Are You Using Covert Contracts?

Covert contracts simply don't work. Yet, Nice Guys are convinced they should.
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Nice Guys tend to experience a great deal of frustration in romantic relationships (and in life) which can lead to anger and resentment towards women. Generally, this is because the Nice Guy’s primary goal is to make other people happy. 

There is nothing inherently wrong with doing nice things for others. In fact, doing nice things for others can have a positive impact on your emotional well-being. But, doing nice things with unspoken expectations can lead to a whole host of problems – particularly when those expectations go unmet. 

These unspoken expectations are called “covert contracts.”  

If you’ve read No More Mr. Nice Guy, then you already know that covert contracts are a fundamental aspect of the Nice Guy Syndrome. And they very well may be destroying your relationships.

A CLOSER LOOK AT COVERT CONTRACTS

In his book, No More Mr. Nice Guy, Dr. Robert Glover explains that Nice Guys are guided by three covert contracts.

  • If I am a good guy, then everyone will like me and love me (and the people I desire will desire me). 
  • If I meet other people’s needs without them having to ask, then they will meet my needs without me having to ask.
  • If I do everything right, then I will have a smooth, problem-free life. 

These covert contracts simply don’t work. Yet, Nice Guys are convinced that they should. 

Additionally, when Nice Guys believe they have kept their side of the contract, they become resentful when other people don’t keep their side of the contract. Of course, these other people don’t know they have entered into a contract because the contract is entirely unspoken. 

Let’s look at this another way.

A covert contract is an agreement that you haven’t actually made, but you believe that it’s binding. You have a plan in your head for some kind of exchange, but you’ve never actually stated it. 

Maybe you take your wife out for a nice dinner and expect sex in return.

Maybe you bought your girlfriend an expensive gift for Valentine’s Day and you expect Valentine’s Day sex.  

Maybe you plan an extravagant vacation and expect extravagant vacation sex. 

Or, maybe you’ve found a way to get the kids out of the house for a night and you expect kids-are-out-of-the-house sex. 

Except, you’ve never actually communicated your desire for sex to your partner. So, the sex never comes. And, subsequently, you become bitter and resentful. 

To put it as simply as possible, when you operate using covert contracts, you are always giving to get.

While covert contracts seem to take their ugliest form in romantic relationships, they likely manifest in other areas too, including familial relationships, friendships, and in work and career.

As Dr. Glover puts it, “the primary paradigm of the Nice Guy Syndrome is nothing more than one big covert contract with life.”

HOW COVERT CONTRACTS KEEP YOU FROM GETTING YOUR NEEDS MET

Nice Guys have an ongoing dilemma. How can they keep their needs hidden and simultaneously create situations in which they can get their needs met?

This is why they often turn to covert contracts. 

You may have already picked this up, but the Nice Guy’s covert contract usually manifests in this way:

  1. I will [fill in the blank] for you so that…
  2. You will [fill in the blank] for me.
  3. We will both act as if we have no awareness of this contract.

 This pattern of giving to get creates an unending cycle of craziness that Dr. Glover refers to as the Victim Triangle. 

According to Dr. Glover, the victim triangle consists of a predictable sequence.

  1. The Nice Guy gives to others hoping to get something in return
  2. When he doesn’t get what he expected, he becomes frustrated. 
  3. When this frustration builds, it eventually comes out in the form of rage, passive-aggressive behavior, pouting, shaming, and blaming. 

This sequence usually just repeats itself, and the Nice Guy never actually gets his needs met. 

HOW TO STOP USING COVERT CONTRACTS

If you’re a Nice Guy, there’s a good chance you are looking for a magic bullet, or some kind of A-to-Z road map to help you stop using covert contracts. Unfortunately, there is no magic bullet, nor is there a road map.

The most effective way to stop using covert contracts is to become conscious of them.  Learn to catch yourself when you are using covert contracts, and then STOP. 

That said, here are a few exercises to help you get control of your covert contracts – or, at least, become conscious of them: 

    • Identify one covert contract between you and a significant other. What do you give? What do you expect in return? Write this down and share it with the other person. Ask them how it feels to be part of this unspoken agreement.
    • Identify some of your caretaking behaviors. Caretaking (which is different from caring) involves focusing on another’s problems or needs in order to feel valuable and/or avoid your own problems or needs. Go on a moratorium from these behaviors. Tell people what you are doing so they won’t be confused. Observe your feelings and observe their reactions. 
    • Observe the ways you hurt people you love. Do you embarrass them in public? Do you criticize them? Withdraw from them? Do you let your frustration build until you blow up at them? Ask the people you love to give you feedback about these behaviors. It may be hard to hear, but it can help you escape the victim triangle.

PUTTING YOUR OWN NEEDS FIRST

Because Nice Guys learned to sacrifice themselves in order to survive, recovery often requires learning to put their own needs first. Many Nice Guys have a hard time believing that it’s perfectly okay to have needs, and it’s healthy to make your own needs a priority. 

As Dr. Glover often reminds Nice Guys: No one was put on this planet to meet your needs (except your parents, and their job is done). And, you weren’t put on this planet to meet anyone else’s needs except your own (and those of your children). 

For Nice Guys, putting their needs first can be terrifying. They often think: 

  • People will be angry at me.
  • People will think I’m selfish.
  • I’ll end up alone.

This couldn’t be further from the truth. 

In fact, if you’re a quintessential Nice Guy, when you begin to put your own needs first:

  • You’ll increase the likelihood of getting your needs met. 
  • You can give judiciously (from the goodness of your heart) without expecting anything in return. 
  • You’ll become less needy.
  • People will respect you more. 
  • You’ll become more attractive. 

As Dr. Glover describes, in order for Nice Guys to get their needs met, they must begin to shift their core paradigms. This shift includes coming to believe:

  • Having needs is part of being human.
  • Mature people make meeting their own needs a priority.
  • One can ask for help in meeting their needs in clear and direct ways.
  • The world is a place of great abundance. 

Part of the transformation from Nice Guy to Integrated Man is, indeed, learning to put your own needs first. 

If putting your needs first has been a struggle for you, here’s one more exercise to try: 

Put yourself first a weekend or even a whole week. Tell the people around you what you are doing. Ask a friend to encourage you and support you during this process. Pay attention to your anxiety and your tendency to revert to old behaviors. At the end of the exercise, ask the people what it was like for them when you put yourself first. You don’t have to do any of this perfectly. Just do it. 

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