Composing the Relationship Contract – A Non-Monogamous Set of Vows


Relationship Contract Non-MonogamyThere may be some ideal to aspire to where there are no rules and boundaries and instead the desire to do right by each other manages to push aside any issues, conflict. Or perhaps it's simply that when those issues and conflict arise, it's because that's truly the relationship trajectory. Is this like poly Nirvana? The true apex of understanding and faith in yourself and your partner(s).


But I'm not there yet. In fact there's only one person I know who is actively living the above ideal. It's working for her. I continue to be impressed.

For now, I sit and compose a relationship contract with my wife, my Marilyn, my primary. And this week I've seen someone attack the word primary, the very concept that someone is “most important” and that they take precedence. This concept was new to me, because in the vast majority of poly relationships I see, there's a distinct hierarchy beginning with the primary core. And while no one may want to throw around the words “secondary” it seems to be the distinct pattern. Or perhaps that's just what I'm seeing from the outside looking in.

Perhaps I'm also still functioning on the swinger paradigm. That one where the primary is so much more important that it almost has built-in self-defense mechanisms, closing up at the tiniest signs of trouble. But I've spoken about this before.

What has been new to me is the relationship contract idea.

As both Marilyn and I have felt that we're not on the same page as of late with our wants, our needs, our external relationships (and I recognize that the simple fact of calling these “external relationships” implying that there is some sort of “internal relationship” is another example of what was called “primary privilege” [and I'll just sashay right past that P word. no, the other one.]) we thought that a relationship contract could be a non-monogamous renewal of vows. Sometimes clarification and affirmation is of the utmost importance.

So I began to craft one. I asked Marilyn about her wants and needs. She gave me some specific “upgrade requests” she was looking for, and I gave her mine. Neither side was excessive or demanding, and both of us told each other something we'd been wanting but had been unable to request for whatever reason. We each had a “Really? Well, okay” moment.

I put out the request to our audience for relationship contracts, because why have a non-monogamy website if you're not going to exploit them crowd-source. My inbox was flooded with recommendations and ideas for said contract, as well as a few notes imploring me to forget the whole idea, completely take the lock off the bike, and live free. (Perhaps I'm making that sound a bit more granola than it actually came across.)

I read each of these contracts, some being incredibly fleshed out and detailed, others reading like wedding vows (“I promise to cherish”, etc) and one being simply a list of DON'Ts, and I sat down at my computer to write ours, hoping to forge all of these disparate concepts into a single document of such eloquence (and preferably without parenthesis, brackets, and grammar humor [you know, my wheelhouse.]) that it would read like a renewal of vows indeed.

I don't much believe in the institution of marriage any longer, but I do believe that even the most seemingly bureaucratic of gestures can be made romantic.

My synthesis didn't happen. And I realized that was because it had to come from me. From us. Otherwise it would be just like our wedding vows. Repeating the words said to us, sometimes a word at a time, sounding out our future. I had to put all the suggestions aside and start from scratch.

Three hours later I had a document I felt was solid. Marilyn read it, agreed with the points made, made a few suggestions. I realized, as I re-read with her that I'd omitted a few things as well. We agreed to sleep on it, and finish it up this weekend.

These may well not be for everybody, or even most relationships. And it also may not be the most enlightened variation on the polyamory path. But a relationship contract helps me understand where I'm at myself. And the more self-awareness I can muster up the better.


About Cooper Cooper S. Beckett is the co-founder and host of Life on the Swingset: The Podcast since 2010, author of swinging & polyamory novels A Life Less Monogamous and Approaching The Swingularity, and memoir My Life on the Swingset: Adventures in Swinging & Polyamory. He teaches and speaks on swinging, polyamory, pegging, play parties, and coloring outside the boundaries of your sexuality. He is a graphic & web designer, photographer, and voice over artist, has been a guest expert on Dan Savage’s Savage Lovecast, & is the announcer of Tristan Taormino’s radio show Sex Out Loud. He is currently working on two instructional non-fiction books, one about beginning non-monogamy, and another about pegging.


  1. I think that’s a great idea! I know that specifics and communication, or a contract would be great to use to continually for clear and insightful explorations and growths. Thanks for the tip!

  2. I think that “enlightened” is a matter of perspective. Personally I think that the two of you being aware enough of yourselves, each other, and what you need to be able to put something like this together is pretty damned enlightened.

  3. After the first time we were open, my wife was distraught that we had reneged on our wedding vows. I disagreed.

    I believe we upheld our wedding vows in the deepest sense.

    The most important of our wedding vows was to make sure that each other thrived. We were not thriving under monogamy.

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