Do You Keep Your Word in Your Marriage?

Husband and wife sitting on the couch together


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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 threatened. 

When you don't keep your word in a relationship, it can impair trust and communication. When your partner finds they cannot depend on you to follow through on your promises, they may stop turning to you for support. This can erode intimacy and connection, which can ultimately threaten the future of your relationship.

Why It's Important to Keep Your Word

There are many reasons why following through on your promises is critical. Keeping your word helps improve:

  • Accountability: Keeping your promises shows that you hold yourself accountable to stick to a plan and follow through.
  • Credibility: Showing up for others, doing what you say you will, and being dependable are essential for creating personal credibility.
  • Respect: Keeping your word not only shows that you respect other people, it helps improve their respect for you.
  • Trust: Finally, dependability is essential to developing a trusting relationship.

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 they aren't worth the effort, and it probably makes you feel bad too.

Why People Don't Keep Their Word

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.

Difficulty Depending on Others

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

Chaotic Upbringing

Another reason interdependency may be difficult for some people is that they were raised in a chaotic household. There was no consistency and a poor (or no) model of a mature marriage was all that was available, so they may not fully understand the nuances of what it means to be able to count on each other.

Inability to Say No

Some 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.

Control Issues

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. To stop feeling like they're being controlled, they just don't do what they said they would.


Problems depending on others, early experiences, trouble saying no, and control issues are just a few reasons why people may struggle to keep their word.

What Happens When You Don't Keep Your Word

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 means your partner will lose trust in you, damaging your marriage and leaving 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 upheld their integrity and stayed true to their word. They were people who could be counted on no matter what.

How to Keep Your Word

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

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

Be Honest

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 make promises you can't keep. Again, be honest about your reasons.

Don't Make Excuses

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.

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.

Combat Forgetfulness

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.

Be Considerate

Think about how it feels to you when someone doesn't come through for you or keep their promise. Think about how every time the person does this, your disappointment and trust in them deteriorate more. Is that the kind of person you want to be? Put yourself in your spouse's shoes.

Dig Deeper

Explore and understand why you don't keep your word:

  • Do you need counseling to work through some childhood problems? 
  • Do you possibly need treatment for ADHD or some other mental health concern?
  • Is there another, perhaps more profound, problem in your marriage that you're handling by being passive-aggressive?

Give Yourself Some Grace

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 must 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.


If you're trying to be better about keeping your word, you can: be honest, avoid making excuses, try to remember, consider other people, and address personal issues. When the unavoidable interferes with your ability to follow through, give yourself a break and try to do better next time.

Making Positive Change

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 and relationship as well.

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 you are still struggling to keep your word, or if past let-downs have eroded the trust in your relationship, it might be time to seek professional help.

Talking to a couples therapist can be a great way to understand your issues and explore new ways to rebuild trust and intimacy in your relationship. A therapist can also help you explore why you don't keep your promises and what you can do to get back on track.

A Word From Verywell

Don't expect to change overnight, but if you keep working at keeping your promises and address any of the potential issues noted above, make sure you're always honest with your partner and supporting each other. That's when you'll start to experience just how beautiful an interdependent relationship can be.

Having and being a trustworthy partner is a priceless gift you can give each other. And you'll feel good about yourself, too.

9 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Sheri Stritof
Sheri Stritof has written about marriage and relationships for 20+ years. She's the co-author of The Everything Great Marriage Book.