#56 Wedding Vows vs True Agreements

Hello beautiful people, my name is Athol and this is Relationship Momentum. Let’s talk about something I’ve now seen three times in the last two days during coaching calls and that’s what I call the True Agreement.

What I mean by True Agreement is on one hand you have wedding vows. For richer, for poorer, for better, for worse, in sickness, in health and all that sort of stuff. It’s all nice and in theory it’s what people are agreeing to, but beyond the vow I think there is what is the actual true, deep level agreement that people are making when they get married. They’re usually not nearly as poetic as the wedding vows are. They’re usually something pretty raw, sometimes a little bit dark, and just the bottom line true agreement.

So for a woman, her True Agreement in getting married could be something like I will put up with any of your bad behavior and you can treat me like crap, as long as I get to be a stay at home mother. For a guy it might be something like I will tolerate absolutely anything and everything that you do, as long as I’m getting some kind of regular sex life. Those might be actual True Agreements that two people have in getting married to each other.

So as you see, they are less poetic than wedding vows. Usually there’s some sort of trade off of, I’ll accept this is as long as I get that. When two people get together and they get married the True Agreements can just lurk beneath the surface forever. You may never know that they are there because each person is meeting the other person’s True Agreement.

So take that example of I will tolerate all your bad behavior, I will put up with anything and everything as long as I get to be a stay at home mom. Coupled it with I will put up with any of your stuff and any of the situations that you throw at me as long as I have a regular sex life. Those two could be happy together for ages and ages. But then let’s say we throw in a big problem into that mix, like I don’t know, a global recession in 2008. Now he doesn’t have that big job. Now they might not necessarily be able to be afford her being a SAHM. Suddenly the True Agreement is no longer working.

She might have to get a job and then the one thing that she really wants, one thing she really signed up for with this marriage, she’s no longer getting. Now she’s getting some bad behavior from him, and she has to work, so now she’s like I don’t want the bad behavior. Hell if I’m going to have to break my own True Agreement and go get a job, I sure as hell am not going to put up with crap.

Of course she doesn’t put up with crap and maybe there’s less sex and now that’s breaking his True Agreement. He was prepared to deal with anything except not getting regular sex, and now no one is getting their True Agreement being met. Now you have this situation where both people are incredibly frustrated, both people are incredibly angry and annoyed and hurt and may not even really understand what exactly it is that has happened.

Often in coaching situations, I find that one person has had something to do with their own True Agreement change. The situation has changed, the thing that they want may have also changed and yet for the other person it’s still kind of working. There’s often a process where to get the thing that you now want, there’s a risk that you have to take away what the other person wants to get their attention. The whole relationship needs to be renegotiated somehow, and it often needs a crisis point to force a renegotiation of True Agreements in the marriage.

This renegotiation is never easy. What the do they want, what they can accept, what they can tolerate, what they are attracted to, what turns them on? This is an incredibly normal process for many, many couples. We get together when we’re young, everything can work fine for many years, 7 years, 10 years, 15, 20 years until there’s some sort of change in outside forces. Even if the real world doesn’t change, we’ll all get older and maybe we can’t do the things that we used to do or want to do.

It’s predictable for any couple that their own True Agreements will reach some sort of crisis point at some time. I think that’s normal and can only be expected. Doesn’t necessarily make it any easier in that moment to work through it, but this is often what is driving the bus on a lot of marital conflict. It’s not that any one person is nasty or mean or horrible, but often just the True Agreements that each person had coming into the marriage are no longer particularly being met the way that they’re hoping to.

Like I say, True Agreements are completely different from wedding vows. I know that’s sort of an ugly truth but they are completely different. Anyway I’d love to know if you’ve run into some of these problems with the true agreements changing on you. Leave me comments and I’ll be happy to read them and get back to you guys, maybe make more videos on this topic.

Alrighty, so I hope you liked the video. Please like, share, comment, subscribe and all that good internet stuff. And I will talk to you tomorrow.


  1. Kickboxer says

    I think this is very true. There is a lot more to it than you’ve said so far. I would think there are the six brands of agreement. Typical things each party wants, but some more than others.

    For me I believe the major agreement in my marriage is to have a partner to go through life with so that I’m not alone. It ranks higher than sex on demand.

    • atholkay says

      Agree we all likely have a variety of agreements this way, but when push comes to shove, the most important one is probably the lynchpin.

  2. Herb says

    Wow, you really nailed it for me in this segment! The true agreement examples you use fit my marriage perfectly. I know the husband’s TA (True Agreement) is my most important one, though the companionship one mentioned by Kickboxer is close behind. The wife’s TA might be accurate, too (though I wouldn’t put it at #1 for her) because my wife has not had a job since our 17 year-old daughter was born. And she’s still getting her agreement met (she’s very stubborn) but I’m not getting mine! Bottom line is, we are approaching our 20th anniversary and neither of us is happy. I am able to maintain a pretty good frame most of the time, but every once in a while, my sadness, anger and frustration comes out, and she recognizes even the slightest clue in my tone or behavior and almost always calls me on it, saying, “are you okay” or “is something wrong”? Deep inside, there is always something wrong and I’m never quite okay, but I have to do my best to hide it when we’re together, and I do.
    And you nailed it again… the recession in 2008 was the exact thing that drove our relationship to the crisis point. I was doing fairly well, financially, until then, supporting her and our daughter, in relative comfort. Now, we rarely pay our bills on time, are deep in debt, yet she won’t look for a job! I now struggle to make enough income just to survive. She doesn’t do a great job of keeping house, either, and she definitely isn’t sexual with me at all, even though we do have a good deal of non-sexual physical intimacy, and even though at 60, I still have a strong sex drive and am still very attracted to her.

    For the last 10 years our sex life has gradually dwindled to its currently non-existent state and I feel significantly cheated. I wish all the information I am finding now was available 20 years ago…I would definitely have chosen a different wife, or more likely, stayed single longer.

    I am now about halfway through your MMSL Primer and its very enlightening (thank you, Athol!). It’s just the latest of many educational programs I’ve worked over the past 5 years to try desperately to fix this sexless marriage, and definitely one of the best. I’ve become a far better man, but apparently still not good enough to turn her on towards me.
    I’m still trying, but only because I am trapped by my financial situation. I am biding my time until my daughter turns 18, and if things don’t change by then, I’m going to focus on separating from her. She may be doing the same. But meanwhile, we both continue to try, and we still have a few months to turn this around. I don’t know if it’s possible, but I don’t really see a choice other than to keep trying. We either pretend to be happy as much as possible, try to be nice and loving to each other (even if we’re faking it) and keep life as tolerable as possible, or just act like strangers under the same roof and for me, multiply the suffering.

    • atholkay says

      Have you ever point blank told her she needs to find a job and/or needs to find a job when the daughter is done with high school?

      Any foreshadowing of the future essentially?

      • Herb says

        I’ve given her a general ultimatum that “if things don’t change” by the time Daughter turns 18 I will leave. She thinks it’s more about the sex. And maybe it is.
        I’ve said it a few times in recent months and she always gets upset. I don’t know if she believes me though.
        Sometimes it gets me down but at the moment I don’t care. I can’t force her to have sex with me or get a job. I can only leave if I’m not happy, and I’ll make that decision when it’s time.


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