Broken Promises Ended My Marriage—Can Keeping Them Save Yours?

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broken glass

I break promises.

I break promises, and then other people sometimes feel let down or betrayed, and then maybe I never talk to them again.

Break enough promises and maybe your entire life breaks.

Maybe you lose a wife. Maybe you lose friends. Maybe you lose touch with your family.

Just maybe, if you break too many promises, you lose your children.

I am divorced because I broke promises. I lost half of my son’s childhood because I broke promises.

I’ve known for a long time that I break promises, even though I remember feeling like a reliable person in my youth. I remember feeling as if I was someone others could count on.

I remember being someone people could trust.

But when enough time passes and enough instances pile up of us not doing something we said we would, a new narrative begins to form.

I am not someone who keeps his word.

I am unreliable.

I can’t be trusted.

But, it’s not as if you discuss this personal shortcoming with others.

I mean, you’re not walking into job interviews proclaiming how unreliable you are or listing on your work resume all of the moments in which you let others down. You want the job.

You’re not telling a group of peers ridiculing something that you actually like whatever they’re mocking. You don’t want them to not like or mock you.

You’re not communicating to someone you want to date or marry that you’re not trustworthy. You don’t want them to leave you.


Shameless Self-Promotion Note About My Coaching Services

I started coaching in 2019. Clients and I work collaboratively through current and past relationship stuff in order to improve existing relationships or to prepare for future ones. Other clients are trying to find themselves after divorce or a painful breakup. We talk by phone or video conference. People like it. Or at least they fake it really well by continuing to schedule future coaching calls and give me more money. If you’re going through something and think I might be able to help, it’s really easy to find out for sure. Learn More Here.


If I tell you something and it turned out not to be true, did I lie to you?

That’s nuanced, right?

To me, a lie is something said to deliberately mislead, deceive, or conceal truth in ways that protect or benefit you at the expense of other people ultimately being hurt by the deception.

By that definition, I am not a liar. I don’t plot mistruths in an effort to hurt others. Never.

But, do I say things that sometimes end up not being true because I didn’t follow through with a promise, or because things outside of my control prevented me from keeping the commitment? Absolutely.

Whether I lied or not, or whether I intended to keep a promise and was a victim of circumstance, the fact remains that I promised something that never got delivered.

Sometimes that leads to a shrug, easy forgiveness, understanding, and a time extension to try again. Another chance to make it right.

And then other times, your wife takes off her wedding ring, packs a suitcase, and drives your 4-year-old son away to be with someone else.

Broken Promises and the Stories We Believe

prom·ise /ˈpräməs/ (noun) – a statement telling someone that you will definitely do something, or that something will certainly happen in the future.

I’m the captain of the ADHD Squad. My capacity for calendar mismanagement and task-list forgetfulness exceeds the boundaries of known anthropology.

Because of this, I’ve believed myself to be unreliable for so long that it’s seeped into my bones and psyche so much that it’s almost like I believe it now: I am unreliable.

I too often don’t do what I say I will. (Has anyone seen my book yet? Exactly. I’m an asshole.)

I believe these things about me because they fit the narrative of why I’m a single, divorced 39-year-old who is a little bit disappointed with his life on various levels.

Being the kind of person who breaks promises or fails to complete goals is a massive disappointment.

Sometimes I’m afraid of pursuing jobs with more responsibility because I’m afraid I might not be responsible or reliable enough to excel with a larger accountability load and higher stakes.

Sometimes I’m afraid to pursue a speaking and writing career because I’m afraid without the structure of a quasi-formal work environment, I won’t be disciplined enough to do all of the work day in and day out that I believe successful entrepreneurism requires.

Sometimes I’m afraid to pursue relationships because no matter how much work I’ve done to understand and attempt to help others understand what causes marriages and human relationships of all types to break, I’m not confident that I’m built with the right materials to be someone’s husband.

I’m afraid to have my life fall apart again after experiencing the brutality of divorce five years ago.

I’m afraid to hurt someone else again.

I’m afraid of it negatively impacting my son.

I’m afraid of being a dude who writes about relationships, but then sucks at actually being in them.

