When I hear someone use the word “promise” the psychotherapist inside of me goes on alert. The images that come to my mind are children who are in trouble saying “I promise I won’t do it again” to their parents, or parents saying “You promised you wouldn’t do that again” to their children. I also think of bickering children saying to each other, or even to their parents, “You promised!” when someone doesn’t follow through on a promise.
It is important that interactions between adults stay equal with the adult part of one interacting with the adult part of the other. Two adults interacting in a way where one is acting like a parent and the other like a child can be very disruptive to adult relationships.
I think when people of any age hear the word “promise” their minds often add the word “forever”. “Forever” doesn’t take into account that we have a right to change our minds. We may have committed to something out of fear or without having taken the time to think the situation through. Also circumstances may change. When circumstances change then our commitments may need to change.
That doesn’t mean we should just say “I will try.” I’ve been told that Alcoholic Anonymous has a saying that “Triers are liars.” Too often when people say “I will try” they are saying it to get someone off their back and have no intention of doing what the other person is asking for. In my group room, I have a Yoda pillow that says “Do. Or do not. There is no try.”
I suggest people don’t make promises because to me that word in and of itself evokes a child or a parent-child response. I don’t think there is anything wrong with making commitments or agreements but it is important that those commitments be well thought out, clear and not come from an over-adaptive part of us. They should be made with an understanding that we aren’t going to be perfect and that if we decide at a later time that the commitment is not in our best interests we can look at what changes need to be made and re-negotiate it.