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The Relationship Café

The Power of Agreements

Yesterday I stopped in to a gas station to pick up a snack. As I waited in line I overheard the clerk say to a gentleman in the line ahead of me, “Go pump your gas and then come back and pay. If you say you’ll be back to pay, I trust you. That’s the way we still do things here.” 

 The man stared at the clerk in disbelief. 

 “I don’t need to pay first?” he asked.

 “Nope,” the clerk said. “Just tell me you’ll be back to pay and we have an agreement.” 

 “You got it,” the man said as he walked out smiling. 

 There is power in an agreement. An agreement says, “I know your part in this deal, and you know mine. We have a basis of trust.” 

There is power in agreements made in relationships as well. When we agree to do something, we must make sure we do what we say we’ll do because our agreements form the basis of our trust in one another. Failure to keep agreements creates untold relationship problems.

Consider the following email to me.

Dear Dr. David. My wife and I are both Christians and believe the marriage is forever. Unfortunately, we have found ourselves at a point in our relationship where we just cannot connect on anything and the demeaning, hurtful language between us has created a wall that seems impassable. We have fallen to arguing nearly daily over my wife not keeping her word. I am having a hard time conveying to my wife that integrity and honesty is paramount in our relationship and not doing simple things that we commit to one another, like dropping off important mail, cleaning up a mess in the house or other menial tasks, has created a rift between us. I have told her that I am having a hard time trusting what she says because so often when she tells me that she is going to do something, it doesn't get done. I feel this sense of bitterness and taken advantage of.

While we are only given a small glimpse of the problems in this marriage, we can clearly see the animosity developing. We can see that the husband sees his wife as failing to keep many of the agreements that have been made, and these failures lead to their constant arguing.

For the moment let’s assume that there are no other hidden issues—which may not be true. Let’s assume that this is truly what he says—a matter of integrity and honesty.

How do you feel when your mate agrees to do something, and then doesn’t do it? Does it make a difference if it is “something big,” or can it be nearly as hurtful if it is small, broken agreements?

Many marriage problems are caused by broken agreements. They may be monumental agreements concerning fidelity, or small agreements about coming home from work on time for dinner. They may be agreements to not tease your wife, or agreements to speak lovingly to your husband.

Agreements are especially important because they are the basis of dependability and predictability. If you don’t keep agreements you make with me, I don’t know if I can count on you. In fact, if even occasionally you fail to keep your agreements with me, I must live my life as if I can’t ever fully count on you. When it comes to agreements, either you keep them or you don’t.

Failing to keep agreements also leads to some level of chaos. Relationships are built on a series of agreements—about who will do what, when and where. Responsibilities are delegated, tasks are agreed upon and expectations are made based upon these agreements. Agreements are the basis of trust—a vital link in any relationship.

Keeping agreements is also a means of showing dignity to another. If you break your word, you show a lack of dignity to that other person. This lack of dignity tears away at the foundation of a relationship. God emphasized the importance of keeping agreements: “You shall be careful to perform what goes out from your lips, just as you have voluntarily vowed to the Lord your God, what you have promised” (Deuteronomy 23:23). 

Here’s my question for you. How important do you believe agreements are in relationships? Are you a person who is dependable and predictable, or have you had problems keeping your word? Do you agree that failure to keep agreements can lead to the demise of a relationship? I’d love to hear from you. 

