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Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Why do I Keep Holding on? - The Agony of Lost Love

Most people will eventually heal after a relationship ends, especially if both partners have mutually agreed to separate. With helpful guidance, they learn from their mistakes, get comfort from friends, and ultimately commit to a new relationship.

Sadly, it is a very different story if one partner walks out when the other is still attached. The anguish of being the rejected partner in an aborted relationship can be devastating. Some people experience unending grief, ruthless pessimism, and a deepening fear that love might never happen for them again.
I have spent many hours with these deeply saddened, abandoned partners who cannot seem to get past their losses. I have listened to their stories of one-sided relationship endings and their confusion as to why they cannot seem to make love last.
If people are repeatedly abandoned in sequential relationships, others often judge them harshly. These consistently rejected lovers too often find themselves on the other then of well-meaning friends who push them to “just get over it,” or that they are somehow responsible for the relationships not working out.
That is so rarely true. Most who suffer prolonged grief have usually tried everything they knew to make their relationships work. When they are once again left behind, they are in understandable confusion and sorrow, wondering if the pain will ever go away.  
In the many years I’ve worked with these often repetitively abandoned partners, I’ve been able to help them see how the way in which they approach relationships may have something to do with why they end. Armed with that knowledge, they are better able to understand what they might have done differently.
Following are the most common personality characteristics and behaviors that many of these patients have shared with me, in hopes they will be able to help those who still live in prolonged suffering after being rejected by someone they still love.
The Ten Most Common Reasons Why People Can’t Let Go of a Lost Relationship?
1)    Innate Insecurity
It is natural for people to feel insecure when threatened by the loss of something that matters deeply to them.  If their comfort is disrupted by an unpredictable threat, most people have mastered defense mechanisms that help them overcome their legitimate feelings of sadness and fear. Over time, they are able to move on.
Sadly, there are people who suffer deeper levels of anxiety and may also have had multiple losses from the past. As relationship partners, they may have more difficulty rebalancing when abandoned by a once-trusted partner. They feel significantly more helpless and hopeless, as though they will never be able to trust love again. Sometimes, almost unable to function, their pain overcomes any hope that they will ever get better.
2)    Topping Out
If people feel that they have finally found the “perfect relationship,” and their partners then walk away, they may despair that they will never find a love this wonderful again. Relationship partners who have experienced these kinds of one-way abandonments may have always dreamed of having a special, reliable, and loving partner. Yet, upon finding someone who seems to fit the bill, they may become too fearful to inquire as to whether or not their partners have had the same desires or expectations.
When they believe they have found that perfect partner, they put everything they have into the relationship, hoping against hope that it will never end. Any warning signs from the other partner are often ignored until it is too late.
3)    Childhood Abandonment Trauma
Children are too often helpless pinballs in a life game that tosses them from relationship to relationship, usually unable to affect the outcome. These early experiences make them more likely to either distrust relationship partners or try too hard to over-trust them. Their insecure attachments to their care takers in early life too often cause them to become overly-fearful adults, unable to let love in for fear that inevitable loss will occur.
People with these kinds of fears of attachment may believe that they are fully in the game of love but, instead, are self-protective and unable to risk genuinely committing to a relationship. They see security as elusive and out of their control, but earnestly continue to fully commit without careful discernment.
That underlying fear too often frustrates the people who try to love them. They often end up discouraged and have to leave the relationship, recreating childhood abandonment trauma in the person they leave behind.
4)    Fear of Being Alone
If a person is fearful that love will never happen, he or she will often tolerate neglect, abuse, or disingenuous behavior just to stay in any relationship. If their relationship partners continue to participate in these uneven investments, one of two things will happen: the other partner will begin to feel too guilty to stick around, or will stay in the relationship while simultaneously search elsewhere for a better deal.
5)    Relying Only on One’s Partner for Self-Worth
It is dangerous for any intimate partner to allow the other to be entrusted as the sole definer of that person’s basic value. Like putting all one’s eggs in the same basket, there is bound to be total devastation if that belief does not result in a positive response.
