Bring up the word “prenup” and most people tend to cringe bit. That’s because traditional prenups, written as traditional contracts, feel like they are based on mistrust. By their very nature they presume the worst-case scenario. They are written in cold, legal language that can make it feel like it is reducing two people to a collection of their stuff.

But what if there was a better way?

Applicable to both business and personal relationships, Conscious Contracts® arose out of the Integrative Law movement, a global, grassroots collection of lawyers as healers dedicated to finding new, innovative ways to serve clients. Conscious Contracts® are values based, people focused, written in plain language and include a conflict resolution plan designed by the people involved.

In Conscious Contracts® we always start with a discussion of values. What defines your core values? What do you love? What makes you nuts? What are you passionate about? These core values are usually the motivators behind our actions so it is important to invest the time in a deeper understanding of what makes us tick.

Our next step is to discuss our goals and expectations. What is the story we want to write together as a couple? This may seem obvious but sometimes the romance of the moment can keep us from having deeper discussions. What are our day to day expectations of each other and the relationship?

The most unique part of the conscious contract is the ACED clause for Addressing Change and Engaging Disagreement. How do we handle change or conflict? What is our plan for resolving conflict when it comes up? I’ll give you an example of why this is so important. A few years ago, I had a couple come to me for divorce mediation. After talking with them both individually it was clear to me they didn’t really want a divorce but they were tired of having the same arguments so I suggested we work on that issue and see if we could find a solution. The issue we uncovered was two different styles of fighting. He needed time to get his thoughts together so he didn’t misspeak and she needed to handle things right away to make sure issues weren’t swept under the rug. Both valid concerns but without the understanding of reason behind their needs they were making each other crazy demanding each adapt to the other’s conflict style. To overcome this we created a process that would honor each person’s style when conflicts arose. If it was something he needed time to process he would say so and she would give him time to think. He in turn would check in periodically and either say he was ready to talk or needed more time but in either case she knew the issue hadn’t been forgotten.

At the end of the day, the couple ended up staying married. Imagine how much stress they could have avoided if they had discovered their differences and crafted an ACED plan to deal with them from the beginning?

Once we have built a foundation of understanding and trust through this process we have the necessary tools we need to define how we want to work through the end of the marriage should it come to that. This can be the division of assets, use of collaborative or mediation, or whatever aspects the couple wants to address. Conscious Contracts® are built by people for people.

By using a conscious contract process we shift the dynamic of the discussion from “what will we do?” to “who will we be?”