Most of us have made promises to our partners at some point.
Some are light-hearted and silly, while others are far more important and may cause real damage if broken.
If you’ve broken a serious promise to your partner, here are 10 things we’d recommend you do:
Speak to a certified relationship counselor about this issue. Why? Because they have the training and experience to help you successfully work through the fallout of you breaking a promise to your partner. You may want to try speaking to someone via RelationshipHero.com for practical advice that is tailored to your exact circumstances.
1. Own up to it.
The worst thing you can do if you break a serious promise is to lie about it or try to cover it up.
Going down this route will make things a thousand times worse when your partner finds out about it, which they will eventually do.
At that point, the hurt and betrayal they feel will be compounded exponentially by the awareness that you didn’t tell them about it.
Even if you think they’ll never find out, remember the “never say never” adage.
You may slip up and spill the beans when coming out of anesthetic from dental surgery. Or someone who witnessed what you did might mention it in passing, without realizing that they’ve said something damaging.
By being the one to tell your partner what happened, you’re taking responsibility for yourself and being honest about how you messed up.
The only thing worse than breaking a serious promise to your partner is doubling down to protect yourself from the fallout of them finding out.
If you get mad at someone else for “ruining your relationship” because they told your partner about your betrayal, or you imply that breaking your word was someone else’s fault, you’ll lose your lover’s respect and trust forever.
You only have a chance at salvaging this situation by being upfront and honest about what happened, and why.
2. Talk to them about it.
Set aside some time when you’re unlikely to be distracted, and speak to your partner.
Doing it in person is best, but it can also be done via phone or text if circumstances make it impossible to discuss things face to face.
Be upfront about what occurred and how this promise ended up broken.
Instead of making excuses or blaming others for the fact that you broke your word, apologize sincerely for what occurred and allow your partner some time to process this information.
Understandably, your immediate reaction might be to beg them not to leave you or ask what you can do to “make things right”, but these point to selfish motivations rather than a sincere desire to make amends.
This behavior implies that you want to save yourself and keep things going for your own benefit, rather than making things right for the one you love.
Similarly, don’t try to stop them from “overreacting” if they get emotional, and don’t downplay the broken promise like it was no big deal.
Doing so will invalidate the hurt they’re feeling and unfairly puts the onus on them to be the “bigger person” and forgive you, despite feeling betrayed and let down. That’s not fair at all, especially if the promise is centered around something they feel strongly about.
Be prepared to listen to what they have to say and accept their feelings with dignity and understanding. Avoid shouting or getting angrily defensive as well.
You broke this promise, so you’ll need to accept responsibility for it, even though you may feel ashamed or angry with yourself for doing so.
3. Remember, words mean little without actions to support them.
It’s all well and good to apologize verbally for having broken this promise, but words mean very little without solid action.
You used your words to make this serious promise to your partner, and now that you’ve broken it, using more words to make amends isn’t going to cut it.
As such, you’ll need to take tangible action to make things right.
If you’re sorry about breaking your word, then determine as a couple what actions may work best to help make up for breaking it, as well as how to avoid breaking it again in the future.
Since you went back on your word, it’s unlikely that your partner will believe you if you simply “give them your word” again.
Instead, you’ll need to prove to them that this misstep was a blip rather than the new status quo.
For example, let’s say you’ve been battling an addiction and broke a promise not to partake in your substance or behavior of choice.
One way to make amends with solid action would be to join a 12-step or similar addiction recovery program. Alternatively, another option might be to find a good therapist and ensure that you’re attending regular sessions.
Keep your partner in the loop with your progress, and even consider inviting them along to show that you’re making real headway.
Over time, your actions will begin to restore their faith and trust in you.
4. Determine why you broke this promise.
It’s unlikely that you woke up one day and determined that you wanted to break your word to the one you love.
So what happened? What factors led you to the point where you broke this promise?
To move forward from betraying a partner’s trust, it’s vital to understand your own motivations.