If that partner chooses to end the relationship, the rejected partner has only that one person’s negative self-image to rely upon. They can only find fault in who they’ve been, what they’ve done wrong, and that they may always be unlovable to anyone else.
6)    Fear of Failure
There are people who are literally terrified of failing at anything, and relationships are just one piece of the puzzle. They give their all to whatever they pursue, and can’t face that their efforts might not bear out in something as important as a love relationship.
In their fear of failing, they too often either overreact when something seems to be going wrong, or miss crucial cues because of their hyper-vigilant focus.
When their partners leave the relationship, they often take all of the blame, feeling that they should have done more or better. Often that self-denigration makes each succeeding partnership more susceptible to failing for the same reasons.
7)    Romantic Fantasizers
Relationships that thrive are not romantic in the storybook sense. Though they begin, as all new love relationships do, with mutually seemingly unconditional acceptance and forgiveness, they must eventually work out the differences and challenges that all long-term commitments create.
Those who are dedicated to holding on to romantic fantasy, however, are a different breed. These partners want to be all things to their lovers, as though in a cloud of intensive and ongoing rapture. When the normal disruptions of life intervene, romantic fantasizers see them as only temporary obstacles and don’t take them seriously.
When a romantic fantasizer wants to hold onto bliss at any price, the other partner often feels unseen and unknown, and eventually will seek a more realistic encounter.
8)    Undying Love
There are people who believe that loving someone until the end of time is a virtue and pride themselves in never giving up loving their partners even if the relationship is over. They truly hold onto the belief that a love once so beautiful will never die, and commit to waiting forever for the other person to come back.
Interestingly enough, many relationships do end prematurely for the wrong reasons, and the partners who leave may regret doing so later. For most, though, the unswerving commitment to stay loyal to a partner who has abandoned the relationship stops them from embracing any new love. The lost love is continuously eulogized so that any other partnership pales by comparison.
9)    Unmatched Hole Fillers
Occasionally a love partner finds another who is more unbelievably perfect in some crucial areas. The rest of the relationship may not be as rewarding, but the experience of total satisfaction in that one place is overwhelmingly fulfilling. Once they have that experience, they feel they can never again go without it, and significantly narrow their future options. When rejected, they become hyper-focused on getting their partners to return, offering any sacrifice to make that happen.
10)                    The Truly Agonized Stalkers
Sadly, there are people who cannot give up their romantic partners, no matter how clearly know that the relationship is over. Even when the other partner avoids, ghosts, or openly humiliates them, they still won’t, or can’t, give up.
There are a multitude of reasons why people hurt themselves this way. They might feel they have no other place to go. Or, they feel they will never find someone so right for them again. Perhaps they choose partners who can never love them the same way in return, and yet can’t accept that finality.  Maybe they watched a parent continue to sacrifice without reciprocity, believing that it was a noble way to behave.
If the pain is great enough, they might stalk, punish, or intrude, unable to stop pursuing that broken relationship. No amount of self-degradation or humiliation seems to ease their pain or keep them from trying to stop their fate.
* * * * * *
Unrequited love is painful and demoralizing. It is only human to try to alter the aftermaths of lost hope. 
Many relationship seekers who experience repeated rejection become weary cynics, risking less and less in every succeeding partnership. They stop believing that love relationships can ever work out because they can’t afford to be hurt again.
Once understanding why those situations happen, many can learn to choose better partners, face the realities of what relationships offer and cost, and increase their capacity for resiliency if loss is inevitable. Only then, can they understand that the more one loves, the more painful its loss. There is no other possibility.  
Every relationship seeker must decide how much to risk when seeking true intimacy. To achieve the most beautiful outcome, he or she must give up the prior goals of holding on to love at any price, and create in its place, an authentic and real relationship regardless of what the outcome might be.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Can Sweet Memories Neutralize Conflict?

When intimate partners fight to win, their conflicts can easily deteriorate into accusations, invalidations, and character assassinations. Repeated disagreements of this kind will both increase negativity between partners and endanger the very foundation they rely on to keep their love secure.

