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Husband Doesn't Follow Through
With Agreements

QUESTION: I just finished reading your article on "communication", which was wonderful. It helped me pinpoint which area I feel ours falls apart. We get to step 4 and then there never seems to be any "carrying out" of what we discussed. How do I get past this with my husband. I try repeating myself on several occasions, but this gets old and then its no longer productive, he resorts to saying I'm a nag. But yet he never gets beyond what we discussed and into the "actions of carrying of the steps to resolve the problem."

Your husband is avoiding immediate conflict by saying "yes" but doing "no"! And your relationship is suffering from an inability to keep agreements. Agreements are the basis for trust in a relationship. Each time an agreement is broken, the foundation of trust which the relationship is based upon is eroded. This is damaging to a marriage and often the reason cited for eventual divorce.

Ask your husband why he continually pretends to make agreements which in the end he does not follow. This kind of disappointment weighs heavily on the relationship and no doubt costs him your affection and tenderness as well. Is this really what he wants? What is he getting out of this behavior? Is it worth the cost?

Take time to explore with one another how conflict was negotiated in your respective parents' marriage. Was conflict resolved effectively? Did each spouse have equal power in decision making in the family? Our first role models for relating to a spouse are forged in childhood. If our Dads acquiesced to Mom's wishes, only to frustrate her with disappointment later, what was being expressed and what was the result? Was this a passive way for him to express anger? Was Mom the one left with all the angry feelings? Did they covertly agree that it is safe for Mom to express anger in the family and unsafe for Dad to do so?

Sometimes patterns of gender interaction are based upon reactions to particular male and female figures of the past. If there was an abusive father, for example, the next generation may spawn a passive son who refused (was afraid) to deal with conflict because it involves expressing angry feelings. Instead of developing skills for safe and direct expression of anger or his own needs, he may avoid conflict in the short term, agreeing to anything in order to "keep the peace". His spouse may be left expressing unproductive, unrelenting frustration due to repeated broken agreements. A pattern can develop in which a man may avoid expressing his needs because he is afraid of his own anger more than his wife's "nagging". This example may or may not relate to your situation, but represents one possibility to consider.

And what part may Mom have played in this? Was she unwilling to experience her husband's anger or needs directly? Sometimes couples create patterns which reinforce gender roles of childhood without realizing it. Ask your husband to interpret the meaning of his actions. Is he attempting to frustrate you? Is he afraid of displeasing you for some reason if he says "no" to you? Explore your own contributions to the failure of your agreements. Do you insist on getting your way through emotional blackmail or are you interested in hearing your husband's experience and needs? Did you come from a family background that respected and included men's needs or ignored them in the negotiating process?

So, what does this kind of passivity in follow through mean in your marriage? If you are unable to get a handle on completing the negotiation process, seek couples' counseling to explore deeper issues which are seriously sabotaging your happiness. Your feelings of being "out of energy" are a sign that you may be "giving up" quietly. Statistics show that depression in women is more a function of marital unhappiness than it is for men. Pay attention to what "out of energy" means for you. An ongoing undercurrent of unresolved friction deteriorates your own self-esteem as well as the marriage relationship.

Though your devotion may maintain the marriage, over time you may find yourself mired in a depression which takes the place of angry disappointment. Ask for your husband's help in creating a marriage that gives you energy rather than tires you out!

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Gayle Peterson, MSSW, LCSW, PhD is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She trains professionals in her prenatal counseling model and is the author of An Easier Childbirth, Birthing Normally and her latest book, Making Healthy Families. Her articles on family relationships appear in professional journals and she is an oft-quoted expert in popular magazines such as Woman's Day, Mothering and Parenting. . She also serves on the advisory board for Fit Pregnancy Magazine.

Dr. Gayle Peterson has written family columns for ParentsPlace.com, igrandparents.com, the Bay Area's Parents Press newspaper and the Sierra Foothill's Family Post. She has also hosted a live radio show, "Ask Dr. Gayle" on www.ivillage.com, answering questions on family relationships and parenting. Dr. Peterson has appeared on numerous radio and television interviews including Canadian broadcast as a family and communications expert in the twelve part documentary "Baby's Best Chance". She is former clinical director of the Holistic Health Program at John F. Kennedy University in Northern California and adjunct faculty at the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco. A national public speaker on women's issues and family development, Gayle Peterson practices psychotherapy in Oakland, California and Nevada City, California. She also offers an online certification training program in Prenatal Counseling and Birth Hypnosis. Gayle and is a wife, mother of two adult children and a proud grandmother of three lively boys and one sparkling granddaughter..

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