I’m afraid of a lot of things, but almost all of them are rooted in the fear of not being up to the task—of being in over my head.

Maybe I’m not tall enough, you know? All those online-dating profiles five years ago suggested as much.

Maybe I’m not good enough.

If I was, she would have never left and napalmed our lives like that.

We believe these fear-based negative stories about ourselves in our weakest moments. When our fragile brains and emotions are getting the best of us.

Maybe there was a young black kid who grew up watching TV and in doing so, mostly saw only white people in those stories on TV.

Like Santa Claus. Looks white.

Even Middle-Eastern Jesus looks white.

Forty-three of the 44 U.S. presidents have been white.

Maybe the company owner where mom or dad worked was white.

And maybe, if she or he has a brain that worked like mine did, maybe they felt different around anything unfamiliar.

Maybe when you tell yourself negative stories like that, a bunch of bad things happen—or rather, a bunch of good things DON’T happen because of all of things we never try.

I went through thoughts like that, and I was just some little sheltered kid in a small town in Ohio surrounded by farm fields for several miles. Relatively charmed, compared to many other children.

What we believe is EVERYTHING. It doesn’t even matter whether it’s true. If we believe it, we experience it as real, and one way or another, it will affect our lives.

Of course there are gay kids feeling “wrong” or “bad” or “broken” if they grew up seeing and hearing others saying that they were.

Of course there are kids growing up in various religious faiths or ideologies who feel confused, conflicted, and guilty when they hear that things they think or do will damn them to hell.

Of course there are kids growing up who feel self-righteous, judgmental, or superior to others because everything they were ever taught from their earliest memories until right this moment is that everything THEY believe and do is “correct” and “right” and “better,” and everyone who disagrees is incorrect—and possibly a threat. Or an enemy. Or evil.

We see it all of the time in politics.

And in racial division.

And gender battles.

And lifestyle choices.

And too many other things.

Whether we believe we’re wrong and broken—or THEY are—we always have a fundamental breakdown whenever the thought exists: That person is not like me, followed by feelings of either inferiority OR superiority.

Why does it seem like there’s so much wrong with the world?

Almost all of it can be traced back to that.

  • What I believe is right and true.
  • What they believe is wrong and false.
  • We are opponents with competing interests, and the right and true side must win at all costs.

People who believe that are capable of anything.

Even mass murder, if they believe they’re serving the “greater good” by doing so.

The sheer power of our beliefs about ourselves (and others) can’t be calculated.

Maybe You Break Promises Too (And Maybe It’s More Damaging Than You Realize)

I had the recent pleasure of connecting with someone at an Ohio non-profit organization facilitating a social movement called Because I said I would.

The organization is dedicated to the betterment of humanity by educating people on the power of making and keeping promises.

It took me all of five minutes in learning about their organization’s mission to connect the work they’re doing with the social crisis we have with marriage failure rates, and the untold fallout stories and trickle-down effects of those failures.

Speaking at TEDx a few years ago, Alex Sheen, founder of Because I said I would, identified marriage, along with political promises and New Years’ resolutions as prime examples of how humans commonly suck at keeping promises.

Marriage involves making promises. Half of them fail.

New Years’ resolutions are made by 40 percent of people (that’s, like, 3 billion people), according to the Journal of Clinical Psychology. Only 8 percent of the people who make resolutions, follow through with them.

Politicians make promises when running for office, and while in office. According to PolitiFact (at the time of Sheen’s TEDx talk three years ago), fewer than half of all publically stated promises made by U.S. leaders of either political party were kept.

The people we entrust to protect us from violent enemies and keep society from descending into dangerous lawlessness and economic collapse—they fail to do what they say they will more than half of the time. Yet, we all allow them to take 25 percent to 50 percent of all the money we earn. Which is insane, when you think about it.

Everyone is Unreliable—You’re Not Alone

Sheen does a great job during his TEDx talk of diving into the art and science of promise-making, and if you take the 18-minute journey with him, it won’t take long for you to also see the wisdom and CRITICAL IMPORTANCE in his message.