Many relationship partners come into counseling embattled in this way. The level of disrespect and disregard displayed during their fighting shows how far they have slipped into dangerous waters. If they consistently express these adversarial and uncaring needs to win the argument at any cost, their chances of saving their relationship will significantly decrease.
Most of these couples did not treat each other like this when their love was new. They somehow understood then that crossing certain lines of respect for one another during a fight could be too dangerous. They made sure that their responses to each other during conflict did not cross the lines of decency.
Over time, sadly, those original commitments can lessen. As couples lose them, they can become repeatedly embattled and lose the ability to feel safe with each other when either is angry. They no longer believe that vulnerability or openness is safe during an altercation. Winning has clearly become more important that preserving their love in those moments. When their love was new, they could argue and care at the same time. Now, once they begin to disagree, they become instant adversaries.
By the time they go for professional help, many of them have exhausted their own capacity to pull themselves out of these negative spirals. No longer able to maintain caring and support for each other once an argument begins, they are cast astray in a turbulent sea of unresolvable distress.  
I have witnessed so many of these negative conflict spirals when couples first come to see me. They are heart-breaking to observe. Yet, even in the midst of what appears to be dooming adversarial interactions, I often see fleeting moments of how these same people must have been with one another when their love was new. Sadly, now so intent on winning their arguments, they seem unable to notice them anymore.
When they become aggressive, I ask them to stop their conflict for just a moment and to focus on each other’s underlying feelings of vulnerability. I may even ask them to look into each other’s eyes and silently hold hands for a few minutes. Almost invariably, they cannot continue their attacks and begin to soften towards each other. I ask them if this is the way they were during conflicts when they were newly in love.  
As they share the differences between then and now, I ask them if they can recall those early interactions when they are in conflict in the present, to help them neutralize the damaging aspects of their disagreement. Initially, understandably, they wonder how they can do that when their conflicts have become so mutually aggressive and painful. I assure them that it is totally possible with enough commitment and practice.
The way I illustrate the process is to first provide five common conflict reactions that many couples regularly experience, and ask them to describe the way they currently respond when either of them reacts that way. Then, I ask them how they might have responded to those same exact behaviors when their love was new. When they recall those more caring responses and keep them in mind when they begin to disagree, they are often both surprised and encouraged at how rapidly that simple concept can change the nature of their conflicts.
Following are those five common conflict responses and reactions that are familiar to most established couples. After each one, there is an example of a possible, more loving response and how using it might have changed the outcome. As you read through them, you might want to replace these examples with those of your own relationship history.  
Five Common Conflict Responses and the Neutralizing Effects of Loving Recall
1)    When Your Partner Turns Away
When couples disagree and no longer hear the other, one partner sometimes stops and turns his or her body away. If you experience your partner doing that, but you continue to challenge or blame, he or she will eventually either discontinue interacting with you, or come back heated and ready to retaliate.
When your partner turns away from you during an argument, ask yourself if you would typically continue to attack. Instead, try to remember a time when you loved him or her so deeply that your first response would have been concern instead? Were you able at one time to put yourself aside and let your partner know how much you wanted him or her to stay connected, rather than needing to press your point?
Would you have said something more like this in the past?
“You just turned away from me. Are you feeling overwhelmed by what I’m saying or how I’m coming across? I don’t want you to disconnect. I’d rather have you here in the room with me, than give up. Please tell me what just happened that made you stop and I promise I’ll be still and let you share how you feel.”
Would that behavior now make your partner feel cared for and re-invited into safety and intimacy?
2)    When your partner seems hurt
Most hurt comes from feeling unfairly or dis-compassionately attacked. A partner who senses a cold and uncaring challenge might feel defeated, powerless, or may even experience grief.
The expressions of hurt can range from silence and withdrawal to reactive anger that attempts to hide the upset. However, the facial expression and body language of hurt are unmistakable. If your partner seems stunned, wounded, or begins to cry, do you stop and deal with that vulnerability, or does it make you more defensive and angry? Do you see expressions of hurt as attempts to manipulate you?
