Relationships, part 69: A New Lease on your Relationship
If you leased out a portion of your life, what would the terms and conditions be?
You own an apartment building with an almost infinite number of apartments, but, once someone moves in, you can never evict them, and they can never leave. You can move them from one apartment to the other.
There’s only a single penthouse suite and a few luxury suites. Most are ordinary, efficiency studios. There are a huge, but unknown, number of basement apartments. You’d like to pretend those tenants weren’t even there. However, many of the occupants of the basement apartments are chronically disgruntled, so that they often play their music loud and let roaches, bedbugs, and other undesirables inside.
The penthouse is a splendid apartment. You live in it, as is your right as landlord, and have been sharing it with a roommate. Things have started to get tense between you and you thought of kicking him out, however, you don’t want him to feel ill used. He would just make your life miserable if you stuck him in a basement apartment. Besides, the two of you might just get along if you got a few things straight.
The name of this apartment building is, you might have guessed, Your Life. The tenants are all the people you’ve let into Your Life. Most of the people in Your Life are associates occupying the efficiency apartments. Close friends have the luxury suites. The tenants in the basement apartments are your exes, your might’ve-beens, and those bullies in middle school that still rent space in your head. Oh, I forgot, there are a few rent controlled apartments that have been occupied by your family members since before you bought the building, but that’s beside the point. The person you share the penthouse with is the love of your life and you’re trying to figure out how you can evict him.
As I said, you can never get anyone out of the apartment building altogether, but you can move your partner from the penthouse to the luxury suites, meaning you would still be friends, the efficiencies, or in the basement. If it’s got to be done, it’s in your interest to do so kindly and with fairness, if only because, to some extent, you still have to live with him or her.
So, what can you do to make your expectations clear, your promises credible, and your exit strategy explicit? You can do what landlords have always done. You can create and, together, sign a lease.
Far too many people drift into relationships without ever making the momentous decision to be together. You decide to leave a toothbrush, provide an underwear drawer, share rent without ever deciding the terms and conditions of the relationship. Since it’s hard to talk about relationships, you let it go without saying what you expect and can be expected in return. Is it any wonder that you get confused? Are you really surprised when you wake up one day and find yourself caught up in much more than you ever intended and are not sure of how you can get out?
In traditional relationships there are occasions when the couple might talk about their terms and conditions. That’s what wedding vows are for, after all. Many clergy insist that, as a condition of their officiating at the wedding, you go through pre-marital counseling in which you consider uncomfortable issues such as how to raise children and celebrate holidays. Many lawyers insist on pre-marital agreements that deal with prickly matters such as finances and the dissolution of the marriage.
Unfortunately, when it comes to wedding vows, poetry and sentiment often prevail over practicality. No one planning a wedding really wants to tackle the tough issues and declare in the front of a church, before parents, grandparents, and everyone, just how you want your partner to relate to his ex, what sexual positions you loathe, how big a check your partner can write without clearing it with you, and the myriad of other issues that can sink a marriage.
Far too often, people get deep into relationships without ever talking about these things. Sort of as if you moved into an apartment, or had someone move in, without ever signing a lease, or even talking about rent and security deposit.
The other problem with wedding vows is, when you are planning a wedding, you may not know what you really want in a marriage. You think what you want is what you think everyone else has. You expect what you saw on some TV show, what your parents had, or the relationship you wish your parents had. That’s a little like signing a lease without reading it first, or like a landlord downloading a template of a lease without considering what’s in it.
So, if you are running into problems in your relationship, this is the perfect time to consider how to fix the problems and discuss with your partner whether he or she would agree to a new, or amended, contract.