What occurred when Daisy and Dale signed a relationship contract…

There’s an irritating old saying, used by gardeners, that goes along these lines. ‘The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The next-best time is today.’

I supposed the same thing might be said of relationship contracts.

If my husband and I were going to agree to one, we should have outlined the terms and conditions when we met, 12 years ago. But if we didn’t do it then, we might as well start now.

Relationship contracts have been gaining traction in the U.S. Online influencers Simone and Malcolm Collins have revealed that they created a 62-clause contract before they married. While 21-year-old TikTok creator Annie Wright shared her 17-page relationship ‘terms and conditions’ document with her new boyfriend (and her 300,000 followers).

The concept seems very American — surely the British way to manage a relationship is based on time-honoured traditions such as eye-rolling, passive aggression, and pretending to be deaf?

Daisy and Dale Buchanan first met 12 years ago and were living and working in London before they got married and moved to Margate

Daisy and Dale Buchanan first met 12 years ago and were living and working in London before they got married and moved to Margate

However, I’m curious enough to wonder whether a relationship contract might be the key to happily ever after. Or, at least, the key to avoiding fights in the Morrisons freezer section.

Advocates say it makes things clearer and encourages couples to talk about problems rather than sweeping them under the carpet.

When Dale and I first met in 2012, we were living in London, working in offices, and comparing hangovers. Then we went freelance, got married, and moved to Margate. I quit drinking. For our early dates, I’d dress up and meet Dale after work at an exciting new bar. Now, we’re side by side all day long, on our laptops, and sometimes in our pyjamas.

And I’m in no position to suggest that we nip out at 6pm for happy hour martinis. Perhaps we’ve let some things slide — could a contract bring back some of the old magic?

I think Dale and I know each other better than anyone, but I wonder whether it might be nice to reintroduce a bit of romance and mystery. If nothing else, I think we need to see each other in clothes that don’t have elasticated waists.

When I introduce the concept to Dale, he’s sceptical. ‘This sounds exhausting,’ he says, rolling his eyes.

I assure him that, for the purposes of this article, we only need to do it for a week and that there was an upside for him: ‘I’m sure there are plenty of things you’d like me to start doing or stop doing. This is your opportunity to get me to sort it out.’ Dale’s face lights up, and I feel a strong sense of foreboding.

Together, we hammer out a contract, aiming to address some universal relationship concerns — money, housework, hobbies, weight/appearance and box sets — and some more specific issues, such as navigating your shared social life when only one of you is a drinker. The final contract looks like this.

Sex: Over the course of a week, each of us will initiate once — and not in the morning, which is when marital intimacy usually occurs.

Non-sexual contact: Each day will commence and end with both parties engaging in a ‘nice long hug’. Use of the word ‘cuddle’ will immediately make the contract null and void.

Weight gain and body image: Dale to focus on giving specific, targeted compliments, avoiding the words ‘nice’ and ‘lovely’, which Daisy feels are ‘a bit generic’ and ‘the sort of thing you might say to your niece.

‘Hot’ works for me. Or ‘gorgeous’ ‘ I suggest. Dale rolls his eyes. ‘I try so hard to remember to give you compliments, and when I do, they’re the wrong ones.’

I’m worried that this clause will result in a net loss of compliments.

Daisy will not comment if Dale chooses to eat an early evening snack. She promises to never use the words ‘You’ll spoil your dinner.’

Advocates say relationship contracts make things clearer and encourages couples to talk about problems rather than sweeping them under the carpet

Advocates say relationship contracts make things clearer and encourages couples to talk about problems rather than sweeping them under the carpet 

Pyjama curfew: Both parties will not abuse their homeworking privileges and promise to be fully dressed in actual clothes by midday.

Food shopping: Daisy and Dale will endeavour to do one big shop, instead of going to the supermarket nearly every day.

Money: There will be an audit of pointless household subscriptions to various streaming services (mostly signed up to by Dale). We’re not too bad with money, but we both feel we need to stop simply talking about trying to save it, and actually cut back where we can.

Alcohol: Before a night out with friends, Dale will not say, ‘I’m not going to overdo it tonight,’ and immediately overdo it. If Dale is having a drink at home, he will offer Daisy, who is sober, an alcohol-free alternative.