Did you feel that this promise was unreasonable? For example, are you being held to an unfair standard or stipulation that your partner isn’t?
Sometimes, promises get broken because of double standards: where there’s a great deal of strain and stricture being placed on one partner, but not the other.
Is your partner demanding that you behave a certain way, but giving themselves leniency because of one excuse or another?
If you feel unfairness or manipulation is going on, you may have sabotaged this promise on a subconscious level.
Alternatively, you may not have wanted to make this promise to begin with and simply made it because you wanted to keep this person as a partner.
Take note of how you feel when you’re talking to your partner about what happened. If you feel anger with them for “forcing you” to make a promise that you didn’t want to keep in the first place, that’s something that will need to be resolved.
At this point, you’ll need to determine the following:
5. Ask yourself whether this is a promise you can (or want to) keep.
When you think about the promise you made, do you feel that making—and keeping—it is important to you? Or did you make this promise to make your partner happy?
By extension, is your partner encouraging you to make promises that go against your nature?
These are important questions to ask yourself because the likelihood of keeping a promise will depend a great deal on a few different factors. One of these factors is the desire to keep to this vow for its own sake.
For instance, let’s say Jimmy smokes cannabis but his partner Rita hates it and has threatened to leave him if he keeps smoking it.
As such, Jimmy promises to stop because he loves her and doesn’t want to lose her. That said, smoking cannabis eases his arthritis pain and alleviates his chronic anxiety. It’ll be very difficult for him to keep a promise that lessens his quality of life.
In contrast, Jenna wants to quit smoking cigarettes, plus her partner Kai is concerned about what those cigarettes are doing to her health. It’ll be easier for Jenna to keep a promise about not smoking because she wants to quit: both for her own health and to make her partner happy.
Promises that make us feel resentful and disempowered are always more difficult to keep, especially when we feel that they’re unfair.
6. Figure out how you feel about the person you made the promise to.
The most important question to ask here is whether you care that you broke this promise or not.
If you feel absolutely zero guilt about having broken it and actually feel relief or joy after having done so, that gives you some insight as to the status of your relationship, and how you feel about the person to whom you broke your word.
When someone’s heart really isn’t into doing what was promised, it’s a sure sign that the relationship needs to be re-evaluated.
You may have made a vow to your partner when the two of you were feeling close, but if you’ve grown apart or you don’t even love each other anymore, then you’ll have little incentive to keep your word.
You may feel so resentful about having to keep this promise that you self-sabotage, putting yourself in a position where you will break it as a catalyst to end the relationship.
The promise itself often isn’t as important as the one we’ve made it to.
If you had little to no emotional attachment to this promise to begin with, and only made it to make your partner happy, breaking it may be a huge sign that this relationship needs to change drastically.
7. Renegotiate terms.
If you broke this promise because it goes so against your nature that it’s incredibly difficult to keep, then this may be a sign to renegotiate its terms.
For example, let’s say your partner has become a steadfast vegan and you promised that you wouldn’t eat meat anymore in solidarity with them.
Not everyone can thrive on a vegan diet and remain healthy (or happy), so if you broke your word because every cell in your body demanded a steak, then keeping this promise may be detrimental to your well-being.
As such, you can renegotiate things by suggesting that you don’t keep any animal products in the house or eat meat when you’re with your partner, but you can eat whatever you need to when you’re at work or otherwise out of the house.
How they respond to this negotiation will shed light upon the relationship as a whole.
If your health and happiness truly matter to them, then they should be willing to accept a compromise here.
In contrast, if they place their wants and ethics above your well-being, that’s a problem.
8. Check in regularly: both with yourself and each other.
When it comes to promises, it’s important to check in regularly to see how they make us feel.
Does this promise make you feel trapped, rather than empowered? Are you keeping your word due to obligation or self-preservation, rather than love and devotion?
In turn, is your partner being supportive of you, and are they keeping their word to you with the same diligence?
