I Believe My Partner Broke an Agreement

If you want your partner to be open to the possibility that she has broken an agreement and realize the seriousness of her actions, do these 7 things:

1. Get Into the Right Frame of Mind

A.    Remind yourself:

        • Your frustration is valid and your partner needs to understand why.
        • You’ll be most powerful if you can temporarily let go of the immediate need to get her to realize that she broke an agreement and accept the fact that sometimes it takes a while to sort things out. You can afford to take your time.
        • In the end, you can stand up for yourself if you need to. But there isn’t anything to be gained by jumping the gun. Keep your eye on the bigger goal. In the end, nobody’s going to pull a fast one on anybody here.
        • You’ll most likely get understanding if you can give some understanding first.

B.  On a scale of 1-10, how frustrated are you right now? (1 = Mild; 10 = Intense). If your rating is 3 or above, relax your body and slow your breathing (use Resistance Breathing).  Do what it takes to get to a place inside where you feel calmer, more patient, and able to hear your partner out without interrupting or disputing her points. Find a way to feel temporarily okay, even though it seems like your partner has broken an agreement.  Wait until your frustration level is below 3, then talk to her.

(For help with this step, listen to Recording 2 at https://thecouplesclinic.com/dhrs-rec/.)

2. Avoid Triggering Your Partner’s Natural Defenses

      • Don’t jump to conclusions about what she did or why she did it. Keep an open mind.
      • Although it’s possible that there are no justifiable reasons for her failure to follow through with the agreement, for the moment, assume there are. Time will tell.  But if she senses that you have already concluded that she’s guilty before hearing her out, you’ll be acting just like people who rarely get what they want and need from their partners.

3. Investigate

Briefly explain why you’re frustrated or confused, while also…

          • acknowledging that you might not have all the relevant information,
          • inviting her to explain, and
          • assuring her that you will try to listen with an open mind.

4.  Find the Understandable Part

Ask clarifying questions until you think you understand why she didn’t follow the agreement in the way you believe she agreed to.

 Consider the following possibilities:

      • She might not have put 2 and 2 together and realized that the agreement would include situations like this one.
      • You were assuming she was going to implement the agreed upon actions within a certain time frame or in a certain way. But she was assuming she had more leeway about how and when.
      • There are things about this situation that made her feel that an exception to the agreement was warranted, and she either: a) felt an immediate decision was needed and didn’t have time to consult with you, or b) didn’t realize that you would object to the exception.
      • She never intended to make a blanket agreement. Rather, she intended to make a general statement about her willingness to support your ideals or goals whenever feasible. Remember, solid agreements always require:
          • Clear, agreed upon expectations that are specific and verifiable,
          • An explicit statement from both partners indicating that the agreement is fair,
          • An explicit statement from both partners indicating that they will follow the agreement 100% unless an unforeseen circumstance arises that one of them believes warrants an exception (if this happens, the desired exception will be discussed at the first possible moment, hopefully before it is implemented).
      • She made the agreement hastily without thinking through the full range of situations to which it would apply. If she had taken time to think more about it, she might not have entered into the agreement in its present form.
      • She made the agreement in order to pacify you or temporarily keep the peace. She was never convinced that it was fair, but she didn’t tell you and you didn’t ask.  Because her heart wasn’t in it, she didn’t follow through.

5. Acknowledge the Understandable Part and Let Go of Blame

Acknowledge your role in contributing to the lack of clarity that led to the current situation. Say something like:

          • I can see that you were making different assumptions about the agreement than I was, and it’s nobody’s fault. We just didn’t realize that we needed to be more specific. It’s been frustrating, but I don’t want to dwell on it.  How about if he just try and clarify more specifically what we’re agreeing to and what we’re not?

(Note:  After an open-minded discussion, if it seems clear that she broke a clear-cut agreement without even a remotely justifiable reason, treat the broken agreement as an Obvious Offense on your partner’s part and follow the guidelines offered in Chapter 5.)

6.  Revisit the Agreement 

Invite her to join you in clarifying or making adjustments to the agreement so that it’s clearer and also seems fair to both of you.  Try to think through possible exceptions and discuss them in advance.  Make specific proposals and be open to any that she may have.

 If she is critical or dismissive while you’re revisiting the agreement, don’t make a big deal of it.  Just say something like,

“Hey, I’m trying to be respectful of your perspective, and I need for you to try to respect mine.  Obviously, we have different opinions, and it seems like we need to try to work together to find a solution that works for both of us as much as possible.  How about if we stop fighting each other and try to work toward some sort of compromise?”

(If after doing these things, your partner is still closed-minded or inflexible,
listen to Recording 6 at https://thecouplesclinic.com/dhrs-rec/.)

7. Vet the Revised Agreement 

Make sure that your revised agreement is…

      • Voluntary: Take a minute to be sure that you believe that having a fair agreement is better than no having agreement at all.  Ask your partner if she believes this, too.
        • If she hesitates, ask her what she thinks would be a better idea, and discuss the pros and cons of going without a formal agreement.  Be willing to consider going without a formal agreement for a while, while letting her know that if arguments keep coming up you are going to want to revisit the idea of having a formal agreement.
      • Specific and Verifiable: It should be as clear as possible how and when each person will do specific things.
      • Fair: Before finishing, ask each other, “Do you think this agreement is fair?”  Both of you should walk away feeling that your mate was as accommodating as you were.
      • Binding: Each of you should explicitly acknowledge that agreement isn’t merely an ideal that you both will aim at. Rather, it will be implemented 100% of the time unless an unforeseen circumstance arises that one of you believes warrants an exception. If this happens, whenever possible the desired exception will be discussed at the first possible moment and before it is implemented.