I’m a 24 year old woman, who is planning to get married next year.  I have known my partner for nine months and I trust him. However, many of my friends have been really hurt when they discovered that their partner cheated on them, and so I want him and his family to sign a legal agreement that he will remain faithful and not cheat on me. Some friends think it is good idea, but others think it is useless. Lam, what do you think?

Confused, Thimphu

Personally, I think that any relationship should be based on trust and not held together by the threat of legal action. In reality, it has become very common for people to request a legal document for the smallest agreement. I’ve even seen mothers pull out a legal stamp when they want their son to come home on time! 

Obviously, in some cases, a legally recognized document can save future misunderstandings. At the same time, it is important not to allow fear and force to erode the value of basic human interaction and social trust.

Take a work agreement as an example. It is becoming increasingly common for employers to request successful job applicants to sign a two or three year contract before offering them a position. Of course, it is helpful if staff commit to their employment for long periods, and this is all the more true if the employee has a high position in an organization. However, for lower ranking staff, I feel that keeping them bound to a job due to the threat of legal repercussions is counterproductive. Basically, if employers pay a good salary and take care of their workers, they will naturally want to stay in the job. At the same time, if the employee works hard and with passion, then their employers will want to keep them. It is a win-win situation. On the other hand, if the employer and employee are bound together only by a legal agreement, neither side are likely to have mutual respect, and, as a result, the quality of the work will decline.

It is the same with a husband-wife relationship. If both sides care for each other and there is mutual respect, then it is unlikely that one of them will stray from the marriage. Still, even if one of the partners does cheat on the other, then what is the point of threatening legal action to pull them back? Basically, for a relationship to be healthy, both sides should want stay together because they value each other’s company, not because they fear legal action. If there is no respect or trust, then, in reality, what is the purpose of maintaining the relationship? Surely, it would be better to just break up.  

So, rather than relying on legal means to hold onto your partner, I personally think it would be better to work on developing respect and trust between you. In this respect, perhaps it helpful to think of a relationship like a tree. For the tree to grow strong and produce healthy fruit, it needs fertile soil, moisture, and heat. You cannot force it to be healthy. Instead, it needs careful nurturing. Similarly, a relationship – a marriage, employer-employee, or whatever – cannot be held together through force, but instead needs to be nurtured by putting in place the right causes and conditions.    

On a concluding note, I strongly recommend that you do not have a child with your partner until your relationship is stable and you have the financial means to take care of a baby. Unfortunately, it is very common to see couples having a child within the first year of their relationship and then breaking up. In such scenarios, the child is the big loser. Personally, I suggest that you spend one or two years in a relationship before making a long-term commitment. And, even then, I recommend that you do not rush into having a baby, but instead wait until both of you feel that you are mentally and financially prepared to take on the role of parents. Giving a child the love and care it needs to develop into a well-adjusted and caring adult is a full-time responsibility and it should not be taken lightly. 

Finally, to return to your question, I personally think you should work on creating an environment of mutual trust and respect rather than relying on legal means as a way to keep your relationship healthy. At the same time, bear in mind that nothing remains constant and that a relationship will naturally have ups and downs and will one day come to an end – if not through break-up, at least due to the death of one of the partners. I wish you well. 

Shenphen Zangpo was born in Swansea, UK, but spent more than 28 years practicing and studying Buddhism in Taiwan and Japan. Currently, he works with the youth and substance abusers in Bhutan, teaching meditation and organizing drug outreach programmes.