Healing Broken Agreements

Trust is often taken for granted. We rely on trust as the foundation for every relationship.

Consider the power of trust and the necessity of making, and keeping, agreements.

When I ask my wife, Christie, if she will pick up a prescription from the drug store, my very well-being is reliant on her keeping this agreement. There are many lesser important agreements made every day, such as her request of me to make a phone call to the renters of a house we own. In each moment, we are counting on the other to do what they say they will do.

What if, however, she forgets to pick up the prescription for me? What if I forget to make the phone call to the renter? In each case our lives are temporarily thrown into a bit of chaos. Who will go and get the prescription now? What will be the impact of failing to call the renters? The result is not only temporary chaos, but more important, a loss of trust.

Now let’s up the ante. What if agreements are broken regularly, both on unimportant and important matters? What if your mate is unreliable? What is the impact on the marriage? Listen to Andrea tell her story.

“I couldn’t rely on my husband, Greg. He would make promises he didn’t keep. I found myself begging him to set certain limits and he just wouldn’t do it. He made promises to follow guidelines we had agreed upon and then failed to keep them. I have growing resentment. I am so distrusting now that it has impacted our intimacy and closeness.”

Andrea’s story is the story I hear every day. Agreements made and broken. One mate pleading with the other to keep agreements, and each broken agreement leads to the erosion of the sanctity of the marriage.

Consider what the Word of God says about agreements:

“If a man vows a vow to the Lord, or swears an oath to bind himself by a pledge, he shall not break his word. He shall do all that proceeds out of his mouth.” (Numbers 30: 2)

Agreements are sacred oaths and must be kept. What should happen if agreements are broken? How can one restore the relationship and begin the process of rebuilding trust? Consider these action steps—The 3 A’s of healing broken agreements:

First, apologize sincerely. There is little else more meaningful than a heartfelt apology. We all know the difference between a superficial, ‘I’m sorry’ and a sorrowful apology that comes from the heart. When one is truly sorry, their entire countenance will reflect that sorrow. Our sorrow changes us and makes us want to keep agreements in the future.

Second, accept responsibility. It is not enough to say, ‘I’m sorry,’ as important as that is. The violator of the agreement must accept full responsibility for the damage done by the broken agreement. A broken agreement creates a ripple effect of damage and the one violating the agreement must speak fully to that impact.

For example, when I failed to call the renters my apology sounded like this:

“Christie, I’m sorry for failing to call the renters. I know you counted on me to do that and I have put you out. This causes you distress and I will repair the situation immediately.”

Third, make appropriate amends. Scripture speaks repeatedly about the importance of restitution for damage done. If someone violates an agreement repeatedly, there are greater degrees of damage that will require greater acts of restoration. The one who has been violated will be the one to determine if an act of restoration is sufficient to repair the damage.

Finally, between the time of the violation and the act of restoration, there should be a temporary brokenness in the relationship. While a time of emotional separation may seem harsh to some, boundaries without consequences are not boundaries, but only wishes and complaints. Complaints yield little more than growing resentment. Boundaries must have some teeth to them. So, for a time life cannot continue ‘as normal.’ Rather, the relationship is ‘on hold’ until remorse, repentance and restoration have taken place.

How might this sound?

“Greg. I love you very much, but your repeated failure to keep your agreements has created chaos in our marriage. I cannot be in fellowship with you until you have taken full responsibility for how you have repeatedly harmed me. I cannot pretend that things are okay when they are not. You made agreements with me and I expect you to keep them. When you don’t, it causes me not to trust you. Please reflect on how you can take responsibility for the broken agreement and how you might make amends. I look forward to being back in fellowship and right relationship with you.”

Again, I realize that these are hard words to hear. However, if you don’t have clear boundaries with clear consequences, you will live in chaos. This is an unhealthy place to be, but these guidelines offer hope and healing for your marriage.

If you are struggling with broken agreements in your marriage, we’d like to hear from you. Please read more about strategies for healing past wounds and explore more about my Marriage Intensives here. Send comments to Info@marriagerecoverycenter.com.