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The case for treating your relationship as a rental and having check-ins about renewals

No matter how long or short your given relationship is, there are likely certain topics you’d rather not discuss. In the beginning, maybe it’s a DTR-style moment, and later on maybe it’s the implementation of money dates—or maybe it’s something else. Regardless, there’s good reason to break through the vibes of discomfort and check in about the state of your union. And while a formal relationship contract is likely over the top, there is good reason to regard your partnership as a rental rather than a forever home and to make sure to check in regularly before renewing.

“Many things change for a couple over the course of time,” says relationship expert Susan Winter. “Routinely reassessing your partnership goals allows you to continue to grow as a couple. Life will impact your relationship. External and internal changes will impact your relationship. Knowing this, it’s only prudent to allow for amending and revising your partnership agreement to keep current with your lives.”

And if you can’t come to an agreement with amendments? It might be time to consider whether you want to renew or find a new place to live, so to speak. While the idea of a check-in can be beneficial for couples committed to working on themselves and being honest about their relationships, be sure to keep an open mind about how regarding your partnership as temporary in a sense might backfire. (Because it sure seems like the mind-set might lead to a negative-leaning self-fulfilling prophecy, right?)

“Routinely reassessing your partnership goals allows you to continue to grow as a couple.… It’s only prudent to allow for amending and revising your partnership agreement to keep current with your lives.” —relationship expert Susan Winter

“If the relationship does not have two people who are willing to honor their commitment, this plan could open up a loophole of being able to stop working and end the relationship,” says psychotherapist Melissa Divaris Thompson, LMFT. That is, setting inflexible rules could sever the relationship once said rules are broken instead of allowing for trust.

So take caution before you consider a relationship contract, and set yourself up for success by checking in on a basis that skews more daily than annually. Constant communication is more likely to lead to amendable compromises rather than demands for change.

How to go about these check-ins on a relationship contract

“Plan this discussion for a time that you’re both relaxed,” Winter says. “Late Saturday morning or Sunday afternoon are good. Whichever day or time, make sure you won’t be rushed or distracted by other situations.”

From there, follow the four following simple steps:

1. Make a list

Be prepared. This doesn’t mean you need 40 pages of paperwork in your bag or to have a lawyer present for the one-year terms of agreement update. But a list of your talking points is a must.

“Be specific about your concerns and what you know you need to discuss with your partner,” Winter says.

2. Present each point separately

When arguing, it’s a common and also highly suggested-against practice to drudge up old problems and conflate unrelated issues. For instance, if you have a problem with your S.O.’s mom barging into the room you’re sleeping in when you visit their house and you’d rather get an Airbnb, the fact that you don’t like it when she calls you at work doesn’t need to be brought up in the same conversation.

“Don’t confuse your partner by dumping five things in their lap,” says Winter. “Take one issue at a time. Get resolution for each issue before moving on to the next topic of discussion.”

3. Verbally recap your agreement

You know what you mean when you list your terms of agreement. What’s really important, though, is that your partner knows what you’re talking about—and vice versa.

“Make sure your understanding of each point is clear,” Winter says. “This isn’t the time for assumptions. If you don’t understand, ask questions. Precision is of the utmost importance. Your relationship agreement only works if it’s clearly stated.”

4. Write it down

“This way there’s no error or fudging in the future,” Winter says.

All of this being true, when it comes to love and life, do remember that people are people, and homes are…not at all. It’s up to you to choose what agreement works best for the both of you, and a landlord-tenant relationship likely won’t fit the bill. So, however you want to regard your relationship contract, aim to check in more than annually and to not neglect day-to-day maintenance. It’ll make all parties more likely to want to renew the lease.

Looking to lock it down? Here are six questions you need to ask each other before you get married. And in case you’re worried, this is the important difference between bickering and fighting.