
  • Ask your partner what are his or her beliefs about the nature of your
    marriage.
  • Knowing where you are may propel you to change some of the old views
    in favor of newer ways.
  • If your marriage works, don’t fret about the non- communicated
    contract, just keep enjoying your relationship and feel blessed.

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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