This isn’t a small problem—this It’s-Common-to-Break-Promises,-So-Whatever thing we have going on.

It strikes at the heart of all that’s broken and fucked in our lives and world.

We break promises on the reg. And it’s a huge problem because of how many other things break when our promises are.

People suck at keeping promises.

But, why?

A few reasons, Sheen says.

  1. We say A LOT of words every day. (Statistically speaking, about 15,942 words per day.)
  2. It has become routine for people to say things like “Oh yeah, I’ll do that,” or “Sure, I’ll be there,” or “I promise,” or “Always,” or “Never.”
  3. We have shitty memories. (Note: Sheen did not use the word “shitty,” I don’t think. He seems more mature than I am.)

Mark Manson—one of my favorite writers because he’s awesome—was the first person I heard or read say what Sheen is saying here: Our memories, beliefs and opinions are NOT reliable. You’re mathematically LIKELY to have some key detail wrong in your memory of an event.

You really can’t trust yourself. Seriously.

It’s really Step 1 on the journey to becoming less of an asshole in life and relationships.

How bad are our memories?

U.S. readers: How many times would you guess you’ve seen a nickel (the five-cent coin)?

Hundreds of times in your life? Maybe thousands?

Sheen asks: “Can you tell me what a nickel looks like?”

  • Which way is the face pointing?
  • Where is the year marked on the coin?
  • What’s depicted on the back?
  • How many windows are on the building?
  • Is there even a building?

If you’re anything like me, you know precisely dick about nickels beyond Thomas Jefferson, their relative thickness, and silver color.

And why is that?

Because we’re human and there’s no getting out of it, and part of that package is that you overestimate your ability to remember things, to get facts straight, and even interpret the intentions of the people you love the most and know the best.

Sheen goes on to talk about “flash-bulb memories.” These are those significant moments that we remember best because there is often so much emotion attached to them. Humans have been documented to retain the most information about these flash-bulb moments.

One study interviewed a group of students in the aftermath of the NASA space shuttle “Challenger” explosion shortly after lift-off. Each student was asked seven questions.

Then two and a half years later, those same students were asked those identical questions.

Half of the study’s participants got two out of seven answers correct by remembering the incident accurately, and 25 percent answered incorrectly on all seven questions.

Conclusion: We have terrible memories whether we believe it or not, and whether we want to admit it or not.

So, What if We Owned That and Accounted for It?

My favorite part of Sheen’s talk involved him posing his hypothesis he intentionally mislabels The Two-People Theorem.

“We almost look like two different people with a promise,” Sheen said. “We’re going to be there for someone who needs us. We’re going to stay passionate. We’re going to do what is right. We’re going to stay committed.

“Then, what happens?”

Hedonic adaptation happens—that’s what. And that’s why many people struggle to stay happy in life and relationships.

But I’m kind of putting words in Sheen’s mouth and shouldn’t be.

“That emotion completely fades,” he said. “If you could step away from the situation and just observe it—it’s like you’re crazy. It’s weird.”

Like we’re two entirely different people, he said.

“One person wants to make this promise,” he said. “The other doesn’t want to show up.”

Sound familiar, married people?

How to Overcome the Promise-Breaking, Marriage-Ending Two-People Theorem 

Sheen then offers an awesome analogy involving zombies, and zombies make analogies better just like they made Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice better. (Probably not true.)

If you discovered that a toxin had been pumped into the air that would turn you into a zombie 24 hours from now—and that you would remain a zombie for 24 hours before reverting back to your normal self—what would you do?

Most responses are the same, Sheen said.

Most of us would go home and warn loved ones to get away and keep away from us until it was safe to return. Most of us would find a way to lock ourselves up in a way that we couldn’t harm others or ourselves.

“You chain yourself,” Sheen said. “What you’re doing is forecasting your own weakness and taking preventative actions to prevent yourself from hurting others.

“Why don’t we do this in real life? Are you telling me we don’t become two different people?”

Sheen and the team at Because I said I would have made it their mission to help people “chain themselves” and “forecast their own weaknesses” and ultimately “take preventative actions to prevent yourself from hurting others.”

