Friendship Contracts, Seriously?

By Rori Boyce

All successful partnerships are preceded by a solid set of rules and expectations. Setting out these arrangements in a Friendship Contract just makes friendships so much easier.

When you think of friendship it isn’t likely that the term “contract” immediately comes to mind. For most people, friendship is governed by a set of unwritten rules or a kind of code of honor that dictates which behaviors are acceptable and which are not. For example, most women would agree that dating your friend’s ex behind her back would be unacceptable. But what if the unwritten rules we think our friends are following are not the same unwritten rules they think we are following? If you have ever found yourself fighting with a friend because you think she did something unthinkable and she doesn’t know what you are mad about, you already know what happens. Friendships falter, feelings get hurt, and you can lose an important piece of your support system without even realizing you have done something wrong.

This is where the idea of a friendship contract comes from. In essence, it is a tool we can use to ensure that everyone is working from the same set of rules. It is a way to document all those unwritten rules so that we don’t lose friends or damage friendships unwittingly. It isn't uncommon for friends to have this type of discussion (about what is and isn't acceptable) after they've suffered a disagreement of some type.

If you have ever watched the TV Show “The Big Bang Theory”, you have seen an extreme example of this kind of contract. On the show, two of the main characters, Leonard and Sheldon have an extensive Roommate Agreement that dictates everything from what must happen if one of them becomes a zombie to the proper protocol if either is invited to go swimming at Bill Gates’ house. This friend contract provides a lot of comic opportunity on the show but it also highlights the importance of melding together the needs of two very unique individuals in order to preserve their bond.

So, how would a friendship contract help in real life? The best way to show how it can help is to use an example from my own life and explain how a friendship agreement could have saved an important friendship. Let’s look at an example of an unwritten rule that ruined a friendship and how a friendship contract could have changed the outcome.

Unwritten Rules

Now I can admit that this may be one of my own rules and that it may not be widely shared, but I think it should be. I have always felt that money can only come between friends and therefore I make it a habit not to lend money to my friends. But there are always exceptions to the rule. In this case, my friend asked if she could throw a birthday party for her boyfriend at my house. They lived in a small apartment that wasn’t really suited to a large party and I had a house with lots of room. I happily agreed and even offered to pay for half if it could also be a birthday party for me since it was happening the weekend after mine.

The day of the party came and it was time to go food and liquor shopping. Suffice it to say that when it came to paying for all the supplies (and they were considerable) I ended up footing the bill with the understanding that my friend would "pay me back" when she got cash. That was more than a decade ago and to this day whenever I think of this person, I think of this debt and the hurt caused because it was never paid.

In my world, lending money to a friend is so above and beyond normal “friendship” that making good on your debt should be paramount. Unfortunately, she didn’t share my view and it created a rift between us that can no longer be repaired.

Now, if we had a friendship contract in place, one of the clauses would likely have covered the lending and repaying of monies. We would have talked about circumstances surrounding these types of situations, and we both would have understood that quick, prompt and full payment is necessary should one friend ever lend money to the other. Had we talked about it prior to the event, there is also a good chance that either the transaction would never have taken place, or my friend would have made darn sure that if she valued me and our friendship, that the debt wouldn't have been outstanding for long. Furthermore, if we had talked about it prior, then it would have been easier for me to broach the subject once it became an issue.

Benefits of Talking it Out
Here is the thing about friendship contracts, they help put friends on the same page in terms of what is acceptable and what simply isn't. Whether it be boyfriends or money or skipping out on plans, when friends take the time to sit and talk about how they feel about all of these issues, it not only allows them to get to know each other better, it builds intimacy as it allows the friends to understand and appreciate the other's point-of-view.

One of the most common and important clauses in any friendship contract deals with the agreement of both parties to talk to each other about anything that upsets them—before they become too big of a problem. Eight times out of 10 (because even a good old fashioned talk doesn't solve every problem), if friends can simply sit down and hash out whatever issue they are encountering, things can be resolved and the friendship can flourish.

When it comes to my spat with my old friend, I can't help but think that if we had only written down all these unwritten rules at the start, we might still be good friends and I wouldn’t be wondering if it is worth the time and effort to try and repair this relationship.

The Basics
I find there are 5 rules you should stick to if you want to form and keep a strong friendship with someone. These five things make for the great basis of a solid friendship contract.

1. Care
Friendship is about a lot of things, but one of the main things is supporting and caring for the other person. When something goes well for one friend, the other is the loudest of the cheerleaders. Likewise, when something doesn't go one's way, the friend is there to offer a strong shoulder, an open ear and a tender heart.

2. Talk Quickly
When issues do arise (and they always do in any relationship), then the best strategy is to air grievances and hurts right away. Bad feelings only fester, and the truth is, most issues arise due to misunderstanding, not because of maliciousness.

3. Be Fun
Friendships are supposed to be fun - that's the whole point of them. Of course, it sometimes happens that one friend experiences a difficult spell, and isn't as upbeat as normal. This is fine for a while, but you shouldn't confuse your friends for your therapist. Being a constant Debbie Downer is no way to make and keep friends.

4. Give Time
Friendships take time, litterally. You have to spend time with someone in order to get to know them, and keep knowing them. True friends make time for their other friends, and do so consistently and frequently.

5. Respect
The golden rule is golden for a reason—because it is the key to healthy and satisfying friendship. Treat your friends as you like to be treated and your phone will always be ringing.

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