But, when your love was new, would you have seen it that in the same way? Would you have noticed that moment where your partner reacted as if hit in the gut and you were able to instantly put your own needs aside and offered compassion instead?
In the past, when your love was new, would you have said something more like this?
“You look like I just really hurt you. I know I was coming on strong and wanted to make my point, but I didn’t want what I said to cause you this kind of pain. I felt cornered and scared of losing, myself, but that was no reason to go after you like that. I just wanted you to hear me, but not to hurt you. Do you need to tell me what you’re feeling?”
When you’ve done something like this in your past, was your partner more likely to feel loved and allow him or herself to be vulnerable again?
3)    When your partner begins to lose control
If you are not consumed by your own distress, you can easily pick up the signs that your partner is losing control and becoming more rapidly upset. He or she will not seem rational anymore and may begin bringing up multiple additional issues, physically flail, or becoming louder in a desperate attempt to feel sane.
More women than men begin to cry when losing control. More men than women escalate and raise their voices. But, both are entering into behaviors that are outside their normal ways of being.
Do you remember a time in the past when your partner began to spin out of control during an argument? Would you have been able then to stop your own agenda to make your concern for his or her increasing distress more important? Would you have recognized the signs of that escalating pain and done whatever you could have to help your partner calm down?
When your love was new, might you have said something like this?
“Hey, I’m doing something that is obviously really upsetting you and making you feel like I’m out to get you. Let me stop what I’m doing and help you calm down. I want you to feel safe right now and it doesn’t matter what I need to say. It can wait until you are more okay. I was probably coming across like your enemy. I’m sorry. I just want you to feel better.”
If you were able to do that, did your partner feel grateful when you did?
4)    When your partner becomes oppositional
You’re in an argument and your partner flips your position against you, tells you you’re crazy, or totally invalidates your reasoning. He or she is cornered and trying desperately to throw you off guard. The remarks are exaggerated or irrational,  and feel urgent and desperate to gain traction.
Your understandable response is usually to counter-defend by challenging both the statements and your partner’s right to say them. The more you fight back, the more he or she escalates the interaction.
Can you recall an earlier time in your relationship when you didn’t need to immediately erase your partner’s thoughts or feelings and tried patience and inquiry first? You wanted to make sure he or she felt understood and listened to, even if you didn’t see things the same way.
When you were deeply in love, you might have sounded more like this:
“Hey, sweetheart, you’re invalidating everything I’m saying. Do you feel like I’m not listening? There’s plenty of time here for you to say whatever you need to before I answer. We don’t have to feel exactly the same way about everything, but that doesn’t mean I don’t respect your point of view. Let me stay quiet for a while and just hear you out. Would that help?”
If you responded like this in the past, did your partner relax and appreciate your willingness to back off in the moment?
5)    When your partner’s anger begins to escalate
It is all too common for fighting partners to up their anger index when they either feel attacked or need to win. When your partner starts yelling at you in threatening tones, he or she may be unable to stay connected to what you have to say, or even to see any other way.
Anger is a “puffer fish” phenomenon. It is the way people make themselves feel bigger and more powerful, and hides any underlying vulnerability that might be exposed if they were to suppress their angry reactions.
When your partner’s anger sharply increases, do you normally then move into a more adversarial position, protecting yourself at the expense of your partner?
When you felt safer and more beloved, were you able to diminish your partner’s anger by a more compassionate response?
If you could, you might have sounded something like this:
“Whoa, babe, you are getting really worked up. Am I saying things in a way that makes you want to push me away? Tell me what’s under that anger if you can. Are you just frustrated with me or scared that I’ll hurt you? I’m sorry if I did or said anything that got you going like this. I’m sure that your feelings are understandable, but I could hear you better if you said them without being angry.”
If you were able to respond something like that, was your partner able to settle down and share his or her deeper feelings?
