Doctor Neha: Hi, everybody. Today I have a special guest. She is willing to ask her communication questions so that all of you can learn. So welcome, Julie.
Julie: I’m happy to be here today.
Doctor Neha: What are you thinking about these days?
Julie: I’m sure lots of people out there who are married might be able to relate. My husband and I have this ongoing challenge: I am a big proponent of doing what I say, and I demonstrate and practice what I preach. My husband, on the other hand, says he’ll do something and then it never seems to get done.
I see it as accountability—”You said you were going to do something. It didn’t get done.” I don’t always know how to handle that aspect of it. In addition, he gets frustrated when for example, my kids say they’re gonna do something and it doesn’t get done. He gets frustrated with them—and I’m thinking that seems a little hypocritical to me when he’s doing the same exact thing that they’re doing. He has that do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do attitude. It’s very frustrating for me.
Doctor Neha: All right. So you’re speaking about a few things, agreements and how you make clear agreements, and the piece of accountability. How do you hold somebody accountable to the agreements that they’ve made? And there’s also the idea of mirroring, he gets annoyed with your children for not doing something and you have the experience of being irritated with him. So we have to do some mirroring and figure out where that same issue is in you. So stick with me here and we’ll do a little exploration.
It sounds like what irritates you the most is that you get frustrated. This is your partner and your family. And it seems hard that you can’t rely on him. Is that true?
Julie: Exactly. I don’t know whether or not what he says he’ll do is going to actually come to fruition. Sometimes it does. It’s that inconsistency that really drives me crazy.
Doctor Neha: One of the biggest components of trust is that someone is consistent and reliable, that something happens when they say it’s going to happen. So when you don’t have that, what do you do next? What do you end up doing then to compensate for that?
Julie: I do it.
Doctor Neha: You do his stuff. You do the kids’ stuff. I’m sure you take on much more than your own stuff.
Doctor Neha: And how does that leave you feeling?
Julie: Resentful and frustrated.
Doctor Neha: Exhausted? What gets sacrificed because of that?
Julie: I compromise and I guess I give power away to other things.
Doctor Neha: You give your personal power away. You start to feel resentful. How good are you at taking care of yourself?
Julie: Well, I do definitely take good care of myself in other ways. So I wouldn’t say I sacrifice taking good care of myself based on this, but I do notice that it definitely too much energy. I don’t like thinking about it. I don’t like having to think whether it’s going to get done or not going to get done or whether I’m going to be let down or disappointed because I trusted that he said he was going to do something and it doesn’t get done. It doesn’t reflect my value system, which is when I say I’m going to do something I always follow through when I get it done. It’s frustrating.
Doctor Neha: So when you make agreements to other people, you keep them.
Julie: Most of the time. If I can’t, I will let them know that I can’t do it versus pretending that you never asked me in the first place.
Doctor Neha: Give me a time when you didn’t keep an agreement either with yourself or with someone else. What would the topic be around? Like, was there something you promised yourself that you didn’t keep?
Julie: I can’t think of anything. I do give myself permission not to always feel bad if I don’t do something that I say I’m going to do for myself.
Doctor Neha: So you kind of guilt trip yourself a little bit or you give yourself grace. Is that what you’re saying?
Julie: No the opposite. If I can’t do something, I don’t get hard on myself anymore. If I didn’t do something I said I was going to do-like clean up the garage-now I’m like, it’ll get done later.
Doctor Neha: Oh, and what’s your husband’s answer when you ask him if something was going to get done and it doesn’t? How does he answer?
Julie: If he says he’s going to do something and then it doesn’t get done again, he says it’ll get done at another time. For example, his clothes at the other end of our room—he’ll typically tell me he’s folding his laundry. He’s a very good talker, so he’ll tell me that it will get done. I’ll come upstairs at the end of the day and it won’t be done. He’ll remind me that he knows it needs to get done and it will be done tomorrow. Then tomorrow comes. It’s not done. Then the same thing. It’s not like it’s out of his awareness, but it still doesn’t get done.
Doctor Neha: All right. So it sounds like is he pushes the goal post out and keeps pushing it out and out.
I’ve addressed this on several blogs where I teach the five levels of agreement. You know the five levels of agreement and worked with me and read my book as well. Do you remember the first level is that somebody acknowledges that you spoke? The second level is that they show positive interest in what you’re offering or asking them to do. The third level is that they give you a qualified yes” “If I can get my work done, if I get home on time, then yes.” The fourth level is a clear yes. And the fifth level is a yes with details confirmed. So what has to happen is if you’ve made an agreement like, “Hey, Honey, can you pick up the clothes on the other side of the room?” And he says, “I’ll do it today.” Today comes and goes—and today could be defined by midnight today. So there is a time limit.