What we’re doing is making a plan, just like we would if we were going to do a 24-hour stint as an animated brain-eating corpse.

“Humans have a very horrible perception of time. How much time it takes to complete the four steps to fulfill a commitment,” Sheen said.

Sheen hates the phrase: “You need to make the time for what’s important in life.”

“Time cannot be made. It can only be reserved,” he said. “It can only be adjusted. Not many people take their schedule and put each little step in a promise on it to ensure they’re following a sequence that hits a certain date to fulfill a promise. We normally just say it, and that’s a problem.”

If you want to be good at keeping promises, you have to think through these things, he said.

Awareness. Mindfulness.

“Be careful with your word choice,” Sheen said. “Write those promises down. Create motivators that chain you to your promise so when you’re at your weakest moment, you know you can still do something right. Create a plan.

“Fulfill your promise.”

Not unlike many of the ideas I like to discuss here, it’s an idea that comes off dangerously simple.

Of course we should keep our promises! Duh!

Yeah, but maybe things we say thoughtlessly or otherwise feel like promises to the people who matter to us most, and maybe when we fail to follow through on those promises, we damage the hearts and minds of those we love and the integrity of our relationship with them.

Maybe we slowly erode others’ trust in us without ever realizing the hurt they feel from promises unkept that we forgot about long ago.

“That’s what we need in this world. People who are reliable. Who fulfill their promises,” Sheen said.

Just maybe, if I learn how to forecast my weaknesses and plan accordingly, I’ll be able to start telling myself different stories.

Just maybe, I’ll get a little bit taller.

Just maybe, an idea we’ve been aware of since our earliest memories—the importance of keeping our promises—is the key to saving human relationships.

It’s the most deceptively simple ideas that destroy us.

Just maybe, it’s the most deceptively simple ideas that will save us.

Check out this group. Because I said I would. They’re awesome. Order some Promise Cards (they’ll ship 10 for free to anyone who asks anywhere in the world).

Be more mindful of the words you say among the nearly 16,000 you’ll speak today. And if you tell someone you’ll do something, do it.

Because if we can collectively find a way to simply do the things we’ve promised, we just might save the world.

22 thoughts on “Broken Promises Ended My Marriage—Can Keeping Them Save Yours?”

  1. So much of this article resonates with me, I’m not sure where to begin. Other than being a father, you might be my doppelgänger; helping others with advice on relationships but being shitty with my own? Check. ADHD? Check. A litany of broken promises that helped end my marriage? The list goes on.

    Thank you very, very much for your blog, and writing without a safety net – I really appreciate the advice, and will definitely check out Because I Said I Would. You have a new rabid fan.

    P.S. Write your book.

  2. Osvaldo Emilio Pereira

    The promises you reference run both ways. Your wife also made wedding vows. Those marriage vows entailed not jettisoning an imperfect husband, but being patient, forbearing, long-suffering. If you apply the standard you apply to yourself to your wife, would she have made the grade? If you excuse her walking away from your marriage, with the myriad of impacts that has had for you, for your son, what does that say about relationships more broadly? Are they all just conditional commitments to be broken if our personal happiness is not sufficiently maintained throughout life’s journey? At what point do we each have the right to just call it a day and walk away? And what does it mean to be in a committed relationship where you know someone, when the times get tough, has the ability and inclination to exercise that option to walk? What about cancer, job loss, depression? Is the lesson here that when you fall short, or are needy, or stumble, you are to be judged and discarded? And if that’s right, then what in the world is the point of marriage or any committed relationship?

    Your post reeks of the self-flagellation of grief. I know because I have lived it. I own my mistakes, and am not blind to them. I spent years lambasting and excoriating my shortcomings. But you need to have equal and symmetric honesty about your wife’s role in the dissolution of your marriage and her own shortcomings. Your posts are one long eulogy to the end of your marriage, and they dissolve worryingly into a self-abasement and reproach that seem unbalanced. Working out your grief is your prerogative and right, but have you considered what effect your writing might have on men who find themselves in the throes of similar despair? Is your perspective healthy, balanced, rational? Would an objective stranger witnessing your marriage have been as harsh a critic of your failings, or as absolutely mute on your wife’s contributions to your marriage ending? I have never read one word written by you about what your wife did to cause the relationship to end. Perhaps your focus is on yourself, and you do not wish to drag her into the dissection of your own shortcomings. But again, think about what that silence means to the male readers of your blog. It’s not healthy, it’s not balanced, it’s not fair. Stop beating yourself up.