* * * *
Most couples have an emotional altar place upon which they recommit regularly to their love for each other and the relationship. That place of sacredness ensures that they will stay within emotional, physical, mental, and spiritual bounds intended to maintain trust and security.
As all intimate relationships mature, many partners forget those initial commitments and allow their conflict interactions to deteriorate from those initial agreements. The way couples fight is the most obvious sign of that lost reverence. If they can, once again, remember how to treat each other with love and compassion during their disagreements, the love they once knew will return.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Friday, July 14, 2017

The need to Win - Ten Mean Fighting Strategies

All intimate partners have conflict from time to time. When people blend their lives together, they are bound to see some situations differently and need to resolve those differences.

Disagreements are stressful for everyone and, depending on how love partners treat each other during those conflicts, they will either bring a couple closer together or increase the emotional distance between them.
Disputes that lead to greater understanding and new perspectives can actually increase excitement and continuing discovery in a committed relationship. Romantic partners who have learned how to argue productively while maintaining respect for each other during their conflicts can create a new emotional universe that neither partner could have created alone.
In contrast, many romantic partners fight in ways that consistently hurt their relationship. Soon into any dispute, one or both become need-to-win combatants, establishing their superior position at the expense of their partner’s. As these kinds of disagreements escalate, these combatants use any behaviors and strategies they can muster to win the argument in any way they can. The result of these adversarial styles is often mutual isolation, unresolved anger, and painful wounds. 
Need-to-win fighting styles are often unconscious behaviors that are learned in childhood and continue in subsequent relationships. Many people are not even aware of when or where they learned to fight this way or why they continue to do so. They can easily see that they are having constant difficulty resolving their relationship disputes, but they have not connected their need-to-win fighting style, itself, with that lack of successful outcomes.
In the four decades I’ve been working with couples in relationship distress, I have witnessed this need-to-win destructive fighting style in many forms, but there are ten that most often appear. When I am able to point them out to couples as they emerge in their interactions, they are often surprised when they see that the way they fight is the actual culprit behind their lack of ability to adequately resolve their disagreements.
When they understand that a different way of handling disputes can turn them from adversarial combatants to a mutually effective debate team, they are very often enthusiastic to learn how to do that. As they become a mutually supportive team when they are in conflict, they begin to come up with innovative solutions to problems they had not been able to resolve in the past.
The Ten Most Common Need-to-win Fighting Styles
1)    The Silent Treatment
Often accompanied by crossed arms and a supercilious expression, the silent treatment is one of the need-to-win fighting styles that is designed to get the other partner to expose his or her thoughts and feelings without doing so him or herself. As the silent partner stays disconnected, the other partner’s distress tends to escalate, giving the winning edge to the one who stays hidden.
2)    Invalidation
When feeling attacked or unnerved, many people fight back by challenging and devaluating any reasons the other partner has for feeling the way he or she does. These focused fighters often bring in other people’s confirmations of their own point of view to beef up their position, or go after the ways their partner has failed in the past. The goal of this fighting style is to create self-doubt in the other person.
3)    Escalation
In most relationships, one partner tends to be more dominant, more able to be direct, and stronger in the way he or she feels and thinks. These people are often in relationships with partners to tend to be quieter, more methodical, and more reflective before they voice their opinions. When these couples argue, the need-to-win dominant partner is highly likely to use powerful and intense energy to escalate the argument into greater emotional intensity. The other partner’s ability to fight back is quickly over-powered.
4)    Piling on other issues
When need-to-win partners feel that they might be losing an argument, they often respond by diverting their opponents with other issues. They may do so by rehashing the past, talking about other problems, or trying to get the other partner to focus at his or her own flaws. The goal of bringing up additional issues is to confuse the one at hand by overloading the situation with past conflicts that are not pertinent at the time. When this fighting strategy works, the other partner cannot stay on point and is unable to resolve the initial issue.