Print      Email to a Friend    posted on Tuesday, October 30, 2007 5:13 PM

Comments on this post

# RE: The Power of Agreements

My father was an alcoholic who often made promises that he did not keep. For that reason I'm pretty compulsive about keeping my word, even about little things, because I still remember the hurt and disappointment I felt when he didn't do what he had promised. The problem is I am VERY intolerant of people who don't keep their promises. I wish everyone were more prone to keep their word.
Left by Daisy2803 on Oct 31, 2007 11:43 AM

# RE: The Power of Agreements

Many have been raised in some form of dysfunctional family where promises and agreements weren't kept. It seems that we either learn to act the same way--not keeping our word and living in chaos--or highly valuing agreements and promises. I think the latter is much healthier. Agreements create trust which creates predictability and stability--something we all need in order to grow. Does anyone think we should be more tolerant of broken promises or even small agreements that aren't kept?
Left by DrDavidHawkins on Nov 01, 2007 6:29 PM

# RE: The Power of Agreements

I think we all have times when it's necessary to break a promise or committment. But personally I feel like it should always come with an explaination and an apology. Does that sound right?
Left by karenmar on Nov 02, 2007 12:14 PM

# RE: The Power of Agreements

A writer asked about the importance of an apology if a promise or agreement is broken. First of all, I think broken agreements should be rare--but, we're not perfect, so then we come to the issue of an apology. I'll offer three critical components to an apology: First, "I'm sorry." Nothing like hearing those words spoken in a genuine way. Second, taking responsibility for the wrongdoing, why it was wrong and the acknowledging the impact on the other; and third, making amends. We must pay something back to the person wronged. The first one is easiest, the second a bit harder, and the third--that's tough!
What do you think?
Left by DrDavidHawkins on Nov 02, 2007 7:33 PM

# RE: The Power of Agreements

Keeping agreement and promises is the only way to keep a relationship healthy and trustworthy especially in marriage even though at times you feel pressed down doing it. Trusting God to empower me in this area is my key.
Left by Ojonimi on Nov 03, 2007 9:29 AM

# RE: The Power of Agreements

A girlfriend of mine who was a bi-polar sufferer, would often have me watch her son and say she'd be back at a certain time. She almost never was back as planned. I decided that a sane person, therefore, should strive to be accountable for what they say they will do. After all it is a form of lying not to do what you say you intend to do. I am sort of a scattered person in many ways, not knowing what will distract me, but try to take the extra steps to keep my word, or call and change plans asap. Thanks for your work, God Bless
Left by godspal on Nov 03, 2007 1:27 PM

# RE: The Power of Agreements

My own husband has done this to me as well. It really makes you feel betrayed and yes, a sense of trust is lost. I moved overseas with my spouse ( not because I wanted to) and he promised me and my whole family that our girls would be able to move back to attend university. He later said no, and because of other deep issues, we moved back to the States on our own. It is hard to rebuild that trust.
Left by atmaja on Nov 04, 2007 10:44 AM

# RE: The Power of Agreements

I agree with the post that suggested that not keeping your word is a form of lying. Certainly it is dishonest to say you'll do something, and then not do it. The Apostle James says "the double-minded person is unstable in all his (her) ways." (James 1: 8) Unstable people are chaos creators. Should we be surprised if we feel unstable and chaotic as well if we've entered into a close relationship with those who don't keep their agreements? What do you think?
Left by DrDavidHawkins on Nov 04, 2007 10:09 PM

# RE: The Power of Agreements

I feel disrespected when people don't keep their promises to me. It makes me feel like I don't matter in their lives. That's the most hurtful part for me.
Left by daisy2803 on Nov 05, 2007 9:11 AM

# RE: The Power of Agreements

Agreements are very important and they tell us how much we mean to the other person and how much they really care. My husband will say one thing, but his actions later don't add up to his words/agreement. He doesn't see anything wrong with this, because it's not an issue with him, personally. I get offended by this, but don't seem to have a solution. Bringing this to his attention in a tactful way just makes him defensive or he doesn't understand.
Left by kellylwms on Nov 05, 2007 8:53 PM

# RE: The Power of Agreements

Several years ago I missed a lunch engagement with a friend--I simply spaced it. But, he confronted me and told me he felt disrespected. While this felt harsh to me, his words had a ring of truth and I've made extra efforts to be prompt for appointments. I agree that keeping our word, even in small things, indicates respect.
What do you think about telling people our true feelings when agreements are broken, even in small matters?
Left by DrDavidHawkins on Nov 06, 2007 1:05 AM

