Posted by: Marie | February 9, 2010

(245) Keeping promises

Post #245
[Private journal entry written on Saturday, October 24, 2009]

Keeping promises is huge for me. When I don’t keep my promises to others, I feel sick about it. When others create a pattern of not keeping their promises to me, I get very angry.

Last night, I had to cancel a master class for my piano students that was scheduled for this morning. Another teacher and I were producing it together. I thought we had enough participants.

Photo by Martin Chen

But, yesterday, people started calling to back out. I ended up canceling the class late last night, 12 hours before it was scheduled to start. People just “forgot” or they decided to do something else . . . it’s like they have no clue the work we put into creating the class and getting it scheduled. I am so disappointed in the parents of my students right now!

And, I’m angry at my housemate, Erik . . . he promised to fix the light in my kitchenette so I can see what I’m doing in there . . . that was almost three weeks ago. I guess it isn’t causing him any pain so he is not motivated to take care of it. I guess I’ll have to figure out a way to make life miserable for him until he does it.

Although, I doubt that would work – it hasn’t worked to help him remember my piano lesson schedule. He repeatedly makes messes and has phone conferences in the common space when I have lessons scheduled. I remind him and remind him and remind him of my schedule, but to no avail. I am really getting tired of it. He doesn’t think about how his behavior affects other people.

And, the anger I felt towards Mark (therapist #1) last year has started coming back to the surface. I thought I got it laid to rest – but maybe not. I really need help from a therapist on the “touch” stuff . . . I know he would be so good at helping me with that. But, I can’t go back to him because I can’t trust him to honor my boundaries, even after he specifically promises to honor them. I don’t understand how he can justify that.

It seems I spend a lot of time and energy being angry and disappointed in people for not keeping their word. I’m thinking back to earlier this year when I sent off a searing email to the members of my accountability group for not showing up to the meetings. Why shouldn’t I expect them to keep their word . . . ?? It was an accountability group, for Pete’s sake!!

I honestly don’t know how to handle this kind of stuff. I hear people tell me that I need to respect myself enough to stand my ground – to let people know when they are not treating me well. I have been told that, if someone doesn’t treat me with respect, I should walk away from the relationship.

But, taking that stance has left me angry and nearly friendless. It’s not working for me.

What does my current way of handling conflict say about me?

Maybe I’m “doing it” wrong. Maybe there is a better way. It sure would be helpful to know what it is.


  1. I think you just care more than the other person – I recognize that in your post. I am on my way to post about this, as I’ve been chewing on it a bit myself lately.

    I hope since you wrote this things have improved…

    • Hey, Ivory –

      Hmmm . . . so, I wonder if that means it would be healthier if I didn’t care so much . . . or should I hang out with people who care as much as I do . . . ??

      I’ll be interested in learning what you have concluded about your situation . . .

      – Marie

  2. I don’t think you’re doing anything wrong; you’re just sorting out how and where to establish boundaries.

    My own process around this question has led me to divide broken promises into two distinct categories: “disrespectful,” and “forgetful.” One is forgivable; one is not … one is deliberate, and one is human error.

    If someone repeats a forgetful error long enough, it becomes deliberate, but sometimes there is something in that person’s way that they do not fully understand … their promise-breaking isn’t about violating your boundary, but about something to do with them that keeps messing them up. My girlfriend has several of these issues, which I mistook for disrespectful boundary violations a number of times until I was able to sit down and talk to her about it, and say: “You know, I don’t know how to take this; I feel that I’ve been clear, but this still happens repeatedly … what’s going on?”

    However, it was quite a level of risk for me to ask directly, and it’s not something I would do with just anyone. The relationship has to have value before it’s safe to take that kind of risk.

    But I still think the basic principle holds … and that it’s fairly easy, generally speaking, to discern disrespectful promise-breaking from forgetful promise-breaking. The masterclass thing sounds disrespectful, to me — both to you, and to the students.

    • Hey, David –

      I tend to separate the two types of promise-breaking, also. And, I also feel that repeated forgetfulness moves into the second type (disrespectful).

      I guess what rubs me wrong about all this is that the repeatable pattern I experience is: I give people the benefit of doubt and assume they are being forgetful . . . they keep forgetting . . . I have a “what’s going on” conversation like that one you had with your girlfriend . . . nothing changes . . . I threaten to leave if things don’t change . . . they still don’t change . . . I leave.

      Wash. Rinse. Repeat. Again. And, again.

      There has to be a better way!

      That’s what I struggle with.

      I’ll keep working on it! Thank you so much for the clarity you bring to all this!

      – Marie

  3. I find this a very difficult area.

    For some people sticking to promises is something they just don’t care about. I don’t think something like this has ever become a good friend. Not that I recall anyway.

    Without having seen you handling the conflict I’m reluctant to comment on what it says about you. It sounds to me that you want to be respected.

    I have come to the position of knowing that I can’t rely on some people to stick to particular kinds of commitments – but these people aren’t close friends.

    My first wife was consistently late. This continued to annoy me throughout our marriage. She wasn’t late for business appointments only personal ones.

    If anyone has found a better way to deal with this I’d like to hear it too.

    • Hey, Evan –

      I think you are right . . . I do want to be respected.

      I keep thinking that I want only people who have a habit of keeping promises in my inner circle. It is good to hear that maybe I’m not just being defensive and anti-intimacy.

      Based on much trial-and-error, I have found I would prefer to have very few close friends then to deal with “friends” whom I can’t count on.

      Thanks for your input!

      – Marie

  4. I hope that things have improved since that day! It annoys me to no end with the other members of my chamber group do not come!

    • Hey, Imaginenamaste –

      Well, no . . . no progress yet in this area. I’ll keep working on it!

      If you come up with any solutions, I’m willing to hear them!

      – Marie

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