5)    Character Assassination
When they feel cornered and losing a fight, many need-to-win fighters resort to this effective but terribly destructive response. Instead of sticking to the situation at hand, they challenge the other partner as to how he or she is basically flawed in some way, using every example they can to drive in their point. They attempt to convince the other partner that his or her core personality deficits that make them unworthy of challenging the issue at hand, or any others. The response of the accused is usually feeling as if he or she is on a symbolic witness stand, defending those painful devaluing judgments.
6)    Arguing from a distance
The farther away partners are from each other during a conflict, the easier it is for either of them to hurl accusations and insults without feeling responsible for the effect on the other. The distance also allows the need-to-win partner who claims it to more easily assess the weakness of the other, and to take a more protected stance. It also can alleviate guilt because the intimacy of closeness is diluted and responsibility for causing pain is easier to ignore.
7)    Hitting Below the Belt
During any disagreement, partners who care for each other know what they can use in an argument and what they must never say no matter how heated the conflict becomes. They trust each other to never use the special knowledge they have of one another’s deepest vulnerabilities to win an argument. The most serious and relationship-destructive conflicts occur when one or both partners break that trust by using the sacred information they know about the other to gain an unfair advantage during a confrontation.

8)    Martyrdom
An insidious but often effective strategy to win a fight is to begin beating oneself up on the other end of any accusation or challenge, and then blame the other partner for the exaggerated self-destruction. These kinds of fighters act as if the other’s accusations were much worse than they were intended in order to make the attacking partner feel guilty and then back down.
9)    Intimidation
In any committed relationship, threats of abandonment, exile, and escalated aggressiveness are needing-to-win fighting styles that are intended to make the other partner feel insecure and fearful of loss. The goal is to use that response to have him or her focus on what might could be lost if the fight continues.  

10)          Feigned indifference to outcome
Whether they feel differently inside or not, partners who pretend they don’t care about whether they win or lose can actually win an argument by acting as if they are giving in without really agreeing. The other partners can feel the ruse and know that they have essentially been robbed of power or influence by the “playing dead” posture of the other.
* * * * *
None of these needing-to-win fighting styles will ever lead to a productive resolution of conflict. Rather than the partners listening, respecting, or being open to each other’s experience, they continue to see only their own positions and to do whatever they can to wipe out the other’s reasonableness. The arguments that ensue from these no-win battles create deepening grooves of resentment that become harder to overcome over time.
Once these negative fighting styles are identified and stopped, couples can begin to deal with conflict in more productive ways. They are ready to learn the rules of productive disagreements.
There are multiple sources that are available to help intimate partners learn how to fight productively. I have written many articles in this area for Psychology Today Blogs that are available on my web site. The following is a simple synthesis of the wealth of knowledge in this area.
Seven Simple Rules to Begin Changing Negative Conflict
1)    Avoid arguing at all if you are tired, frustrated, or there isn’t enough time to adequately resolve the situation.
2)    Sit close to one another, preferably physical touching in some way.
3)    Listen completely to the other’s point of view. Support does not mean to have to see things the same way.
4)    Argue only one issue at a time. If others get brought up, agree to talk about them separately and only after you resolve the one at hand.
5)    Don’t add support to your position by using other’s opinions or past arguments to bolster your argument.
6)    Stop the conflict if either one of you escalates the need to win.
7)    If you cannot stop from employing a needing-to-win style when you disagree with your partner, seek out the support of a mutually respected professional or lay witness to observe.
Following these guidelines may initially seem hard, but they get easier over time. The compounding rewards encourage most couples to continue practicing them. Disagreements that are handled with mutual respect and support both enhance and strengthen the intimate connection between the partners in committed relationships.
My patients who have left this negative combat style behind and practiced this new way of conflict resolution not only have fewer conflicts and more successful results, but heal more rapidly when they do disagree.

Friday, June 30, 2017

When Promises Become Excuses

intimate partners must trust each other for their relationship to thrive. Their faith in each other’s promises and subsequent follow-throughs are what sustain their faith in the relationship and in each other.

