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A ‘covert contract’ is a death sentence that destroys the health of any relationship.
I first heard the term coined by Dr. Robert Glover in his book No More Mr. Nice Guy. I’m not sure if he’s the one who made it up or not, but I’ll give him credit for it.
What is a covert contract?
A covert contract, as its name implies, is two parts: It’s a contract that is covert – a set of rules and expectations that are kept hidden from somebody. It is a secret agreement you have with them… without their agreement!
It’s what you expect them to do in terms of behavior and treatment of you, without you actually directly telling them about it. You hope that they just know.
Covert contracts are formed based on a certain belief; the idea that people thinks just like you do, so you shouldn’t have to tell them what you want, you shouldn’t have to tell them what respect means or what your needs are. They “should just know” because “everybody thinks the same.”
The truth about covert contracts
The truth underneath this little lie you tell yourself is that you’re afraid of confrontation and rejection.
You think if you were to bring these issues up directly, it might lead to some sort of confrontation or the end of a relationship. Also, you probably have shame when it comes to asking for what you want directly. So you hide it and hope for it, and then come to expect it, and eventually come to demand it – all without communicating directly.
The problem with this, of course, is that anything unspoken is also unreasonable. People don’t think like you. They don’t know what you want, and they can’t read your mind and just guess. So if you’re holding them to account with a contract they don’t know about, they are going to disappoint you… and it won’t be their fault.
Covert contracts lead to a build-up of bitterness and resentment over time. You start to think, “Well, they should just know this, which means if they’re not doing what I want, they’re doing so deliberately. They know what I want because everybody knows, right? And they’re still not doing it. Therefore, they are choosing not to do it. They’re deliberately disrespecting me. They deliberately treat me badly.”
This narrative starts to form, which builds up a kind of hatred towards the other person over time.
Or you take it more personally. You think this person is rejecting you, like “They know what I want, but they don’t consider me to be worthy of it. They don’t want to deliver it because I’m not worth that kind of love and affection and attention.” So you become depressed and self-loathing instead of hating them.
Either way, there’s a nice big dollop of hatred spread around.
Are you in a covert contract now?
You know that you’re in covert contracts when people disappoint you even though you never directly asked for what you wanted (subtle hints don’t count). People let you down, people hurt your feelings, people seem to be depriving you and holding back. And yet you never asked them to behave differently. You never told them what you wanted. You never clearly laid out what respecting you looks like – what your desires are, and so on.
If you’re in any agreement – from friendship to work relationship to romantic partnership to family partnership – and you start to feel upset, or resentful or self loathing in the other person, it is time for you to break out of the covert contract.
How to stop a covert contract
The key to ending a covert contract is the same as what’s needed to prevent it: you need to be very open about everything you want and everything you expect.
The following topics should be discussed openly and directly with anyone you want a healthy relationship with:
- The definition of respectful behavior, what it means to respect you, and what they want you to do to respect them.
- Boundaries around what you do and do not like the other person doing – the behavioral boundaries.
- Boundaries around time, space or freedom of choice. What is it that you want, in terms of being away from them? What kind of separateness do you want? As well as what you want when you’re together.
- Your desires, your expectations, your wants and your hopes. What do you need from them for this to be a good relationship? What can they provide for you? What do you expect them to do? What do you expect them to give you?
- Deal breakers – this is a big one. Are there certain things about you that might end this relationship? Bring those things forward nice and early, just in case. Things like; do you want kids? What are your religious beliefs? What kind of living situation do you want to have? What are your lifelong goals? What do you expect in the bedroom? If there’s anything you have that is make or break, get that out as early as possible.
Encourage them to tell you about their expectations as well.
Be direct and prepare to lose them
Be as direct and open and honest as you can be. You need to face your fears around setting these boundaries and being open about what you want, even if it might end the relationship. That fear is why you’re using covert contracts in the first place: you’re scared of losing them.
But if you being open and honest about everything you want drives them away, then they wouldn’t be a good fit for you. And it’s important that you find that out nice and early.
If you haven’t been open and direct about what you want, then make the assumption that it’s not going to happen; you’re not going to get what you want. That’s got nothing to do with the other person. It’s all on you. You can choose to sacrifice getting your needs met. You can choose to not get what you want, but take responsibility for it: you didn’t ask for it directly, so there’s no opportunity for them to provide it.
They ain’t psychic.
And finally, if you are open and direct and honest with someone, and you have this conversation or these conversations with them over time so they clearly know what respecting you looks like and what you need in a relationship, and then they choose not to respect you, it’s time to move on from this person.
Thank you for watching. I hope you found that helpful and can apply it to your current friendships and relationships.
Please subscribe to my YouTube channel if you enjoyed it. Share it around, and comment below with your thoughts and feelings.
Full credit to Dr. Robert Glover for introducing me to this concept.
And of course, if you’re the kind of person who does this then you probably have people-pleasing or Nice Guy Syndrome plaguing your life. And that’s something I can help you with. Contact me firstname.lastname@example.org and we can have a conversation, or I can send you some resources to help you become more confident so that you don’t need to bother with things like covert contracts and other forms of manipulation.
The 3X Confidence and Authenticity Masterclass Program [Udemy course]
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A philosophical examination of the confident mindset, from a scientific and practical viewpoint. This book will help you decode confidence into a set of beliefs and behaviours that you can control.