Note whether your partner is willing to work with you to find solutions that work well for both of you or if they’re steadfast in their wants without any room for compromise.
If you’re the only one being forced to keep promises while they lay down all the boundaries and rules, that’s a red flag to keep an eye on.
An exception to this is if the promise you made has to do with something that causes you—or your relationship—real harm.
For instance, if you promised not to shoot heroin anymore and you break that promise, that could end up being fatal to you, and devastating to your partner. The same goes for risky sexual infidelity, which could be harmful to you and your partner.
Have regular check-ins with your partner to discuss how you’re both feeling about the promises you’ve made and if there are any difficulties you can navigate together.
9. Learn from this experience to avoid repeating it.
When we love someone, we’re generally willing to make sacrifices to keep the partnership flourishing.
As such, if you truly love your partner and want to stay with them, see this broken promise as a massive learning experience. You’ve seen the damage that may ensue if you break your word again, so let that inform your choices from here onward.
Additionally, if you feel that a promise you made can’t be kept anymore, then broach that subject with your partner immediately.
This allows you to discuss things before any vows have been broken, giving you both the chance to re-work parameters you had previously agreed upon.
Life circumstances and personal leanings can both change on a dime and what may have been easy to adhere to before may be impossible now.
Alternatively, your feelings may have changed, or you may find yourself in circumstances that make it difficult to keep your word.
Breaking a promise can be beneficial for better understanding yourself, as well as seeing the spots in your foundation that could use reinforcement.
If external factors caused you to break your word, you now know how to avoid or deflect them. Similarly, if factors within you caused you to falter, that’s a sign that those need to be attended to.
If you feel that you aren’t strong enough to navigate this on your own without faltering again, consider finding a good therapist or counselor who can help you through it.
They can provide you with the tools you’ll need to succeed, whether it’s a set of techniques you can use to strengthen resolve, or encouragement to identify situations that may tempt you to break your word again so you can handle them effectively.
10. Be understanding about the fact that trust requires time to be rebuilt.
When a serious promise is broken, it’ll take time for your partner to learn to trust you again.
They may put up defensive walls to protect themselves from getting hurt, and they may be suspicious of your actions for some time afterward.
How long this will last, however, depends on what type of promise was broken.
For example, breaking a promise that you won’t gamble money from your joint account may not cause as much damage as breaking your word that you won’t cheat on them with your coworker again.
It’ll be difficult for your partner to trust you again immediately, so you’ll need to accept that and allow their trust to rebuild bit by bit. If you’re committed and diligent, they’ll see your efforts and trust you more accordingly.
Note though, that your partner’s anger and hurt don’t give them leave to be abusive toward you.
It’s understandable that they’re upset at being let down or betrayed, but if they get overly hostile, or verbally or physically abusive toward you, please take steps to protect yourself.
We’re all going to mess up at times, but hopefully, you and your partner can find a way through this as a team.
If the broken promise was quite serious, however, it’s important to accept the possibility that they may not ever be able to truly trust you again.
If they choose to end the relationship, it’s best to accept the consequences, move on with as much grace as possible, and learn from what happened so history doesn’t repeat itself in your next relationship.
Still not sure what to do having broken a promise to your partner?
Speak to an experienced relationship expert about it. Why? Because they are trained to help people in situations like yours.
Relationship Hero is a website where you can connect with a certified relationship counselor via phone, video, or instant message.
While you can try to work through this situation yourself or as a couple, it may be a bigger issue than self-help can fix. And if it is affecting your relationship and mental well-being, it is a significant thing that needs to be resolved.
Too many people try to muddle through in their relationships without ever being able to resolve the issues that affect them. If it’s at all possible in your circumstances, speaking to a relationship expert is 100% the best way forward.
Here’s that link again if you’d like to learn more about the service Relationship Hero provide and the process of getting started.
Read this if you find yourself on the other side of a broken promise: