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Anatomy of a Relational Breakdown

I. Initial expectations for each other are not properly balanced during court-ship or interview or membership sign-up etc, or else candidate misrepresented themselves, or the situation changes completely, requiring immediate re-negotiation. Clashing expectations are indicated by withdrawal or frequent protests and argument / quarrels. Each and every quarrel is a warning that you are slipping into a pretend agreement.

2. If re-negotiation is not done, the 'agreement' degenerates into a pretend agreement and the balance of power is lost beneath control. Sometimes one under-functions, so the other over-functions to 'prop it up', or be a 'good Christian', or to avoid shame, or protect the children, and maintain the benefits the relationship provides, or just to keep the job. The law of diminishing returns of a pretend agreement begin to bite hard.

3. Increasing cost in disappointment, anger, confusion and resentment, results in repeated misunderstandings and misinterpreting one another. Now arguments are habitualised and flare immediately there is a conflict. If this is not attended to, complete communication breakdown soon follows. This means a loss of trust in each other, resulting in loss of hope for an improved future. Repeated misconstrual's continue.

4. Despair sets in, with a loss of motivation to 'fix it'. Remain in active or passive aggression. Quit, resign, withdraw, leave, separate, or divorce, often with on-going resentment and bitterness.

*Become commitment shy and cynical of all men / woman / bosses etc, and avoid all future commitments.
*Bring about repeating 'bust-ups' in future efforts at relationship, through bad attitude (bitter expectation) and self-fulfilling prophecy.
*Grieve indefinitely for the loss, degenerating into powerlessness, passive aggression, emotional resignation and resentment.

*Stop 'playing the victim' and discover that everything is negotiable, unless you want it at any price, or you are quite content to keep up the futility of attack and defend.
*Get up skilled (counselling) in negotiation skills and empowering questions, then counter-proposition, without going on the defensive or pretending powerlessness. Stop the game and rewrite the rules.
*Face up to the fact that there may be no basis for agreement, and make friends with the possibility of parting company. (No, you cannot always have what you want.)
*Get back a balance of power. No more over-functioning in the name of love. (Discover the difference between being loving and rescuing.)
The message of repeated quarrels is, "we are slipping into a pretend agreement - we need more negotiation skills".

When next you are either frustrated or resentful, try asking yourself;
"Why didn't I negotiate this situation in the first place?"
It may be the beginning of a whole new way of life.

© David J Riddell Nelson, NZ

Reciprocity - an important characteristic of any relationship

The ethic of reciprocity or the Golden Rule is a fundamental moral value which simply means "treat others as you would like to be treated." It is arguably the most essential basis for the modern concept of human rights, though it is not without its critics. Ethical teaching interprets the Golden Rule as mutual respect for one's neighbour. A key element of the golden rule is that a
person attempting to live by this rule treats all people, not just members of his or her in-group with consideration. The golden rule, with roots in a wide range of world cultures, is well suited to be a standard to which different cultures could appeal in resolving conflicts. Principal philosophers and religious figures have stated it in different ways. - (Wikipedia)

Without reciprocity resentment builds and unless there is negotiation around the ill-balance it is not long before pretend agreements begin and the relationship starts to breaks down.

Great Ideas for Great Relationships
by Ron Phillips - from his book - Gem of the First Water

Be a one woman man.
Be a one man woman.
Strive to make the other feel important and unique.
Show appreciation for efforts and sympathy for setbacks, frustrations, sick times.
Both of you have a degree of financial independence.
All decisions of consequence are mutually discussed and decided on.
Have consistent fun together.
Cheerfully share parenting responsibilities.
Both strive to be totally honest.
Work at being friendly towards in-laws.
Both should be attentive towards the other in public. Flirting is out.
The impression people have of your partner is determined by how he/she is publicly characterised.
Avoid public criticism.
Strive to stay fit and well presented.
Your partner needs to feel you are the one person in the world he/she can always rely on.
Keep each other's secrets.
Rejoice in and celebrate each other's triumphs and successes.
Do not focus on the shortcomings, rather encourage change. Nagging is a drag.
Share common interests.
Keep a clean and attractive home, sharing the domestic chores with a good attitude.
Be cheerful in hard times.
Make love often.
Give each other unexpected gifts.
Listen to each other.
Have fun together. Yes, having fun together is worth repeating.

Empowering Questions for Marital Conflict
These questions are to be asked in such a way that they don't escalate the conflict - remember
this is about negotiation, sorting the core issues not about point scoring or getting your own way.
Each partner should be given the opportunity to consider the question,
answer if possible and then ask their own empowering question to the other.

  • Does your refusal to address my question mean we must experience this pain again later?
  • Why is it alright for you to do that but not for me?” Are you comfortable with that double standard?
  • Why is my call for change (or boundaries, or more consideration of others) such a threat to you?
  • I know that's how you feel, but why are you so certain that your feelings would never to lie to you?
  • Does your refusal to hear my complaint spell the beginning of the end of our agreement or relationship?
  • If I can't respect you because I can't trust you to be honest, what's going to happen to our marriage?
  • Why do you assume that this isn't a matter for negotiation, but immediately adopt an attitude of powerlessness?
  • Are you having trouble distinguishing between correction and rejection?
  • If you or both of us don't get some help with this matter, what will become of us?
  • What is the feeling you are trying to avoid by avoiding my challenge?
  • If you lose the respect of your family, how will you continue to respect yourself?
  • Why have we both got so busy that we leave so little space for each other?
  • How can you love me and keep your walls up at the same time?
  • What are we doing when we are getting along well, that we're not doing when things are going badly?
  • What must I do to earn your trust back?
  • Are we in danger of sacrificing our children's lives to preserve our own pride?
  • Why might you be hearing things that I never said?
  • Do you really feel the way your tone of voice communicates you?

Negotiation Skills - Steps to Balancing Expectations - David Riddell
TC's - Everything is negotiable. Power is as power is perceived.

  • First of all, take time to identify exactly what it is you want, as well as what you will settle for. (Your wish list and your bottom line.)
  • Then think about what the other person wants and needs. What do you have to offer them?
  • Then proposition them, and consider their response. (No, it's not a verdict, unless that's how the 'victim' perceives it. Rather, you must learn to reinterpret their ultimatum -their verdict -as an 'invitation to negotiate'. Remember, power is as power is perceived).
  • The other counter-propositions. (Without cringing or bringing up irrelevancies, or surrendering to feelings of powerless helplessness and resentment.)
  • The obstacles to agreement are identified with some empowering questions, e.g. what would it take to change your mind or compromise on that etc. (Not "why are you always so unreasonable / so demanding?" or "Oh really, well look who's talking" etc) A new proposition is then put in the light of this new information. (Not' let's just pretend we are already in agreement, and then box on' . Don't wear-the yoke until it's been properly fitted.)
  • Agreement reached and verified, or new counter-proposition, or the process stalls. No movement usually means no balancing of expectations. This situation then needs to be admitted, so that everyone involved stays in reality. To pretend agreement at this point means neither party will make progress.

(Warning; it's practically impossible to negotiate with a professional victim, because they don't know (or won't say) what it is they actually want. They will first of all need help to identify, and then accept the UBF which prevents them from saying what they need. Can You 'Walk Away' from the unacceptable? If both parties can move, there will be agreement. If not, then not. And if you can't just "walk away" from an unacceptable proposition, consider carefully why not. It nearly always indicates a deeper issue. Face up to the fact that you are not in sufficient agreement to operate together and start again. In a good relationship, one person will frequently refuse a proposition, as part of a healthy balance of power. Don't fear the impasse, and don't try to 'fix' their perspective or bully them into agreement, if you don't get what you want. That's coercion. Find another way of coping, than by bullying, or pretending. These are childhood habit's which must be broken. Outside help might be needed and you may need to face up to the powerlessness that can be invoked when others practice their sovereignty.


