Marriage contract - what is it and how to DIY

We believe that the best way to approach the topic of the marriage contract is from the position of the other - even though it seems like a self-focused move to suggest one in the first place.

The divorce rate is at its' record high, whereas the number of legal marriages taking place in Canada is at its' record low. With that, pre-marital cohabitation is continuing to rise, up by 900% since the 60's.

These trends can be viewed positively, as long as you are prepared to have open discussions and rational decisions.

A great tool that can be used to decide whether getting married is the right decision for you is a marriage contract. It should outline all details of the ideal relationship each member of the couple envisions, the hard limits (no-no's), the soft limits and the must-haves. This contract can then be revisited every now and again and adjusted as needed.

altruWisdom's top 3 marriage contract must-haves are:

  1. No arrangement is too weird or unconventional. What some people find trivial, others feel are truly important. So if you need to include a clause about dirty socks, number of dates per month or washing dishes, go for it. After all, if you feel like not arguing about those items will improve your relationship of marriage, it is worth addressing. The rule of thumb: If you're requesting a lot, be prepared to give a lot! Remember, it's just as important to identify what you are willing to give to your partner. Your goal should always be to support your partner to be the best version of themselves. They should have the same goal for you! The contract helps you define what that version looks like, and how you each can support it.

  2. Both parties should feel like they've won at life. The number one rule of great negotiation. Either party should not feel like they gave up too much, instead they should feel like they are receiving more than they have sacrificed. Once again, this involves careful evaluation of what is truly important to you and what will make or break the relationship. When it comes to marriage math, think 1+1 equals 3 - the result is greater than the sum of its parts.

  3. If the terms are outdated or the situation changes, make new terms. At altruWisdom we believe in ever-evolving life, full of life events and constantly taking a new shape. As your life changes, so should your marriage contract. If certain terms are no longer applicable, or your preferences changed, propose a renegotiation. In fact, this should be a routine. Just like you review a will, you should review your arrangements with one another. There are a million ways to achieve this, just make sure you are striving to take the time and space to think about each of your needs and reasserting your commitment to meeting them for one another.

  4. The list of things you could address varies between couples. In essence, this is like the love languages, but a much more practical guide. As a starting point, consider the categories below:

  5. Logistics: This category includes a lot of the functional, day-to-day kinds of topics that we lovingly hear old couples bickering about. Whether it's chores like who is on garbage duty, or preferences (like someone who hates being late), customs and traditions, all of it falls into this category. Even geography technically falls here! Where we live feels non-negotiable, but it's not a true value as you will see in the next section. These are the things that we prefer - but can sacrifice to an extent if it benefits our partners.

  6. Values: These are our non-negotiable, direction setting beliefs we have. When it comes to the big decisions, these are your north stars that point you in your direction. These can evolve as you mature, as you and your partner grow closer and learn from one another, but they aren't easy to sacrifice, and ignoring them doesn't result in long term happiness. Within this category, you will find topics like having children, financial goals and habits, the role of each partner's family, your world outlook, your life purpose and your career.

  7. Relationship Pillars: This covers your beliefs surrounding relationships - and is entirely emotional, far less logistical. This includes the ideals you hold about the role of a partner, the rules about relationships that you believe you would like. The way you build this list is by identifying elements of other relationships you see around you that you admire. Conversely, you could also identify elements of past relationships that you did not like. Your partner will do the same, and this exercise will help you to identify if you both have matching blueprints for the relationship you are trying to build. We find it especially helpful to research and become aware of relationship theory - doing the homework here makes you a better partner and will give you the language to describe your feelings and expectations.


Once you have agreed on the topics to cover, make a very specific list of expectations, hopes and wants for each area.

Exchange the list of "demands" and initial the terms to which you are willing to agree to without receiving anything in return. Many sure that what you are agreeing to is completely doable and you will not back down on fulfilling your end of the bargain.

Those terms that you are unsure about, come up with a fair exchange which will make you accept the terms. Once the negotiation is done and each of you feels like you've won, sign the contract and commemorate it in some way. This is important work. In a graduation, the walk across the stage symbolizes a completed feat - this is the same! Whatever you decide, the act of celebrating it will further cement the commitment to it.

Make sure you revisit the terms of the contract as necessary, either as a reminder to your partner or yourself. In fact, the contract maintenance instructions should be baked into the contract itself!

If you would like to get additional tips on how to make your relationship or marriage unbreakable, visit our Discussions: Wellness in Marriage Checklist.

Good luck creating the perfect marriage contract!