Do you ever make assumptions in your relationships about what people should know about you or do for you? Ever think, I shouldn’t have to tell them, they should know that by now?
Or do you have relationships where you have silent agreements to jointly participate in selective amnesia, not discussing certain topics like a bad fight, addictive behavior, broken promises, etc?
If this resonates with you, like most people, you might be playing out some silent agreements in your relationships.
In this episode, I’m breaking down the difference between silent agreements and clean agreements so you can avoid the pain and frustration of making assumptions or suffering quietly and shift towards healthier, more direct communication in your relationships.
Silent agreements are unspoken agreements and assumed rules of engagement we have in our relationships. A silent agreement is usually one you not vocally agreed to or verbally expressed.
Making and maintaining silent agreements is a learned behavior. If you are struggling with it now, it is very likely you witnessed and/or experienced this dysfunctional behavioral pattern growing up.
In my family of origin, there was a silent agreement that we wouldn’t talk about anything too messy, and another that no one was allowed to express anger.
Many of my clients who grew up in homes with dysfunction and/or addiction had silent directives like, don’t talk about what happened last night. So if there was a huge fight or if someone was falling down drunk, everyone in the family knew there would be no conversation about it.
As a child, you might have been born into these silent agreements. If so, there can be a tendency to carry on this dysfunctional behavior and indirect communication into your adult relationships.
Silent agreements create disordered emotional boundaries and miscommunication. We don’t know what’s going on with people because we’re making a lot of assumptions about them or we’re anticipating their reaction to something.
Can you think of some assumptions you might be making in your life right now?
Have you ever really wanted someone to do something for you and think they should just do it whether you’ve asked them to or not? Like they should already know this because to you it’s obvious? (Or more likely, asking might make you feel too vulnerable…)
Let’s say you had a really stressful, long day at work and you get home and the sink is full of dishes (which might not normally set you off). Now, you’re pissed because you feel like your partner should have done them. Suddenly you’re spiraling into thinking if they really cared about you, they would have known that after the day you had, you wanted them to clean up the kitchen before you got home.
That is an example of making assumptions that fuel silent agreements. In this scenario, you are assuming that your partner has agreed to do the thing, and then when they don’t you get frustrated and wonder why they aren’t holding up their end of the “bargain”. But we cannot expect the people in our lives to be mind readers!
When we take a closer look, silent agreements spare us from having to ask the other person directly for something or to have an uncomfortable conversation. But over time, the cost of indirect communication and making assumptions is dangerous. We can end up hurt, upset, misunderstood, marginalized, and feeling unimportant to the people we care about the most.
Making assumptions can set us up to have unrealistic expectations of others. For example, do you assume if you make a big fuss over a friend’s birthday, they will do the same when yours rolls around?
This is an example of how complementary projection, one of the ego’s defense mechanisms, can play a part in making an assumption that others value the same things we do…only to leave us disappointed when their actions don’t align with what we think they should be. (I did an episode on projection right here if you want to learn more.)
The thing about our emotions is they don’t simply go away because they are inconvenient, right? Any feelings of disappointment, frustration, hurt, or anger will eventually be expressed, no matter how far we might try to shove them down or swallow them.
The truth is, when it comes to our feelings, there are only 2 options:
> We talk them out or…
> We act them out.
In a behavioral ecosystem of assumptions and silent agreements, we might act out negative emotions in a passive-aggressive way. Maybe we slam a door or a cabinet when we see the kitchen is a mess or we take a longer time than usual to text a friend back.
This can be really damaging to our important relationships– especially when both people are acting out their feelings instead of talking about them!
When we are sending covert, passive-aggressive meta messages through our behaviors, there is a high probability of being misunderstood, of not getting your needs met, and of not feeling seen in your relationships.
So how can we tidy up any silent agreements and set ourselves and our relationships up for success? The first step, as always, is to raise your awareness of your current behavior patterns.
In this week’s downloadable guide, I’m walking you through a step-by-step process to take an inventory of your relationships, learned behavior patterns from the past, and any silent agreements or assumptions currently operating in your life. You can grab your guide right here.
Once you have clarity over when, where, and with whom you might be interacting from a place of unspoken agreements, the next step is to learn how to express yourself, your feelings, and your boundaries so you can make clean, clear, and concise agreements.
A clean agreement is transparent, mutually agreed upon, and yes, verbalized. You can even put your agreements in writing (which I absolutely recommend if it has anything to do with money or business).
It can be as simple as having a conversation with the other person when you are both calm, open, and actively listening to one another. That said, simple doesn’t always mean easy.
If you are an empath or a highly sensitive person, silent agreements are so real, because we are naturally tuned in to what the other person wants. A lot of times, we can feel emotionally pressured within ourselves to acquiesce and give in because we are so hypersensitive to the feelings of others.
For those of us who identify as empaths and HSPs, it is especially important to get really clear about where you might be participating in silent agreements that are not in the best interest for you, for your relationships, friendships, or career.
If you already are feeling some resistance to this process, that’s OK. You don’t have to confront everything at once. You can decide on one small change at a time.
Transparent, clean agreements are vital to every relationship, whether it’s with your coworker, client, your best friend, family members, or your romantic partner. Spoken agreements support your ability to set and maintain healthy boundaries in every area of your life.
If you liked this episode, please drop me comments here and share this in your life. I would love it if you connected with me over on Instagram @terricole and shared your thoughts with me!
Good luck this week uncovering your silent agreements, and as always, take care of you.