Many people think of contracts as a statement, or possibly a list, written and signed on a particular date. It locks a moment in time, and the agreements made in that moment. While this process works for some, many find it cumbersome, too rigid, and hard to keep current. Sometimes people accidently lock down a mood, which may not hold later. Inevitably the contract falls apart. A poorly written contract ensures failure, and will make a power-exchange – even your day to day life – stressful.
Contracts, however, have many strengths that shouldn’t be overlooked. They clarify communication, ensuring all parties understand the ideas in the same way. They provide a solid measure of accountability, which gives a level of trust to both\all parties. They also give you a place to review, recenter, and ensure you are making growth and meeting goals.
For us, that comes in the form of a living document.
If you aren’t familiar with the idea of a living document, the concept is simple. It is any document that gets altered, added to, or adjusted in the moment as the originators want or need it to. It could be a list of ideas, a plan for the future, a set of expectations, or in this case, a contract outlining the rules and roles in our power-exchange. This contract, by staying ‘alive’ maintains its validity and authority while representing exactly what is happening in the moment. Both parties are still agreeing to follow it to a tee, and it still holds the same weight and validity of a standard contract. By being living, both parties are agreeing to update it in the moment, without rewriting or renegotiating an entire document. It can also extend into other places, conversations and notes, but I’ll get into that later.
The Evolution of our Contract:
Our living contract started as my journal. Being a writer (obviously), I keep journals from time to time. I find they are a great way to problem solve, to track events (which is helpful when my mind is keen to exaggerate timelines), and to reflect upon my own growth and emotions. I actually started the 30 days of D/s in this journal, before moving it into this blog. During that time, we kept a standard flat contract. It was a google document, so we both had access to it, and it outlined our rules and responsibilities. It was lengthy, and when I look at it now, the sheer volume alone freaks me out.
The reason this contract didn’t work for us was because we commonly came to agreements and new understandings as we evolved into our new roles. It held many of the cons I listed in the opening. It became too cumbersome to update, and felt outdated quickly. It also became hard to see what we were working on, or how I specifically was training and growing as a submissive. (Master is also growing as a dominate, but this is my blog, so it’s mostly about me. 🙂 )
We began writing down the things we talked about in the moment, sorting them out with title words like conclusions, rules, and goals. At first, it was all labeled ‘rug time‘, named after our practice of staying at the rug to reflect. We found that this time became a verbal extension of our contract, it represented what we wanted to accomplish, how things were going, and we often changed our rules to meet new needs.
That was when our living contract was born.
What our Contract is Now:
Our contract holds the framework of our power-exchange. We have written down what our long-term goals our, our individual roles and purpose as Dominant and submissive, and what areas we have a power-exchange. Along with those larger ideas, we have also recorded all the minute details that come with those exchanges. Every routine, every rule, every expectation gets written down. This might sound daunting, but it’s not because it happens moment by moment, piece by piece.
As you have a conversation, you write down what you walk away with. Communication, or negotiations, or reflections, or simple talking is the foundation of every power-exchange. As such, conversations happen a lot. To keep a living contract, you are simply writing those things down. Naturally, over time, all of your assumptions, expectations, and the framework of your D/s comes out and is written down. This is an absolute strength of a living contract because it is how our brains and habits work. We evolve into our thinking. Our brains will also get exhausted from working through ideas, so writing them down one piece at a time is enough. As you continue to engage in the process over months and eventually years, you will find your framework goes from macro to micro. After establishing the macro, the micro becomes more purposeful and meaningful.
Going Beyond the Contract:
While I would absolutely extend our contract into our verbal agreements, I have found things really must be written down to be binding. We each remember things differently, we also each define things differently, so specificity is important. Even just the other day Master almost punished me for not following a new rule stating I must edge daily. However, he had forgotten that the rule was written down that he had to tell me to edge first, which he did not. So, whew!
Inside my journal you’ll find graphic organizers, diagrams, lists, and descriptions our rituals and routines. Each time we discuss things, I make notes. This makes it bigger and more encompassing than a standard contract, because it moves into many more facets of life and our power-exchange.
In small ways our living contract extends beyond this journal. Some blog posts act as an extension, especially when they deeply describe something. I have a punishment post coming out next week that is more descriptive than anything I have written by hand, so it will act as an extension. (However, I should really print it out, and glue it in to keep consistency and convenience to review it.) When we discuss things, it is more of a loose idea until we write it down and agree on what is said. Then it becomes solid.
How to START and IMPLEMENT a Living Contract:
1. PICK YOUR JOURNAL. We use a composition book. Mine is graph paper, and made with recycled paper with a fancy cover. It should be something that is easy to keep around, pleasing to look at, and durable. A standard cheap spiral, for example, would not work because the pages tear out. Traveling with it could easily destroy it. I also have a leather bound journal that would not work because it is not so easy to grab and go with. Discussions about your D/s can happen at any time or place. The car is a common place for us to have deep conversations, so your journal needs to be able to come with you. Along that line, maybe don’t put an adult kinky scene on the front of it. You may write in it in public.
2. WRITE EVERYTHING DOWN. This is actually a four-step process; 1) discuss 2) title and date your page, and write down all agreements 3) read it aloud 4) rewrite or add details as needed until you have mutual consensus that what you wrote matches what you said.
You should write down absolutely everything you agree on. This includes the contexts of your power-exchange; who has power over what, what your long term goals are, rules, and routines. Titling your page is very important for future use (see step 3). If your conversation doesn’t fall into a specific category, or you just don’t know what category it should be in, call it a ‘conclusion’. In this way, you can have a long, in-depth conversation about literally anything, and then just write down what you understand at the end. Writing down conclusions is also a great way to feel heard, and to ensure the other person is heard. It clears up misconceptions, helps to define words, and can prevent a lot of misconceptions later on.
3. REREAD IT AND UPDATE IT. Everything you write in this journal becomes ‘law’ between you all. If you agree on a long-term goal, and someone makes a choice that counters that – it is time for accountability. If you don’t remember why a rule is in place, go back and check the details of it. If you find you have questions about how a routine is supposed to work, agree on new details, and just add them onto the end. Whenever you have time, go back through the journal and reread it. You can do it on your own, just flipping through, or you can pick out important entries to read aloud. This is both refreshing and reassuring. It can keep you centered on what your goals are, and why you have them. This is also why titles are important, they help you mentally track where everything fits.
And that’s it. You have a living contract.
I’ve had this journal for a little over 2 years, and am just over half-way through it. You will go through phases of writing a lot, like in the beginning or a period of review, followed by periods without writing anything. Such is life. Because this contract is living, or in the moment, I find it much less cumbersome then a standard contract. It is a record of conversations you are already having, and a way to be sure you truly understand each other. If you have a conversation, but don’t have your journal, then just write down the conclusions down later. You can always make notes in the short term.
I hope this summary of how our contract works is helpful. I think it is most easily understood when taken in conjunction with our philosophy on rules, so watch for a post on that. I am working on a few other posts that explain the framework of our power-exchange including our use of punishment, our philosophies and use of rules, and some general tips from what we’ve learned, along with a sort-of beginner’s guide to getting started.