I think Sheldon has the right of it. Sheldon Cooper, one of the star nerdlinger characters of the Big Bang Theory, tries to contract as much as he can. It is likely more of a control aspect for him than any desire for clear communication between parties involved in his life's relationships, but nonetheless, I admire the process.
In TV land's Big Bang Theory, the two more frequently mentioned contracts are the "roommate agreement" and the 31 page "relationship agreement" in which the terms, limitations, accountabilities and emergency preparedness clauses are meticulously outlined for Leonard and Amy respectively. For example, in the roommate agreement there is a Skynet clause (0206) which specifies what happens if: one friend needs help to destroy an artificial intelligence he's created and that's taking over Earth. I know - awesome.
Now as ridiculous and funny as that is for the purpose of the show, I think that many of our life's liaisons could benefit from the development of a contract, agreement, covenant, treaty or pact prior to the beginning of, or changes to a relationship. There are already marriage contracts and pre-nups, albeit those seem mostly to have to do with the material rather than the behavioural/emotional aspects of the binding. Many of my parenting books strongly suggest a clear outline of a chores/good behaviour for rewards contract for older children.
I think the key to success here is in the planning phase - with as much detail as you could think of, so nothing gets missed. Any accountant will tell you the more detailed, line by line item budget you can do is better - you can always "roll it up" later. Or pursuing your relationships using project management 101 - a signed-off charter that includes addendums of timelines, budgets and stakeholder matrices. Imagine if you could design a relationship budget consisting of emotional banks and time well spent - balancing the efforts of both parties so there is neither surplus or deficit on either side.
Imagine if we had standard templates, or niche law firms specializing in short-term "day to day life contracts" outlining the expectations, agendas, timelines, out-clauses, violation consequences, processes, etc. for the following
- The "Friends with Benefits" Contract
- i.e. including "What to do when I have found someone to date for real" section
- The "Just Benefits" Agreement
- i.e. including the "mutually exclusive physical relationship safety" clause
- The "Long distance friendship" Pact
- i.e. including "minimum email and telephone conversations per month" quotas
- The "I work for my friend or my family member" Treaty
- i.e. including the "don't treat me as special in front co-workers or behind close doors" clause - with an addendum on the definition of "special" to be clearly defined and agreed upon by both parties
- The "Parent-grandparent parenting together in the same place" Convenant
- i.e. including the "thou shalt not interfere during the dinner hour with trying to spoon feed my eight year old because you didn't think she ate enough"
- The "adult child-parent" non-disclosure agreement
- i.e. the "what constitutes too much information on respective parties' sex lives" section. Yes, that is probably easily answered - everything.
- The "Recently Divorced but Dating" Pact
- i.e. the "I promise not to talk about my ex in a negative way or any way during any outings unless asked to do so and in that case, all questions and answers must be given in an objective and neutral fashion".
As we continue to transform ourselves as a species, I think the next big step just might be the evolution of emotional intelligence. Will those who are more emotionally intelligent be naturally selected for the future success of the human race? I will leave you with that thought :) and/or suggest that you follow Daniel Goldman!