    I have never read whether you have moved on with your life. Are you seeing someone else, have you found new love? Doing that sheds enormous light on your previous relationship, in a way that masochistically replaying your own failings never can. It’s truly liberating to love, and be loved, and to find that all the things that made you impossible for your wife to accept, someone else might be willing to love you for — not despite these qualities, but because of them. And in that revelation perhaps you will find that assigning blame endlessly to yourself (or to her, which is the equally erroneous approach others take) is just simply misguided. Perhaps you two were just a very bad match, and you are both better off apart without either of you having to take the blame for the grief you feel at the inability of the one person you absolutely, desperately needed to love you choosing to walk away instead.

    I’m not writing to reproach you, but out of concern. Your grief rips my heart open when I read it, and I see so much of my own suffering reflected in your words. But this grief is caricaturing reality. No relationship can be as lopsided as the one you portray. And that absence of balance hurts — not only yourself, but others who are wrestling with the same suffering. Please be kinder to yourself.

  3. leslidoares645321177

    I don’t disagree that keeping promises is key to keeping a marriage going. That is why there are marriage vows. We take vows but few realize what they are promising. When a couple understands and focuses on what they each need to do to love, honor, and cherish each other, it stands a chance of lasting. But most people think falling in love is all they need to do. That will never be enough. But each person is responsible for their own behavior and both contribute to a marriage’s demise. Maybe not to the same degree but in very few cases (abuse, etc) is it one person’s fault.

    (Still hoping to read that book :))

  4. Matt,
    I’m curious, what does forecasting weakness ‘s and planning according really mean? What does it look like?
    I agree that we should be careful with the things we commit to, but the list you made of the things you don’t commit to because youre afraid youre going to fail are based on the beliefs of your limitations. (As you noted.)
    Does forecasting your weakness mean avoiding meeting your limits?
    All the things you listed, taking steps towards them, can change your world. They can bring deeper meaning and more opportunity in your life.
    Risk is so important. Challenging your limits is so important.
    I would never say don’t do something you know you’ll fail at. I’d say do it, knowing you’ll fail and learn how to do better every time you get back up and get ready to fail again. Eventually you will succeed.
    …also, you don’t have to fulfill commitments alone. You can ask for help.

    I really do think the “two person theorem” is very valid. (That’s been me… and then, the other me..:) .) But it almost sounds like “forecasting and planning accordingly” means “don’t do anything you are not 100% sure of”…and that leaves about 98% of life out of the picture.

    I think it may take doing a few “small” things…having a few ” because I said I would” cards returned , that can help you tell yourself a different story. A story that reinforces you ability to be reliable. A reminder that you’ve done it before. That you are able.
    I’d love to see you make your dreams become a reality.

    I may be mis- understanding what is meant by forecasting and planning, but how I’m reading it – it sounds like it can be another reason not to try.
    Am I wrong?

    1. I hope my question didnt sound like I was saying what Alex Sheen was doing was wrong, or not smart or anything. ..It was just the “chain yourself up until it passes” thing had me a little leery. After all,you cant possibly know HOW you’ll change when the emotional part of the decision making/ promise making is gone, plus you have to take into account what part the decision plays into who you become, and how you change.

      Watched it. Have a better picture. ..*If forecasting means knowing your limitations, and planning means intervening so that those limitations arent as much of a factor then yes, by all means- chain yourself up. ..and bring the whips if youre into that sort of thing…(paa-haa..)

      1. I wasn’t avoiding the conversation because I thought you were being critical. You just asked a lot of questions there, and I’m not so awesome at tackling lots of questions right when I see comments (that first one came in while I was driving, for example).

        Then I forget because I’m me.