Housework: If one party would like the other party to do the washing up, they will ask nicely. They will not do it themselves, while huffing and muttering.

Gardening: Daisy will support Dale and assume responsibilities as ‘sous gardener’. She will not promise to help, then remember she has nebulous ‘plans’. When in the garden she will not complain about coldness, wetness or muddiness. ‘I do feel bad about not helping in the garden more,’ I say. ‘That isn’t what bothers me,’ says Dale. ‘It’s the complaining you do when you’re out there.’

Television: On two separate nights, each party will pick a proper film, or prestige box-set drama, and the other will agree to watch it — because it’s embarrassing when our friends want to talk about The Last Of Us, and the last thing we watched was Family Guy. There will be no procrastinating, no complaining, and absolutely no repeats of Inside The Factory with Gregg Wallace or Grand Designs.

Dates: We will do something fun together, outside the house. (Use of the phrase ‘date night’ may trigger divorce proceedings.)

Sulking: A whinge or rant is acceptable. Each party a) recognises the other’s right to sulk, and b) accepts that a period of sulking cannot last longer than 24 hours.

Shared podcasts: Daisy will not simply tell Dale about things she has heard on a podcast — especially when it is a podcast Dale also listens to. I hadn’t realised that was an issue, but Dale grumbles, ‘It’s like giving away spoilers.’

Technology: No phones after 8pm. Yes, really.

Day One

Dale promises to go through our direct debits and cancel the subscriptions that we do not use. He heads into his office upstairs. From the sitting room, I can hear notifications, clicks, and the rustling of papers.

Then my phone buzzes. I have a notification from our bank. It’s a payment to Riverford Organic.

I climb the stairs, holding out my phone accusingly. ‘I know what you’re thinking,’ says Dale, ‘But I think this technically counts as the food shopping one. And I’ve found a free trial for a great new streaming site — we can watch the very best of lost mid-century cinema!’

I sigh, and my phone beeps again. It’s my personal account this time — £15 for a vegan beauty box subscription, going to a flat we moved out of in 2014.

We’ll try again tomorrow.

'For our early dates,' recalls Daisy, ''I'd dress up and meet Dale after work at an exciting new bar. Now, we're side by side all day long, on our laptops, and sometimes in our pyjamas

‘For our early dates,’ recalls Daisy, ‘I’d dress up and meet Dale after work at an exciting new bar. Now, we’re side by side all day long, on our laptops, and sometimes in our pyjamas’

Day Two

We start the day with the specified non-sexual contact, which soon becomes unscheduled sexual contact. I feel like a giddy, rebellious teenager for breaking our own rule. I shower, dress, and even put on a bit of make-up.

Dale does not want to get out of his pyjamas, so I take my laptop to a cafe partly to make sure that I don’t find myself at home, saying, ‘It’s 11.48 and you’re still not dressed.’

It occurs to me that I can trick him into obeying the curfew by arranging to meet him in town for the big shop.

Dale arrives outside Morrisons, wearing a red jumper I’m especially fond of, and I catch myself thinking, ‘This feels a tiny bit like a date!’

The possibility of romance drains away under the fluorescent lighting, while we ‘debate’ hotly contested topics, such as ‘Why are you buying coconut yoghurt when we have two open tubs in the fridge?’

‘This does not count as our ‘fun activity outside the house!’ I hiss at Dale, at the checkout. However, I suspect this is going to count as our 24-hour sulk.

Day Three

It’s Saturday. I feel a lot better after a ‘nice long hug’ and I resolve to stop sulking and eat some of that yoghurt. Dale asks me to help him with the gardening.

It’s cold, wet and muddy, and I’m not allowed to complain about any of it. After 45 seconds, I’m bored. I sigh. ‘Did you listen to David Correos on the Taskmaster podcast? He said . . . oh, sorry, I promised I wouldn’t do that, didn’t I?’ At one point he asks me why I am trying to dig up the plum tree.

I come indoors and do some washing up, while huffing. I’m sulking. I hope this counts as a separate sulk, and I’m not just extending the supermarket one beyond the contract terms.

Later, I take a long, hot bath, and unprompted, Dale brings me a zero per cent gin and tonic. He tells me he’s picked the evening’s entertainment — a fairly obscure 1977 film called Between The Lines, about an underground Boston newspaper.

I leave my phone in the kitchen and make the shocking discovery that it’s much easier to concentrate on something, and enjoy it, without another tiny screen in your hand. Watching it with Dale reminds me of our early dates.

I’m feeling so nostalgic that as the credits roll, I reach for him. Now’s my chance to initiate some sexual contact at a surprising time. Oh. He’s asleep.

Day Four

We’re both tired. Following the contract feels a bit like trying a diet. At first, we were so excited about the brand-new people we were going to be. Now, we’re starting to get sick of our ‘rules’.

I’d fantasised about doing something glamorous and exotic for our ‘date’ — ice skating, or axe throwing — but we decide to go for a long walk along the seafront, before stopping for lunch.

On the walk, Dale tells me he’s listened to the podcast I mentioned, and we talk about it. We repeat our favourite parts, we laugh, we get extremely silly, and no one says anything wise or profound. But we have a lovely time. After lunch, I go to the supermarket alone and buy salmon.

After dinner, Dale asks if I’d picked anything to watch. I say, ‘on Inside The Factory, they’re making bath bombs…’

Day Five

We both have meetings in London. I put a lot of effort into my make-up. ‘You look nice,’ says Dale. I’m about to pout and remind him of the contract. But then I think it’s hugely depressing to use a contract to con a compliment out of someone. So I huff, quietly, and then do some passive-aggressive ignoring of the washing up.

We’ve arranged to see some mutual friends for a drink after our meetings. ‘I’m not going to overdo it tonight,’ says Dale. I make a non-committal noise.

When I arrive at the bar, Dale is a couple of drinks in — but he’s fun and cheerful, and he’s got me an alcohol-free beer.

We go out for fish and chips, and manage to catch the last train home. We’ve had a fun, relaxing evening, but I don’t think it’s because of the contract. I think it’s the fish and chips.

Day Six

It’s my turn to choose some proper TV. After about 20 minutes of viewing, I can spot something out of the corner of my eye. Dale’s phone is drifting into view.

‘We’re not allowed to look at our phones!’ I say. Dale sighs and shoves the phone down the back of the sofa. Every so often, I catch him gazing at the spot where he’s buried it — his expression is that of a teenager at the train station, waving their soldier lover off to war.

Day Seven

Today should be a day of rest and reflection, in which the two of us think about what worked, what didn’t work, and how we might move forward.

‘We didn’t have non-morning sex!’ I say, tugging at my jumper to suggest that we could rectify that. ‘Um, I’m just about to go on a Zoom, actually,’ says Dale, nodding at his laptop. ‘Maybe I’ll do some gardening while you’ve got your meeting?’ Dale shakes his head, quite forcefully. ‘Please don’t do that.’

Over a takeaway, we invoke the ‘whinge or rant’ clause, and give each other the opportunity to make frank observations about Contract Week, without any interruption.

‘There were some things I liked,’ says Dale. ‘The housework thing — getting on with it, and not being passive aggressive about it. I loved our walk. And I wish I’d been better at the phone curfew, I can see why that’s worth doing. But I don’t think we’re built for the big shop.’

‘The walk was my favourite bit, too,’ I say. ‘And I liked the mandated non-sexual contact.’

‘Just say ‘hug’, like a normal person,’ says Dale.

‘I think we should probably aim to wear proper clothes, not pyjamas, most of the time,’ I add. ‘But I missed talking nonsense about podcasts, I can’t be profound all the time. It’s tiring.’

‘Moving forward,’ says Dale, ‘Perhaps we could focus on trying to do the non-morning sex, and we can let the rest take care of itself.’

Ultimately, I don’t think either of us are ready to embrace the idea of a relationship contract. It seems like a rigid way of enforcing qualities that should come naturally — kindness, mutual respect, and playing to your respective strengths.

However, trying to follow the contract for a week made me realise something important. While we always want to make the effort with each other, I think our relationship is based on love and acceptance.

Some days, it seems as though the rest of the world wants me to change, and would prefer me to be thinner, shinier, and more efficient. But Dale and I can be ourselves, together — and for us that means talking nonsense in our pyjamas, ideally while watching Gregg Wallace beaming at a conveyor belt filled with pies.