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Monday, December 31, 2012

Broken Agreement

This one popped up elsewhere lately and I thought it would be good to share. . .

Let me say first of all this is a general “Troubleshooting Guide” I often use. As with any relationship issue, there are always variables and as such this isn’t meant to be a comprehensive, applies to every situation process. It is entirely possible steps will be out of order, skipped, or modified depending upon the individual situation. Think of this instead as a starting point when you have that “I don’t know what to do!” feeling.

Question: What should you do when your Primary breaks an agreement and rather than telling you they have done so, you stumble upon the truth?

First, I try to remember to reserve judgment. In this case things were found out about by accident, not in a controlled manner. I would want to know why. Though on the surface it may sound like deception, maybe there were other reasons; waiting for the right time, wanted to discuss it in person not on the phone, etc. What I’m not trying to do here is assign blame or guilt but just simply start to understand things.

Second, I would try to understand *why* I am upset. Is it the actual *whatever* that happened? Is it that I feel deceived? Was it the way I found out? Understanding what exactly is making me twitchy helps me to focus on the real problem. In the past I’ve found the strong emotional reaction I think I’m having to something is actually a reaction to something else. In this example I might be upset at feeling I was lied to, rather than whatever was done that actually broke our agreement. In actuality, I would be reacting to the agreement we are honest with each other, rather than an agreement about a specific activity (assuming that is what happened here).

Third, I would evaluate the agreement itself. Why did we have that agreement? Was it an agreement I wanted, or simply one to which I agreed to support my partner? Typically if I make an agreement it is to prevent passing one of my Hard Limits.
Hard Limits usually have one of two reactions from me:
1) Point of no return, relationship over.
2) Relationship can potentially be salvaged, but only if specific actions are taken. 
For example; Unsafe sexual activity. If I’ve been lied to about unsafe sexual activity; relationship over. If my partner has engaged in unsafe sexual activity but told me before we have been physical together again so I can evaluate my risk; relationship possibly salvageable after testing and discussion.

Remembering the reason for the agreement often dictates my actions and helps me determine what discussion is actually required, if any.

At this point I’m ready to have a discussion about the problem with the other person. I have the foundation from which to work so we can have a deep conversation about what happened. I have put my emotions in perspective and applied some logic to the situation. In our deep conversation I should now be able to temper my emotions a bit and, working with my partner, determine how we move forward and if we do so together.

First, why did they break the agreement? What was going through their mind at the time? I ask them to explain the situation, setting, and mindset to me. Again, I’m not judging or assigning blame here but simply ensuring I understand things.

Second, did we both have a clear understanding of the agreement or was this a communication failure? In my experience, this is the cause about 90% of the time with relationship problems. I ask if they understand that I believe they broke an agreement and why. Do they feel the same? Did they understand the agreement the same as I did or differently? Was there a perception of latitude within the agreement on their part?

Third, was there malicious intent or intentional disregard? In other words; Did they understand the agreement but consciously decide to break it? Did they feel I would understand their breaking the agreement and if so, why?

Fourth, what do they believe we should do going forward? Do we now have a better mutual understanding of the agreement? Should it be discarded? Rewritten? And what steps do they feel need to be taken to rebuild the comfort level we had prior to the problem? Maybe they feel the relationship is no longer viable?

It is after acquiring this information, usually during the process, that the actions I need to take become clear. Do I still have trust with the person? Is disengaging from the relationship the only way to protect myself? Can it be rebuilt and what is needed to do so? Can we make agreements with an expectation they will be followed, or are we unable to reach an agreement at all? Did I overreact, or possibly react based on perception or emotion, rather than logic? With all this information, are my emotions still valid?

My approach is to view the problem as an opportunity to learn more about my partner, how they think and respond to situations, and create easily followed agreements (if necessary) that will support our relationship going forward. I also see it as an opportunity to figure out where we both failed. What I don’t do is compromise my own needs, values, ethics, or emotions during the process. To do so (IMHO) undermines the relationship going forward.
What about you? Do you have a methodical or defined approach to relationship problems? Do you have a mental, or even literal, “Troubleshooting Guide” that you use when trouble appears?