Most couples agree that automatic trust is not a guarantee. It, and must be earned on a continuing basis. When couples are committed to the same values and behaviors, they live by them both when they are in each other’s presence and when they are apart. They mutually agree that breaking those promises will disrupt the foundation of their relationship.
There are multiple levels of broken promises that create different reactions in different people. Some can be potential deal breakers, like repeated addictive escapes, infidelities, or anything else that is hidden from the other partner and might risk his or her consent were it to be known. When those breaches of trust repeated, many intimate relationships just cannot survive.
Most broken promises are not intentional, meanly motivated, or routinely repeated. Every loving couple knows they must be able to endure these occasional broken promises as long as they are dangerous to the relationship’s foundation. People who love each other try to understand and forgive when those occasional mishaps occur. They weigh them against the good qualities of the relationship and try to let them go.
That doesn’t mean loving partners do not pay attention or just sweep their own transgressions under the rug. Even if the mishaps might be slight and not terribly distressing to the other partner, they still feel responsible for any upset they may have caused and sincerely apologize, committing to be more careful in the future. 
However, when any disappointing or offensive behavior happens repeatedly, it can become a problem. Forgiveness can become less automatic when behavior doesn’t change. When small issues are not handled and resolved, they can too easily lead to more crucial offenses in the future.
Even loving partners who continue to break promises can no longer continue to excuse those actions that once may have been easier to bear. The good will the couple once counted upon begins to diminish and the excuses for broken promises simply are no longer believable.
To rebuild trust, intimate partners must be able to rely again on each other’s promises and commitments. For that to happen, they must know themselves and each other more deeply. They must learn to better predict their own future behaviors and be more honest about whether they can actually perform them.
There are many common reasons why partners continue to promise behaviors that repeatedly break those commitments. In my work with hundreds of couples over the last four decades, I have noted the most typical types of excuses people make when they become habitual promise-breakers. Though some are unique to each intimate relationship, these six commonly used excuses that happen frequently to most couples.
If loving partners can catch them early on in their relationship, they can stop using them when they continuously do not follow through on commitments. To learn to eliminate repeated excuses and to resolve those broken promises, they must first be courageous enough to face those behaviors together without judgment.
The Six Most Common Types of Excuses for Broken Promises
1)    Unclear Agreements
Many times one partner believes the other has committed to a promise when the other does not remember doing so. Or, one partner may think that he or she was very clear about a particular agreement and the other heard a very different message.

Even with texting, many people read something on their phone that was either not intended as it sounded or could be interpreted differently than it was meant.  Sometimes what is very important to one partner may be insignificant to the other.
Example:
“Honey, I really heard you say something about your needing your cleaning picked up by tonight, but you really weren’t clear on when they closed. I got caught up in something important and leave in time to pick it up. I meant to do what you asked, really. I hope it wasn’t that important.”
2)    Passive-Aggressive
Passive-aggressive people are likely to agree to anything their partner asks for in the moment, but have a plethora of ready excuses when they don’t come through, which, unfortunately tends to happen on a regular basis. Even when they know they will not be able, or even want to do what the other partner asked, they still will continue promising they will.
The people who readily-promise-but-rarely-come-through strongly argue that they absolutely intended to do what they’ve agreed upon but that “unexpected things just always come up.” They never admit or agree that they are once-again likely to disappoint their partners and just can’t understand why their good intent is not enough to be forgiven. They cannot see that they were never likely to follow through, but didn’t want to recognize their own limitations.
Example:
“You know that I always and absolutely want to make you happy and I do everything I can to do whatever you ask. Other things just get in the way. I don’t mean to upset you. You just need to understand that I can’t always do what I promised. It has nothing to do with not wanting to. I never mean to disappoint you, honey. You know that.”
3)    Self-Delusion
Many people who repeatedly let their partners down are genuinely not able to predict their own availability or resources. They absolutely mean that they will be there at a certain time, do what is asked, change their behaviors, or pick something up before a store is closed.
Perhaps besieged with too many obligations, too little resources, or an inability to recognize their own limitations, they often just cannot adequately predict their own limitations. They are consumed with their own failures and desperately want their loved ones to just look the other way.
