Do You Keep Your Word?

Being a Dependable and Honest Partner Is Key to Marriage Success

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Interdependency, or being able to depend on each other, is part of what makes a marriage special and successful. Dependability is one of the top qualities people look for in a spouse, and it should be. If one or both of you can't depend on each other, the viability of your marriage is questionable. 

When you make a promise to your spouse or say you'll do something for your spouse or family and then you don't keep your word, you're letting your spouse down and hurting your marriage. Keeping your word and following through on your promises helps to reinforce the trust that your spouse has in you. Not keeping your word tells your spouse that you simply don't care, whether or not that's actually true. It makes your spouse feel unloved or unimportant as if he or she isn't worth the effort, and it probably makes you feel bad too.

Issues Behind Breaking Promises

So why do people break their promises and not keep their word? There is a multitude of potential reasons behind this and it differs for every individual.

Some people minimize their need for others, which is often a result of early childhood experiences where there was not a reliable caretaker available. People who experienced this tend to learn to take care of themselves, avoiding reaching out to others for help because they don't know how to depend on someone else.

Another reason interdependency can be difficult for some people is because they were raised in a household filled with chaos. There was no consistency and a poor (or no) model of a mature marriage was all that was available, so they genuinely don't understand the nuances of what it means to be able to count on each other.

Other people don't know how to be honest and say no. They're people pleasers who are worried about how others view them, so instead of explaining honestly why they can't do something, they say yes and then don't follow through.

Still, others have issues with feeling controlled. Doing something that someone else has asked them to do leaves a sour taste in their mouth, especially if there are already other problems in the relationship. In order to stop feeling like they're being controlled, they just don't do what they said they would.

How to Keep Your Word

None of these potential issues means you can't learn how to be a person of your word. With practice, diligence, and learning to think about your partner's needs ahead of your own, you can be the kind of partner he or she needs. If your partner also has issues with being dependable, your good example can inspire him or her to work to be the partner you need too.

Here's how to start working toward keeping your word:

  • Don't say you'll do something if you can't do it. Be upfront and honest, even if you feel like you might be letting your partner down. It's much, much worse to break your promise later.
  • If you realize that you can't keep your promise, tell your partner as soon as you can and explain exactly why you're unable to follow through. Make this sort of situation the exception, not the rule, especially as you're working to build trust.
  • Don't say, "I didn't intend to _____ (forget/hurt you/not do it, etc.)," or "I forgot," or "I didn't have time." Excuses are meaningless and are often a cover for the real reason you didn't choose to follow through. Simply apologize and reiterate that you will keep working toward being a dependable partner.
  • Don't make promises you can't keep. Again, be honest about your reasons.
  • If you changed your mind and don't want to keep your promise, you need to be honest with your spouse about why you think you made the promise in the first place and why you can't now follow through.
  • If you broke a promise because you're often forgetful, consider using some of the high tech ways to be reminded of things you said you would do. You can receive email alerts, popup reminders from your calendar program on your computer, and get text or voice reminder messages on your cell phone.
  • You can give your spouse permission to remind you, too, with the understanding that you won't consider the reminder to be nagging.
  • Think about how it feels to you when someone doesn't come through for you or keep his or her promise. Think about how every time the person does this, your disappointment and trust in him or her deteriorates more. Is that the kind of person you want to be? Put yourself in your spouse's shoes.
  • Explore and understand the reasons behind why you don't keep your word. Do you need counseling to work through some childhood problem? Do you possibly need treatment for ADHD or some other mental health concern? Is there another, perhaps deeper, problem in your marriage and you're handling it by being passive-aggressive?
  • Realize that there are situations that are beyond your control. For instance, you promised you'd take the kids to the park so your partner could have some alone time, but your boss says you have to stay late. The real problem is when you (consciously or subconsciously) choose to break a promise, not when life happens and the choice is taken away from you.

The Damage of Breaking Promises

Regardless of the reasons for breaking your word, it's critical for both spouses to be able to depend on each other. You both need to follow through on your promises without being constantly nagged or reminded to do so. Not keeping your word is damaging to your marriage and leaves you at risk for divorce.

Not being a person of your word is also damaging to you personally. When you're a dependable person, this tells you, and everyone around you, that you have character, integrity, and that you can be trusted. Think of the legends and heroes from movies and books—part of the reason they're heroes and legends is that they were usually men or women of their word, people who could be counted on no matter what.

Trust is one of the major foundations of a good marriage too, which means that being a dependable partner who always keeps his or her word can mean the difference between a successful and a struggling marriage. If up until now you and/or your partner haven't been very good about keeping your promises, make it a goal to improve. Ideally, you can work on this together, but even if you simply work on changing yourself, you will likely eventually see improvements in your spouse as well.

Don't expect to change overnight, but if you keep working at keeping your promises, address any potential issues noted above, make sure you're always honest with your partner, and support each other, you'll start to experience just how beautiful an interdependent relationship really is. Having and being a trustworthy partner is a priceless gift you can become for each other. And you'll feel good about yourself too.

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