Broken agreements hurt.
They hurt even more when we are in love.
When we discover that our lovers have broken an important agreement, we generally feel betrayed, and, in some cases, ready to condemn and punish.
But a relationship is not a court case—or at least, it should never be.
Agreements are an important tool of every intimate relationship. They allow us to define our boundaries and respect those of our lovers, avoid codependency and create a solid foundation of mutual respect.
Agreements are just a tool.
If they become the main axis of a relationship, they can end up transforming it into something similar to a business contract or, in the worst cases, in a court case. One or both partners may become obsessed with spotting any infringements to the agreements, and administering the punishment associated with violating the boundaries.
You can be sure that agreements have become too important if one or both partners continuously complain to family and friends about how unreliable the other partner is, how often he or she breaks the bonds of trust, and other similar issues.
This form of compulsive thinking, first of all, harms the complainer: a constant condition of fear that our lover will break an agreement will usually end up creating exactly the outcome that we fear the most.
Here is an example of how this can happen: if we are constantly “on the watch” for our partners to break our trust, we tend to develop an over controlling attitude and to push towards very strict and limiting agreements. For example, we may convince our partner to agree on breaking all contact with an ex-lover, although the relationship is now completely non-sexual.
Our partner might yield and accept the limiting agreement out of an unconscious fear of losing the relationship or getting into an argument. After a certain period of time, however, the agreement feels so strict that he or she almost inevitably ends up breaking it—maybe by sending an email to the ex-lover.
If we are controlled by a thought pattern that tries to find faults everywhere, this infringement will be enough to prove to us that our partner is untrustworthy and should be punished. As a consequence, we will most likely become even more controlling…and the cycle continues.
It is sad to see couples arguing about who violated the agreements first, what is the right punishment for the infringement, or asking unrelated people to act as judges in the matter. This may be logical in court or business, but it is out of place in a love relationship. Intimate relationships should be based on the assumption that our partner is a good person and wants our well-being—otherwise, it’s up to us to take responsibility and look for a better match.
Agreements in relationships work best if we consider them as a temporary tool, and if we are ready to re-negotiate them at any time if either of the partners feels the need to do so. Flexible, temporary agreements (and a lot of willingness to forgive) will go a long way towards supporting a relationship. As romantic as eternal vows may be, they tend to fall short of the infinite variety of situations that life presents. Flexible agreements, on the contrary, can adapt to changes and support a relationship through all of its different phases.
Even with all these caveats, agreements may still end up being broken. This is, on one hand, because intimate agreements are almost never as clear-cut as business contracts or laws—nor should they be. At the same time, the ever-changing nature of people and relationships can make an agreement obsolete even before either of the partners realizes it.
When an agreement is broken, we can consider this as a signal that something needs to be discussed, rather than as a personal offense. Whether we choose to renegotiate the agreement, or change the relationship itself, forgiving the infringement is something that absolutely needs to happen at some point.
Forgiveness is the only action that can release us from the role of the victim, and allow us to do what needs to be done—build a new basis for the relationship to flourish, or move on.
In short, never transform your relationship into a court case.
If you find yourself thinking or talking too often about who is “right,” who “started it,” or who “should” apologize first, consider that as an alarm signal: this relationship needs some serious intervention!
You may need to review the broken agreements with honesty and an open mind, because those agreements might have outlived their usefulness, and they might be in sore need of an update.
Most often, the pains of broken agreements can be cured with good doses of forgiveness, flexibility and the willingness to move on instead of getting stuck into a fight over principles. In some cases, however, they might be just the right indicator that the current relationship has seen its day, and it is time to sail towards new shores.
Author: Raffaello Manacorda
Editor: Renée Picard
Image: zbellink at Flickr