Reasons 3, 4, & 5 of the 5 Reasons Agreements Fail

Two stylized hands clasping, forming a heart. Copyright-free symbol designed by Ravi Poovaiah, Professor, IDC, IIT Bombay.This entry in my Agreements Workbook Series (aka “KISSable Agreements) series, [UPDATE: purchase the whole workbook here for only $10!] comprises Reasons 3, 4, & 5 of the Five Reasons (Most) Agreements Fail. Find out below what to do when you and your partner/s have differing interpretations of the Agreement, or there isn’t something new to do in place of an old behavior, or if you just shouldn’t have made that Agreement in the first place.

Questions or comments?  As always, feel free to comment below, contact me here, or on my Facebook Page, Love Outside The Box!

~♥ Dawn

PS: It’s after Valentine’s Day… but you can still get my Valentine’s Day coaching discounts. 🙂  Hurry though, since they’re going away at the end of February!

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3) Differing Interpretations of the Agreement

Sometimes you think you have an Agreement, but you really don’t. It’s like the classic situation portrayed so ably in Woody Allen’s 1977 film, Annie Hall. [see Figure, below]

Fig. ___
Alvy [Woody Allen’s character] and Annie [Hall]  are seeing their therapists at the same time on a split screen
Therapist: How often do you sleep together? Therapist: Do you have sex often?
Alvy Singer: [lamenting] Hardly ever. Maybe three times a week. Annie Hall: [annoyed] Constantly. I’d say three times a week.
—Woody Allen, in Annie Hall (1977). From IMDB “Memorable Quotes,” 2/11/13

Sometimes you’re even using the same words, but to each person they mean slightly (or radically!) different things. Perhaps you’ve found one of your ambiguous terms (see Tip #2a), or perhaps you and your Agreement Partner have different Secret Rulebook entries [see RelationDancing: Consciously Creating What You Really Want In Your Relating, by Mark Michael Lewis] Whatever the case, these sorts of fundamental misunderstandings do sometimes occur, even when everyone’s doing their best.

What to do?

Again, the action to take is most likely to revisit the Agreement, renegotiate it with the new information, and possibly clarify or change the wording. Other things that might be helpful are practicing compassion, assuming positive intent (and/or good faith), and remembering that different is not necessarily better/worse.

4) Agreement Was Not Additive

Remember that in Tip #3 (Make Additive Agreements) we discussed creating Agreements that gave new behavioral options when encountering old situations. So rather than agreeing to “stop spending too much money on your other partner/s,” you might wish to agree to “only spend $x on each partner per month.” The second option gives a concrete alternative to the behavior that’s being changed. Failing to provide a replacement behavior is one of the main reasons for an Agreement to fail, in large part because humans are creatures of habit, and habits are notoriously hard to break, once formed [].

What to do?

By now, you know the refrain!  Go back to your Agreements with the new knowledge.  What sort of replacement behavior might work for this situation? Perhaps you need several options? (Remember to make the Agreements KISSable, though!) And remember that everyone involved needs to own their part of the Agreement. Scapegoating isn’t additive, either.

5) Agreement Simply Can’t Work

Sometimes, even if you’ve tried as hard as you can, checked all the assumptions, looked at all the options, reviewed and brainstormed, and generally done everything in your power… sometimes you discover that there’s some reason that the Agreement simply cannot work. Maybe there’s a pre-existing commitment standing in the way.  Maybe you were trying an experiment, and you’ve discovered something new that tells you it just isn’t going to work. Maybe it’s just more effort than you’re willing or able to put in, for not enough return.  Whatever the reason, sometimes, you just can’t.

What to do?

So what happens then? First and foremost, practice compassion. Finding out that an Agreement can’t work is a piece of data.  It might have been a mistake, it might have been a failed experiment, but in any case,  an Agreement that can’t work isn’t a judgment on any party to the Agreement, nor is it necessarily an indication of moral failure, nor the imminent demise of the relationship.  People make mistakes.  Sometimes people make big mistakes.  Remember that mistakes are part of learning.  Have some compassion for yourself and your partner/s, take a breath, and don’t panic.

Oops! Road signNext, do what you always do for a broken Agreement, just on a slightly bigger scale. A small amount of tweaking won’t fix this one, unfortunately.  Is there a different Agreement, or set of Agreements, that you can make? Do you need the help of a mediator, a counselor, or a physician? Evaluate the situation as clearly and calmly as possible, and see if there are clear next steps.

Sometimes those next steps might mean writing new Agreements… and sometimes they might mean changing the form of the relationship.  If you suspect that there’s something in need of fundamental change in your relationship, you might want to consult Appendix C (Is It Over?), or check with a counselor, therapist, or mediator (see the suggested Resources.)  In any case, remember that just because an Agreement or a relationship needs to change or end, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s a failure… it could mean that you’re ready for graduation [ref Richard Bach.]

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[© 2013 Dawn M. Davidson]

Note that these entries are all rough drafts, and thus are probably missing things like references. If you know the perfect reference to add, feel free to suggest it! I always like to add to my resource collection.


[Previous Entry: Reasons 1 & 2 of the Five Reasons Agreements Fail]

[Return to the Table of Contents for the Agreements Workbook Series]

[Return to the first text entry in the Agreements Workbook series]

[UPDATE: purchase the whole workbook here for only $10!]


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One thought on “Reasons 3, 4, & 5 of the 5 Reasons Agreements Fail

  1. Pingback: Reasons 1&2 of the Five Reasons Agreements Fail — Uncharted Love

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