Now, it’s about figuring out what you can do in your relationship with him. The first thing you have to do is ask, “How do I want to invest in this relationship?” Because him picking up the clothes or not picking up the clothes really isn’t the problem. The problem goes deeper. When you don’t feel like you can rely on someone, you don’t feel like you can trust what they say they’re gonna do, you’re going to start feeling more like their parent than you are their partner. You do this with your kids, right? So you need a conversation something like this: “Hey, Julie, something has been on my mind. I want to run it by you and talk to you about it. When do you have twenty minutes for us to talk? It’s really about how I want to be a better partner in our relationship. So when can we talk about that?” What would you say to me?
Julie: OK. I can make time for you.
Doctor Neha: Of course you would because you want to hear how I can be a better partner in our relationship. So now I would say,
“Julie, I’m going to mention some things because I’ve noticed that this isn’t actually what they’re about, but I find myself feeling a little bit upset and resentful and then I find myself blaming you. I know that that’s not good, and it’s not how I want to be with you in relationship.” So try to reflect a little bit on what is causing the issue. “I’m going to give some simple examples so I can help you understand something that’s more cumulative for me. So like last week when the clothes were in our room, you know how important it is to me that our bedroom is a sanctuary, that it’s clean. That when I walk into it, I feel like I can relax. I notice when your socks and your tee shirts and things are laying on the chair, even if they’re clean, it’s messy. Like I feel like I’m not in the sanctuary of my bedroom. So when you had said you’d take care of it on Saturday, then on Sunday, you said you’d take care of it Sunday, then a whole week went by, what I notice is it’s not actually about the clothes. It’s more that I want to figure out how to be more effective in partnering with you, that we’re a team and that when we say we’re going to do things, I can relax and know and trust that it’s going to get done. So the laundry is not a deal breaker in itself. Yes, it irritates me. But I realized it’s about something bigger. First of all, I want to know how do you feel when I say I’m going to do something. Do I do it or are there times that you feel that I don’t show up in a certain way when you want me to show up? Are there any experiences like that for you?”
Do you see how I said what I needed to say, I made it go deeper and I gave an example. Then I was curious so that you don’t feel like I’m trying to attack you or I’m trying to make you wrong. My intention here is to be a better partner with you.
So if you can do that, maybe there will be blind spots that you’ll shed light on something that you didn’t realize. And it might be in a different arena. This might be the physical mess of things, but you might be surprised to hear him say there’s an emotional issue we never addressed. For example, he could have been upset that you canceled friends coming over. So it might be an emotional mess that you haven’t addressed. That’s where mirroring comes in. It’s not always something inside you is showing up outside of you on the same level, like it does with your husband and your kids both not doing what they say they will do. That’s an exact mirror. For you, you have to actually think of it in a bigger sense. For him, it may not be that you don’t do things or pick up things or do the things you say. It might be on some other level of your relationship there’s a mess that is not yet cleaned up. Does that make sense?
Julie: OK it does, because I do understand mirroring, but I kept thinking of it in an exact way. I was looking for a mirror of the exact same thing, but I do what I say I’m going to do, so I wondered how is it I was seeing something in him that’s not also in me. Maybe there is something emotionally that needs to be cleaned up that I don’t know about.
Doctor Neha: And be curious about it so when you go to talk to him you won’t go into it with self-righteousness of “I know I’m right. I know I nailed you. You said you do it Saturday, you didn’t do.” When you go into a conversation like that, you’re not going in with the idea of being an equal partner to someone. Go in with like true curiosity and telling him what you learned about yourself, the resentment having you feel more distant. Say something like “I’d like to feel closer to you. So I thought I’d get curious and let you know what was going on for me and curious about how I’m doing things that would be doing the same for you.”
Julie: So that really makes sense. That’s good. Now, I’m wondering about the accountability aspect of things though. What will shift in that? Where have you seen things shift from that standpoint? When someone opens themselves up to hearing what the other person might share back.
Doctor Neha: It depends on where two people are in their relationship. So it depends on whether somebody wants to do the work to maintain a relationship. It depends on where in the spectrum of all of this two people are. One thing I’m certain of, though, is that if you don’t have the conversation, there’s no chance of a change.
For all of you who are struggling in a relationship or in a friendship to get somebody to do what they say they’re going to do, the first thing to do is make sure you have really clear agreements. Do a review on the five levels of agreement in chapter 21 of Talk Rx. It’s powerful and it’ll teach you about agreements. There are also some videos on this blog; search “five levels of agreement.”
Once you know that you have a clear agreement, if you’re still not able to connect with somebody the way you were hoping, then go back and get really curious. First of all, ask, what’s my part in this? Second, have I had an honest conversation with them? Third, can I be curious about maybe a blind spot, and how might this be mirroring in a different arena in our lives?
Thank you, Julie, for your question and your willingness to share because I know there are a lot of people who struggle with this as well.
Awareness Prescription When Agreements Fall Through
Make sure you have a clear agreement. You can only have an agreement at the lowest level either person is willing to commit to.
If the agreement is broken, ask what happened?
If the agreement is broken again, do some self-reflection and ask yourself:
What’s my part in this?
Have I had an honest conversation with the other person?
How might this be mirroring the same issue in a different arena?
Do I recognize any patterns?