  • Only when you can negotiate, can you gain a win-win situation, which might also be described scripturally as loving your neighbour as yourself. Until then, one will dominate, and one will be remain resentful. (Powerless people are resentful people.)
  • A most dangerous (and usually subconscious) belief here is that "all comments made by a male or female or person in authority, is a non-appealable verdict". (Is this something you grew up with?)
  • Negotiation takes more mental effort than the old 'quick-fix' habits of bullying / demanding / retreating, so if you are exhausted, it's unlikely you'll be bothered. Don't move the goal-posts at midnight or try to tackle the difficult issues when you are both very tired.
  • Sometimes there has to be restitution of trust, before there can be restoration of trade. '.What is needed for trust to be earned?' may be the first question to be raised and clarified.
  • You can only get your power back according to your willingness to check your assumptions; re status, expected responses etc. These assumptions are usually held at a subconscious level. In this matter, knowledge is indeed power.
  • If you have confused delegation with abdication, your loss of power will always result in the pain of a pretend agreement.
  • If you won't learn how to 'talk back', how will you learn to negotiate? (Counter-propositioning is not the same as 'back-chat'.)
  • If one party apologizes without being specific or finding out what is wanted to restore trust, it should be considered as a proposition to recommence dialogue, not simply the whole solution. Don't be naive.
  • You simply can't be reasonable or gently assertive when you are frightened or defensive, or about to feel your most unbearable emotion, without any insights to support you. A frightened person cannot negotiate, and is evidenced by stubbornness. (Remember, stubbornness is really a symptom, not a cause. Stubborn people are frightened people.)

TC - Life is not built on acquisitions and accomplishments, it's built on relationships.

From Word for Today

He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted. Isaiah 61:1 NAS
When you violate your partner's trust, you send your 'relationship account' into deficit! Intimacy is replaced by painful emotional and physical distance. As the offender you feel that, in spite of your apology and repentance, your wounded partner is still exacting their pound of flesh and making you pay. But they are not! They are simply out of surplus emotional resources. Their tank is empty. It's taking all they have just to 'keep it together'. Expecting them to be their old self is like asking a legless man to hurry up and walk! It's not going to happen.

What can you do to help? The same thing you do when you have a deficit in your bank account. (1) Stop making withdrawals! Don't ask or expect from your partner all they normally do for you. Don't wait to be served. Pick up your dirty dishes. Iron your own clothes. Surrender your sense of entitlement. Practise the Christ-like art of denying yourself. For now, lean on God and your Christian friends and family to help meet your temporarily unmet needs. (2) Start making deposits! Make them small and often. "If you give, you will get! Your gift will return to you… pressed down, shaken together… running over" (Luke 6:38 TLB). Consistent deposits can eventually cancel the deficit, moving the relationship into surplus! Quietly find ways to make your partner's life easier: small courtesies, thoughtful deeds, little considerations that serve and salve. These are the things that invite your partner to feel like it's safe to push 'defrost,' start taking small risks, reconnect, and test the waters again!


Therapist and author Bill O'Hanlon calls this 'turning your complaints into action requests'. Instead of telling your husband or wife what you don't like about their actions, ask graciously and clearly for what you'd like them to do. Be solution-focused, action-oriented, concrete and specific. Instead of, "John, we've got guests in thirty minutes and you're still watching TV!" try, "John, they'll be here soon. Would you mind bathing the children while I finish cooking?" No complaint, just a request. Instead of, "Nobody lifts a finger around here but me," try, "Sweetheart, I'm really exhausted, would you help me clear up the dishes?" Accept responsibility for turning your complaints into action requests, then make them concrete and specific. Saying "I need you to be considerate" is much too vague. Ask yourself, "If he or she were being considerate, what would they be doing?" Then kindly request that behaviour - and always show gratitude when you get it!