        Let me back up for a moment.

        I spend a lot of time writing about things that went wrong in my relationship, and trying to walk people through my self-reflections and thought processes, because I believe there are sometimes people who will read it and realize some of the same things that I did.

        I’ve long viewed myself as the guy in the 1960s trying to convince the 70-80 percent of adults who smoked (because they didn’t believe it was harmful or unhealthy) that smoking is bad for you.

        I’m convinced that MOST divorce happens because of actions one or both partners don’t recognize as Things That Can Give Your Marriage Cancer and Kill You Before You Have Time to Do Anything About It.

        I’m in the Awareness game. Helping people recognize and think about things they’ve previously not recognized or thought about.

        I spent more than 30 years never thinking about these things, and I believe THAT is why I ultimately ended up divorced. Just mindlessly doing shit that was a problem, but because I didn’t know it was a problem it didn’t seem reckless and negligent.

        People can’t forecast their weaknesses if they’re unaware of them.

        I try to make people aware of them, and I try to remind people that it’s okay that they have them. That they’re not alone. That we all share a lot of the sucky parts of humanity, and that there’s beauty and merit in trying to be better anyway.

        I don’t want people to experience hardship and rock-bottom before coming to some of the same conclusions I did. Maybe, if they read stuff that looks and feels and sounds like their lives, a little light will flash in their brains, and maybe some good things will happen after.

        Maybe. I don’t know.

        So, I feel like I do a fair job of saying “Hey guys, this thing matters, and you should be aware of it and pay attention to it. You’re in danger, and you don’t even know it.”


        I don’t do so well at providing resources or an action plan for what to do next.


        Because I don’t know, and I never try to pretend that I do.

        I think I know how two good people accidentally hurt each other so much that they’ll eventually divorce and probably mess up their kids a tiny bit. I want to talk about it because I don’t think enough people talk about it.

        But I don’t know anything about how to actually behave within a healthy and vibrant long-term romantic relationship.

        I can’t, with credibility, say “Do X, Y and Z, and your marriage will be rad.”

        I try hard to not be that guy.

        But THEN, I’m introduced to Alex Sheen’s co-founder at Because I said I would.

        She and I talk for a while, and I gain a deeper insight into, and appreciation for, how seriously the people there take the idea of DOING WHAT YOU SAY.

        It starts with avoiding thoughtless sentences. “Yeah, I’ll take care of that and get back to you,” followed by inaction.

        “I promise I’ll be home by 6 for dinner,” followed by being home at 6:07 because of traffic outside of their control.

        They take the specifics seriously. They don’t make promises they can’t keep or definitive statements they can’t be sure about because sometimes things outside of our control take place.

        You know, Life happens.

        And the group there knows that and accounts for it.

        They are serious (but not in a stodgy way) about helping people develop the habit of making and keeping promises.

        And it seems simple enough on the surface, but I have so much more to learn.

        1. Start small. Make promises and keep them.

        2. Build promise-keeping INTO your calendar. Account for the time it will take (and the unexpected Life stuff), and set aside time to DEDICATE to keeping whatever promise was made. From cleaning a bedroom, to calling an old friend, to volunteering at a local shelter, to finishing that big home-improvement project you’ve been talking about for years.

        As I’m hearing them talk about these things, it occurs to me that MOST people don’t think about the words they speak and the commitments they make (and break) with so much mindful intention as the Because I said I would people do.

        And then it occurs to me that if people were self-aware enough to “forecast their weakness” and committed enough to build a promise-keeping lifestyle with their partner (I’m talking about the “little things” here — chores, date nights, etc.), that the mere presence of this Promise-Keeping Lifestyle would eliminate the majority of the accidentally hurtful things that occur in the typical relationship, and eventually end them.

        In a nutshell, I perceive the deceptively simple message of Because I said I would to be a legitimate action that someone can take, or legitimate tool that someone can use to actively improve themselves, and by proxy, their relationships.

        I don’t know if I answered your questions, but I always like when people understand my reasons or motivations for whatever I said or did.

        Let me know whether any of that sounds legit to you.

