Many people make promises at the time that they intend to keep, but haven’t taken into consideration events that might keep them from delivering on them. Others make them to get what they want in the moment, knowing they will never come through. Some feel coerced into guaranteeing behavior in the future they have no way of doing, but are intimidated into making a contract they can’t fulfill. Anyone, at times, can want desperately to deliver a promise they have no capacity to do at the time, but hope they will when the promise comes due.
When feelings are authentic in the present, but wane over time, many intimate partners don’t tell their partners, hoping those prior feelings will return before they have to forfeit a relationship that is still important to them. When time goes by and they do not feel differently, or even worse, they are now in danger of pulling out of a relationship when their partners haven’t had warning. Afraid to hurt, distance, or lose that relationship, they hung in there without sharing their lessening interest. Now they have two problems to face: getting out of a relationship that has lost its meaning, and bearing the brunt of hurting and humiliating someone they truly loved at one time.
Because the majority of intimate partners do care about their significant others, they don’t make promises lightly or without the intent to keep them. They also know the difference between a light-hearted promise and those that would create significant heartbreaks were they not followed through, or at least re-negotiated. Also, the partners of well-intentioned lovers do learn, over time, the differences between well-intended but unlikely commitments to future behaviors, and those that are tossed out but unlikely to happen. People who know and love each other depend strongly on the other’s good intentions and are quick to forgive those slight mishaps that simply define the difference between desire and action.
However, anyone’s trust can wither over time if their partner’s consistently make promises they do not keep. Yes, some are made into jokes: “Don’t expect him to be on time. He really means it, but you have to tell him it’s a half-hour earlier than it is to compensate. He’s worth it when he gets here, so we just allow for it.” Or, “I really love her, but she just can’t seem to prioritize her commitments and she’s always rescheduling her appointments. I feel sorry that she’s so distressed about disappointing people but she truly doesn’t mean it and her friends always forgive her.”
But others are more serious, especially when that promise is important to the other partner. “I promise that I’ll cut back on the spending, honey. I know you’re right and I’ll make it a high priority.” “I know that I’m out of shape and it’s important to you. I’ll sign up at the gym first thing in the morning.” “I’m really undependable about texting you right back. It’s not fair. I’m going to really work on that.” “I won’t respond to my old girlfriend’s texts anymore if it bothers you.” “You can’t count on me to be on time from now on.” “I’ll only watch porn with you in the future, I promise.” “I’ll tell you from now on if you’re doing something that bothering me.” “I won’t yell at you anymore just because I’m angry.”
The more un-kept promises are made, the more difficult it is to trust that they ever will be. The greater sadness is that any trust continually broken in any one area, even those that are relatively unimportant, will eventually bleed out to every other area in the relationship. Relationships usually begin with a lot of forgiveness and accepted excuses but, over time, certain issues can become more prominent and less easily erased. The early relationship is proportional, that is, the good outweighs the bad and the problematic issues take a back seat. As the relationship matures, those issues that seemed innocuous to the future of the relationship can slowly erode away at the core of the relationship. Trust breaking is one of the most susceptible to that increasing damage.
It is natural and expected that most people are not completely able to predict their future feelings and behaviors no matter how phenomenal a new relationship seems to be. Life is meant to challenge as time goes by and intimate relationships are no exception. However, there are ways that devoted couples can predict and influence their future trust in one another.
1) Don’t make promises about future thoughts or behaviors that are inconsistent with anything you’ve ever done before. Let your partner know who you’ve been in those areas before. It’s not that people can’t change, but entrenched actions are hard to change and take enormous amounts of commitment and energy to do so.
2) Keep your communications open and authentic from the beginning of a relationship. Don’t pretend to be someone you’re not nor do things that make your partner believe something that is unlikely to happen. You may lose someone up front who can’t abide long term by those behaviors, but you won’t ever feel like you’ve gotten someone to love you on false pretenses.
3) If you promise something from a well-intentioned place, then find you cannot deliver, tell your partner immediately, ask for support, and renegotiate that promise as something you can fulfill.
4) Using all your past relationship experiences, know yourself well enough to predict when you are promising something that you are highly unlikely to deliver.
5) In any important relationship, understand your partner’s continuum that lets you know the difference between an unbroken promise he or she can laugh about, and one that is less forgivable.
6) Remember that broken promises of any kind do threaten anyone’s belief in your integrity and your trustworthiness. That loss might affect your future chances to make deals of any kind.
7) Evaluate how you have felt when a promise made to you doesn’t happen.
These simple rules are not as simple to live by, but they genuinely pay off if you can live by them. Everyone has the right to change desires and commitments, and relationship partners are no exception. If those differences in life views, expectations, dreams, or desires evolve and transform over time, it is crucial that intimate partners keep each other up to date as soon as they realize those differences. It may temporarily challenge the relationship, but it also makes it possible to authentically recommit to that new future for both partners.
Here are some articles I’ve written for Psychology Today Internet Blogs that may give you additional help:
What Causes Boredom in Intimate Relationships
Can a Relationship Survive Betrayal?
How to End a Relationship When Your Partner Still Loves You
Are You Withholding Love?
Couples’ Alert – Is your Love Dying?
Are you Afraid of Falling out of Love?
When is it time to let a Relationship go?
Promise Keepers – The Committed Partners who Stay Faithful
All comments are welcome.