The Art of Making and Keeping Agreements

“Like litter on the side of the highway, most unhappy relationships are strewn with broken agreements in all shapes and forms,” said Charlotte Kasl, Ph.D., author of A Home for the Heart. From canceling dates at the last minute to “forgetting” to do something we said we would do, broken agreements cause an erosion of trust, the basic foundation of any relationship. 

Giving our word and standing by it and being steadfast and reliable in our affairs are measures by which we judge commitment and integrity. For this reason, agreements—both spoken and implied—should be given thoughtful and careful attention. 

Consider Chris. Again and again he promised to come home early enough to share dinner with his family. And night after night, either he called to say he couldn’t make dinner after all, or he simply didn’t show until long after the dinner was ruined and the family was hungry and disappointed. 

Or Tina. She and her husband had an agreement that she wouldn’t make any additional charges on their over-burdened credit cards. But every month, the bills arrived, fat with new charges and higher-than-ever balances. 

In confidence, Diane told Judy about a problem. What an awkward surprise when Gayle, a mutual friend, asked Diane how she was coping with her difficulty.

In each of these instances, an agreement was broken and a trust betrayed. Everyone involved was tarnished by the experience—those to whom agreements were made, and those who made, and broke, the agreement.  

Making and keeping agreements requires that we are honest and that we intend to carry through. Thoughtful and careful agreements require that we listen to our inner voices and pay attention to our bodies for clues to our feelings about the promises we make. 

Whenever we make an agreement we need to ask ourselves: 

  • Is this a pledge I really want to make?
  • Is it realistic for me at this time?
  • What will it take or what will I have to do to keep the agreement? 

Some agreements are implied and ongoing. For example, the unspoken pacts of friendship might include maintaining or initiating contact, keeping confidences and talking about problems. In some cases, it may help to discuss expectations and needs. 

Sometimes, no matter how careful we are, we make an agreement we regret. Our schedules are dangerously overbooked or something that sounded good at first doesn’t feel right now. (Again, it’s important to pay attention to our inner voices and our bodies.) It’s better to call and make changes as soon as possible, rather than wait until the last minute or, worse, simply not show up. It’s important to tell the truth, too. Fake excuses and white lies don’t hold up under the straight beam of integrity’s light. 

The art of thoughtful and careful agreement-making is a learned skill. Broken promises and unfulfilled commitments may be as ubiquitous as the shards of ceramic that surround an apprentice potter. Still, we turn back to the wheel of our intentions, and begin again. Making and keeping agreements is a way of maintaining balance and showing our love and respect for others as well as for ourselves.

Author’s content used under license, © 2008 Claire Communications
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