        I appreciate you reading, and your interest in extending the conversation, PIP. I hope you’ll forgive me for my seemingly frequent inability to engage, or provide thorough responses.

        1. Thank you so much for your thorough and thoughtful response. Because I will never-in-a-hundred-years be as well thought out in my writing I will keep this extremely short.
          Thank you, I do profoundly appreciate who you are and what you are doing.
          I’ll read this again later and perhaps can comment more.

        2. Hi Matt,
          Yes it sounds very legit. ..and interesting.
          There’s a lot of mindfulness and integrity in a practice like that.
          Which I believe leads to a whole life.
          Personal confession: since I’ve had so many changes in the past year, I kind of went on auto pilot. Ive not been paying much attention in several areas of my life, and while I know continuing to not pay attention will end me in a place I don’t want to be, I’ve been working on being kind to myself and just allowing it to be for a while.
          But I have been recently reminded of how powerful just being mindful is.
          I’ve actually specifically been trying to slow down my agreeing to things. If someone asks me to do something on a particular date I will often say yes, while in the back of my mind I’m thinking “hmmm…the 23rd?…it feels like that date is important for some reason”.. it’s usually because I have an obligation that I’m only half excited about somewhere else.
          In that one example I’m not being mindful of my obligations and second I’m not being in integrity not only with a flimsy commitment, but also because I’m not choosing the things that are really “yes’s” for me. (Along with the changes comes a need to fill in any empty spots in my life, explore what’s out there, ect..leading me to waste a ton of my time.)
          I do absolutely see how this effects relationships of all sorts. And your likely right, if two people practiced this , then so many of the issues that crop up in a marriage wouldnt stand a chance.
          But, even outside of that- it is amazing how much different we view our own life when we take the time to be mindful of the choices we are making. When I caught a few moments of clarity it felt like being lifted out of mud almost. It reminded me of the C.S.Lewis quote about how we are content to make mud patties in the ghetto because we’ve never known a day at the beach.
          If we go our whole life on auto pilot we will never know how to exercise who we truly are in the world. We will never experience the things that truly bring us joy. We’ll always settle for what’s given instead of making what’s desired.
          We’ll never know a day at the beach.
          So, again yes- this is super legit and helpful in so many ways.
          Thanks for the reminder of the reminder 😉

  5. ladyinthemountains

    I was raised with the saying that my family does not break a promise. It was something my grandfather wrote on the back of a picture that my mother had of him. It has been a mantra for me. I do not break promises. I will not say that word unless I know I will do it. Otherwise, I will tell someone that I will try. This is one of the reasons I stayed in my marriage. I promised him for better and worse. I promised him in sickness and health. He broke his promises and walked out on me and my depression. One of the many promises he broke to me.
    Keep growing Matt. It is nice to see.

  6. You know Matt . .in as much as broken promises are detrimental to a host of interpersonal relationships the levels of those relationships has to factor . I admit my shittiness I admit that there are some things and times I don’t deliver I admit to not having a clue as to how that might sometimes affect another’s feelings . What I have learned over the years is how to prioritize the levels at which I am vigilant . In terms of my professional and social behavior I know what is generally required of me to maintain my reputation and will assess what I can successfully commit too. That requires and different type of focus than my marriage . In terms of my marriage I have disappointed and have been disappointed but in terms of focus I have to think less about what has been done wrong and more about what has been done right . We have kept our marital vows, we have had each other’s backs we raised our children with lockstep value systems we are prudent in our dealings with family and friends we treat each other with respect and dignity we have been to the brink at times and have always walked back hand in hand. Did I not do something that pissed Anne off ?,of course , has she made me lose my marbles over something she said she’d take care of but didn’t ? ,for sure , are we going to let those things fester ?, I can’t think of one in the last 34 years . Recently we returned from the west coast , Anne has a condition that we have been battling for the past 27 years , she’s been to 11 doctors from just about all the major clinics and university hospitals in the north east . She suffers. I made a vow to protect her to comfort her pain to keep her safe . In researching her condition I found and experimental treatment in Los Angeles , it’s not covered by medical insurance I retired from my career 8 years early to access my retirement account so I could pay for the treatment . It’s part of my promise an important promise . I ran for political office a few years ago and in so doing caused a rift with Anne’s side of the family , when the falsehoods and malicious maligning of my character started to come my way it was Anne that stepped in to put the nonsense right with her family . These are the things that matter , keeping score doesn’t and only perpetuates immaturity . I guess what really matters is adherence to the boundaries and deal breakers you both have set for the dynamic of your relationship . And going into your relationship with courage dignity and honor

    1. And I will add….take your time with the book. At your own pace. The out come will be so much better. The only one you promised is you.

