My Partner is Accusing Me of Breaking an Agreement

If you want your partner to be open to your point of view, do these 6 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 need to dispute their accusations 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 their points. Find a way to feel temporarily okay, even though you don’t like the way things have been going.  Wait until your frustration level is below 3, then talk to them.

(For help with this step, listen to Recording 2 at

2. Don’t Fuel the Fire

      • Don’t act like they’re crazy for assuming that you broke an agreement.
      • Don’t dispute their accusations (You can do this later, if needed).
      • Assume that there may be understandable reasons why the is claiming that you broke an agreement.
      • If you’re surprised or confused by their accusation, let them know and ask them to help you understand why they feel the way that they do.
    • (For more information about Step 2, listen to Recording 4)

3. Find the Understandable Part

Ask clarifying questions until you can see understandable reasons why they believe you broke an agreement.  For example:

          • Maybe they are right. You made an agreement and when the time came you didn’t want to keep it, but you should have tried to talk to them about it first.
          • Maybe you made an agreement that you don’t remember making, or that you temporarily forgot until they jogged your memory.
          • Maybe you led them to believe that you thought the agreement was fair (or sound) when you didn’t.  Rather than speaking up, you decided to pacify them for the moment and keep the peace.  But because your heart wasn’t in it, you couldn’t follow through.
          • Maybe they thought you were going to implement the agreed upon actions within a certain time frame or in a certain way. But you were assuming you had more leeway about how and when.
          • Maybe when you made the agreement, you didn’t realize that they would want it to apply to situations like this one.
          • Maybe they were assuming that there would be no exceptions to the agreement, while you were assuming that exceptions could be made under certain circumstances (i.e., when an immediate decision is needed and you don’t have time to consult with each other, when you don’t think the other will object to the exception, etc.).
          • Maybe they thought you were making an iron-clad agreement to do specific things in all relevant situations, but you never intended to enter into such an agreement. You were intending to simply make a general statement about your willingness to support their goals or perferences whenever possible.

4. Acknowledge the Understandable Part and Take Responsibility

Acknowledge your mistake, or your role in contributing to the lack of clarity that led to the current situation.  Say something like: (any that apply)

          • I shouldn’t have broken the agreement. When the time came I didn’t want to follow it, but I should have tried to talk to you about it first.
          • I’m sorry that I forgot about the agreement. I won’t forget again.
          • I should have been clearer that, while I supported the agreement and intended to honor it as much as possible, I wasn’t thinking it would be iron-clad. I assumed there might be situations where exceptions would need to be made. If I had communicated this more clearly, we could have discussed such possible situations ahead of time.
          • In retrospect, it seems like we needed to be more specific in our agreement about when and specifically what were were agreeing to.  I hope we can do that now.
          • I made the agreement too hastily and I didn’t think it through. At the time it seemed reasonable and feasible.  But now I’m realizing that I should have taken more time to think about possible circumstances where I would want an exception to be made. I’m sorry.  I hope we can do that now. I will take more time to think things through in the future.

If they continue to criticize you in spite of your attempts to take responsibility, don’t make a big deal of it. Just let them know that you want to work toward a solution.  Say something like:

“As soon as possible I’d like to put our heads together and make sure that we’re on the same page moving forward, but maybe now isn’t a good time.”

If they continue to vent anger and judgment, say something like:

“I’m not going to be able to keep sitting here if you keep criticizing me (or putting me down).”

If they continue to vent anger and judgment, withdraw from the conversation, saying something like:

“I can’t do this right now. I’m willing to continue talking, but not right now.”

(For a description of the full range of “Standing Up” skills that may be needed, listen to Recording 6 at

5. Revisit the Agreement

Invite them 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 they may have.

If they are 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

6. 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 going on good intentions alone.
        • If you don’t think so, explain what you think would be a better way to proceed.  Acknowledge both the pros and cons of going without a formal agreement. If you still don’t like the idea, consider asking them to try going without a formal agreement for a while, assuring them that you will be willing to revisit the idea if needed.
      • 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 for. 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, hopefully before it is implemented.