When Agreements Fail: Competency

Two stylized hands clasping, forming a heart. Copyright-free symbol designed by Ravi Poovaiah, Professor, IDC, IIT Bombay.This entry from my Agreements Workbook (aka “KISSable Agreements”) series begins the new section on “When Agreements Fail.” Before we can get to the 5 Reasons, we first need to discuss some caveats and assumptions. In this entry we cover issues of “competency,” such as “are all the parties to the Agreement adults, and ‘of sound mind’ at the time of making the Agreement?” There are more such warnings and assumptions as well, and I’ll cover those in the next post, starting with “Good Faith Efforts.”

Questions or comments about any of these Agreements Workbook entries?  Feel free to comment below, contact me here, or on my FB Page, Love Outside The Box!

~♥ Dawn

PS:  My daughter turns 16 today!  Oh my!

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When Agreements Fail

So here you are.  You’ve worked through all of that stuff above, and you’ve made an Agreement. That’s great! Having an agreement is a good thing. Unfortunately, the reality is that at some point it will likely fail. This in and of itself is not necessarily a bad or tragic thing.  It just is. Agreements are iterative, which means that it is normal to engage in “trial and refinement.” Often, all that needs to happen is a slight adjustment, a little re-negotiation, and you’re back in business.  However, there are a number of caveats and assumptions that must be considered first.

Caveats and assumptions

In order to make successful Agreements several very important conditions must be met.  (NOTE: Determining whether you and/or your partners fall into many of these categories is beyond the scope of this book.  A number of resources exist, both generally, and within the poly community, to assist you in finding additional resources, should you need them. See the “Resources” section.)


Each person making the Agreement must be competent to make that Agreement. So what does that mean? In short, that means they must be mentally, psychologically, and emotionally fit to make the Agreement at the time that it is made.

Mental capacity, aka intelligence

Some people, such as children, or those with significant mental and/or developmental impairments, cannot make Agreements because they just can’t understand what the Agreements mean. The good news is that most of the people with whom you, the reader of this book, will be dealing with do not fall into this category. This is because “approximately 98 percent of the population functions intellectually at a higher level than someone who is at the Mild (IQ of 50-70) range of retardation.” [ref]  So the high likelihood is that, so long as both/all partners are adults of at least “normal” intelligence, that they will be capable of understanding the Agreements.

Mental Health

Some folks cannot make and/or keep Agreements because they are not mentally healthy enough to do so. Folks in this category might be people suffering from certain kinds of mental conditions, ranging from simple “dementia” that affects the memory, to people on certain medications (ditto), to folks with long-term, intractable and diagnosable conditions such as severe and/or untreated mental disorders.  Please note that in some cases proper medication and/or treatment may make it possible for people with some of these conditions to make and keep functional Agreements.  But if you’ve been trying to make Agreements, have looked at all of the Five Reasons, and nothing seems to fit or to help… it might be time to ask whether one of these other conditions might be standing in the way.



It should probably go without saying that negotiating Agreements while mentally impaired due to chemicals, lack of sleep, or other temporary conditions is a very bad plan. Unfortunately, even I (who really ought to have known better!) have made the mistake of attempting to RE-negotiate a boundary while under less than completely sober conditions, so I’m going to say it again anyway: Do not negotiate or renegotiate any Agreement if you’re not reasonably well-rested, sober, alert, and able to focus on the task at hand. Attempting to make or re-negotiate an Agreement when you’re under the influence of chemicals (or lacking ones that you usually take!), sleep-deprived, or otherwise impaired is very risky indeed, and will often result in Agreements that fail on one or several of the Five Reasons (especially Reasons #1 and #5.)

This is analogous to the 12-Step Program acronym HALT, which reminds people to try to stay out of situations where they are Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired, because otherwise, they’ll be at high risk of falling into patterns they’re trying to break. And if they do find themselves in those situations, they’re advised to get help in keeping their commitments to themselves. The same is true for any Agreements, not just your own promises to yourself, of course. HALT until you have fixed any of those conditions, and until you’re not under the influence of other mind-altering things, before you attempt make or renegotiate an Agreement.

[We’ll pick up with the section on “Good Faith Efforts” next.]

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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.

[Next Entry: Agreements: Good Faith Efforts (2 of 3 on Caveats and Assumptions)]

[Related Entry: Is It Over? (Agreements Appendix C)]

[Previous Entry: Check In and Re-negotiate [Agreements Tip #10 ]

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

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

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Click here to get personalized help with your own Agreements!

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3 thoughts on “When Agreements Fail: Competency

  1. Pingback: Dawn Davidson's Five Reasons Agreements Fail - Loving More Nonprofit

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