Most people would tell you that relationships are built on trust. Makes sense because divorce courts are full to bursting with couples who once trusted and loved with open hearts, and are now going after each other with assault weapons.
So, what happened?
Every relationship is unique, and the demise of each failed relationship will have a specific history. But if I had to guess, in most cases I would surmise that the couple’s individual agendas ceased to be aligned.
Relationships can be quite easy in the beginning. The couple is euphoric and each can’t believe they’ve met someone with whom there’s so much compatibility and shared interests. After time passes and the newness subsides, it’s harder to stay on track. There will come a time where she wants to do one thing, and him another. The choice will have to be made. What’s more important? Her desire? Or the best decision for both parties?
Small agenda clashes are common and can easily be worked through with compromise. When my boyfriend and I are trying to decide on a restaurant, he defers to me because of the two of us, I’m the pickiest. On the flipside, I find myself going along with his agenda when it comes to movie choices. And while I’m not always in the mood for a super-hero adventure, it really doesn’t matter all that much.
The trouble starts when the stakes get higher.
Trust is strengthened by a track record of good decisions. What we hope is that our partners will make decisions that would never hurt us or crack the foundations of our trust.
I once knew a couple who was sitting on opposite sides of the fence about a motorcycle. The husband really wanted one but his wife was opposed with reasonable concerns, citing expense and safety issues as her reasons for vetoing the purchase. They had several debates but remained stalemate.
One day he decided to push his agenda. He brought home the shiny and expensive bike of his choice – purchased with their collective money - without having warned his wife, who was furious. He kept the motorcycle and the incident wasn’t a relationship deal-breaker, but, his wife no longer trusts that he won’t make renegade financial decisions without consulting her. Every time he introduces something new that he would like to buy, the motorcycle story is revisited. It’s a pain point for her, and she swears that if he ever does anything like that again, she’s out the door.
Sure, people make mistakes and bad decisions, but once the trust is broken it’s difficult if not impossible to regain.
Fidelity is all about agendas.
In a previous relationship my agenda was to be monogamous. It wasn’t always an easy agenda to adhere to, but I held firm on my decision. Unfortunately, my then boyfriend had an entirely different hidden agenda. His was to make me believe that he also wanted monogamy while secretly getting as much side sex as possible with other people.
If I had somehow decided to continue in that relationship, I would never have been able to trust him. After I found out, he told me that he wanted to “work on things,” but what was my incentive to believe him? Was I expected to trust that his hidden agenda had suddenly changed? But it was too late -- my agenda had changed. I needed to move on.
So . . . when a couple finds themselves on opposing sides of an agenda, what’s the right answer?
In the earlier example, should the husband have forfeited his dream of a motorcycle in favor of his wife’s agenda? Probably not, because there should be room in every relationship for each party to have what they want - within reason. However his method communicated the message: “Your feelings don’t matter to me. I’m doing whatever I want.”
They may not have a trust issue today had he approached the situation differently. Perhaps by treating her like a true partner, and saying: “I know you hate the idea of a motorcycle, but it’s really important to me. If it’s safety you’re worried about, I will take riding classes and make sure that I have the right gear. If you’re concerned about the cost, I’ll make sure that the bike is financed in a way that won’t impact our budget. But I really want this, and I want you to work with me and be a part of this decision.”
In my situation, should my ex have made the decision to turn down his other offers? Absolutely! Unless he informed me that we weren’t in a monogamous relationship, and then I could have set my agenda accordingly.
I believe that couples stay on track by having a collective agenda, putting each other first, and making sure that everything they do individually is supportive of their relationship. Unless your agenda is to break up or spend time in divorce court.