Example:
“I’m so careful to write down everything you want from me. I really believe I’ll get things done but I always seem to run out of time. I promise I’ll do better in the future. Maybe I just try to do too much, and need to try harder.”
4)    Fear of Saying “No”
There are people who, for reasons of insecurity, fear of being disliked, or expected to be rejected if they saw what they really feel, just can’t tell their partner that they don’t want to do what the other asks.
Even when a request seems too demanding, those partners feel like the requests are automatic obligations. These people cannot set clear boundaries because putting themselves first is just not an option. When they are unable to comply, they feel terrible about themselves, and plead with the other to forgive them this one time.
Example:
“Oh my God, I couldn’t pick up your prescription today. I had to stay home for the repair man, get the kids to the doctor, and get that spread sheet ready you needed for tonight. I just ran out of time and now I feel absolutely terrible. Will you ever trust me again? I’m so, so sorry.”
5)    Avoiding Criticism in the Moment
There are intimate partners who expect total compliance with any request and often married to people who cannot bear being told they are inadequate in any way. This unfortunate duo tends to repeat the same patterns of one partner asking too much and the other unwilling to admit they don’t want to because they can’t take criticism of any kind.
These partners behave as if they are obligated to serve without question. If and when they cannot perform as they promised, their excuses must be extraordinarily plausible to avoid being seen as a bad person in any way. When confronted with a mishap, their first defense is to blame the other.
Example:
“I did seven out of the eight things you asked, perfectly. The eighth was impossible to do in one day. Anyone with the correct information would have known that. Why do you ask things of me that no one could have done in the way you specified? Just so you can find the one thing I failed at?”
6)    Unexpected Barriers
These excuses are the most ingenious and creative. It is crucial that the same ones are not repeated or they lose their impact.
A partner seems to have a unique and plausible reason whenever he or she doesn’t keep an agreement. Something new and unexpected always seems to happen that is unusual and unpredictable.
Over time, these sometimes entertaining and comical-tragic reasons for default tend to create increasing suspicion in the recipient. They will soon be seen as made-up-truths-of-the moment to avoid accountability.
“I swear to you honey I was stopped at that train crossing for more than an hour. It wasn’t even supposed to be there at that time. I checked in advance.”
Example:
“I knew I was supposed to be home in time for dinner, sweetheart, but the boss came in just as I was about to leave and his mom was in the hospital with what your mom had and he really needed someone to talk to. You know I’m the kind of go-to guy that people come to when they’re in trouble and what could I do? He’s the boss. I figured I’d call you when I could and I knew you’d understand.”
Any of these incredibly creative excuses would work occasionally, especially if that partner is somewhat reliable at other times. But if the pattern continues and he or she consistently lets the other down, those excuses might as just as well be covering for unintentional or intentional lies. An agreement is something you can count on. A promise is something you have faith in. A commitment is something you rely upon. Excuses that tamper with those beliefs repeatedly and over a long period of time are no longer trustworthy.
Until you learn to promise only what you actually are able to deliver, here are six simple steps to follow if you’ve let your partner down:
1)    Admit your mistake up front. It’s really not that hard. Take responsibility for your end of it.
2)    Genuinely apologize for your misunderstanding, unsuccessful prioritization, forgetting, or just making your agreement less important than it was for your partner.
3)    Ask your partner if this is a recurring disappointment and if you’ve used those excuses before. If the answer is “yes,” commit to not ever using those again.
4)    Recognize and validate your partner’s right to feel betrayed. Don’t argue, invalidate, or erase his or her feelings.
5)    When you next make a promise or agree to a commitment, write it down with your partner and put it somewhere both of you can see it.
6)    Only promise what you know you can do. Even if your partner seems disappointed at the time, he or she will learn to trust you when you do make a commitment.
When people become more honest with themselves, they automatically become more so with their significant others. Once they learn to trust their own capacity to carry through on their promises, they will rebuild the trust that broken promises create.