  7. Another well articulated post. Reading this helped me realize my own broken promises to my husband which while he was being a shitty husband, also lead to me being a shitty wife. It is a vicious cycle and one that is hard to tell where it started and where it ended.

    But reading your post yesterday, and then realizing that there is a broken towel bar in my home that my husband broke (somehow) months ago. 2-3 maybe even 4 months ago. Until the day he broke it, I used it daily. Since he broke it, if I’ve asked about it, I’ve been told “I’ll do it on my next day off” and yet that “next day off” never comes for him. So the towel bar continues to sit in the corner of the bathroom. I continue to be able to not use it daily like I used to.

    That towel bar is a broken promise to me by my husband. One that isn’t very labor intensive for the repair either. It’s a further reminder to me of how broken our marriage has become (due to broken promises on both of our parts) and how unimportant things I ask him to do for me are to him.

    I’ll continue to watch for your next insightful post, Matt. But… Write your book please. I’d like to buy a copy.

    1. I wonder if you guys would benefit from taking a day off together to do some things around the house and to reconnect as a couple? My husband and I have had to do this sometimes…

      1. Julie – until very recently, we never had days off align with one another. Now he’s off Saturday and Sunday with me and the kids, but our marriage is so broken at this point we ignore one another or argue.

  8. Can I just add my exhortation for you to write your book. I’ve got a lot of help from your posts.. In fact I’ve made it a rule that when I’m feeling soooo hard done by and sooooo under-apreciated and ready to take a torch to everything I read one of your “open letters.” It invariably helps me get a better perspective, and grace and humility start to return.
    But… I’m thinking, surely you are not going to inhabit this space forever. Today you are “The guy who is X” whereas as presumably one day you are going to be “That guy who used to be X and is now Y” You’ve already written tonnes of content but maybe a book would nail it down – fortify something – be a springboard for the next season?
    Just some of my thoughts. I could be way off base 🙂

  9. I agree that so many people have a poor concept of time. Like how long it takes to do something. I have a good concept of time but not a good forecast of my energy level. Just because I have time for something doesn’t mean I have energy for it. But I build a lot of white space into my life. I say no so I can say yes. Too many options make us loose track of what we are doing in life.

  10. Pingback: 11 Relationship Questions People Are Secretly Asking (and Maybe a Few Answers) | Must Be This Tall To Ride

  11. Broken promises are painful the first time but even more painful the 400th time.

    “I promise this will never happen again.” (Right. You’ve said that every time.)
    “I just need your help one more time, I won’t let this (money issue, health issue, whatever) get out of hand ever again.”
    “Help me get through this and I’ll help you through your hard times.” (Has never happened even once, he always manages to have an issue when I do.)

    Maybe he meant it the first time, or second, or tenth. Or 150th. Maybe he thinks he means it this time.

    But his unbroken record of failure is unassailable. Now I have as much faith in his promises as I do in Nancy Pelosi. At this point his pleas for help and support & his promises provoke disgust.

    Guys: if this is you, JUST STOP.

    Stop promising. Stop talking. Start acting like an adult, like a man. Actions speak louder than words, and your actions say you’re untrustworthy, unworthy of respect and sympathy. Take action to change whatever the behavior is NOW, TODAY, without asking for her help. Don’t give her reports on your intentions, updates on what you perceive to be achievements or ask for recognition for BEING AN ADULT MAN. If you manage to achieve that, she will notice.

    The difference between between a responsible adult man and the person you’ve been will speak for itself. Trust me on this.

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