# RE: The Power of Agreements

In our 5 years together, my husband has made promises to me(without my asking) and stated he is going to do this or do that more times than I can count, but he virtually never keeps his word and seems to be oblivious to how this is damaging our relationship. It's clearly not that he forgets- he has two sons by a previous marriage and keeping his word to them is very important to him. He just doesn't seem to feel it's important in our marriage. I've asked him not to make promises he doesn't intend to keep. It hasn't changed anything. I just want to say to the men out there- your word DOES matter a great deal to your spouse and can be a 'make or break' issue in a marriage, even if your wife is good at hiding her disappointment. In fact, if you make a promise and then do nothing to fulfill that promise, your promise could be construed as a lie.
Left by karen7447 on Nov 07, 2007 2:19 PM

# RE: The Power of Agreements

The previous post is quite concerning--for several reasons. Obviously it is concerning because her husband repeatedly breaks promises, and we can sense the marriage being impacted. BUT--we must ask her, is she doing anything to enable these broken promises? Remember, anything we do, or don't do, to interrupt negative patterns is enabling. As hard as it is, we must teach people to treat us with respect. We must have boundaries, and consequences for broken boundaries.
What do you see as ways we enable dysfunctional behavior? What can we do, in a marriage, to reinforce being treated with respect?
Left by DrDavidHawkins on Nov 07, 2007 5:13 PM

# RE: The Power of Agreements

I believe frequent failure to keep one's words or appointments will portray one as a non-dependable person or a person who cannot be vested with certain responsiblities or tasks. In my relationship with my Fiance,I have recently been told by him that I do not keep to time[which I now see from your article is another form of lack of agreement] which I have toying with. It is better not to make a promise to agree than to agree and not fulfil it. It breaks the bridge of trust and even a child can begin to view one as a LIAR.
Left by gladness2007 on Nov 08, 2007 8:23 AM

# RE: The Power of Agreements

There have been many great posts on this article. We've agreed that a broken agreement violates the other person; it creates distrust and lack of dependability, which damages a relationship. Let's remember the positive aspects of agreements: they bind us to one another. They remind us of one another. They build a bridge of trust and dependability to one another--in short, they are powerful. While it may be irritating at times to be kept to our word, it says that person thinks enough of us to keep the bridge intact.
Any examples of agreements being a means to keep a relationship alive and vibrant?
Any examples of
Left by DrDavidHawkins on Nov 09, 2007 11:44 AM

# RE: The Power of Agreements

We have been married for 17 years and I recently found out that my husband has looked at pornography ever since I have known him at the age of 16. We were high school sweethearts and married at 25 years old. We became Christians at the age of 33. I never thought in my life I would ever be facing this. He has even admitted at looking at other woman which doesn't not surprise me because that just goes along with it all. How can trust like this ever be rebuilt again? How can a marriage convenant be restored again? How can I look into his eyes and know that I am the only one now? He says has been supernaturally healed. Can this be possible? Or is it a fairytale? Hurting sooooo.....
Left by jkanbirch on Jan 11, 2008 10:06 AM

# RE: The Power of Agreements

Let's talk about rebuilding trust.
I like to use the analogy of rebuilding a bridge that has been destroyed. Can it be rebuilt? Yes. Will it take a lot of work, one step at a time? Yes. The recent blog entry indicates she feels betrayed, and he has been supernaturally healed. Maybe. Even so, it will take WORK to rebuild the bridge of trust. He will need to offer a lot more than promises for her to trust him again. He will need to reassure her, of course, but then patiently show by his actions, his faithfulness in keeping promises, that his word is true, that he can be trusted again.
Let's talk about this critical topic. What have you found helps in restoring trust to a relationship which has experienced betrayal?
Dr. David
Left by DrDavidHawkins on Jan 15, 2008 1:30 AM