Posted by: Donna Cunningham | December 30, 2009

How to Deal with a Promise Breaker

Donna says: I’ve had this article in my guest blogger file for a while, but it seemed like a perfect follow-up to yesterday’s article, 7 Ways to Build Trust in a Relationship. I’m scratching my head, trying to think of a common chart pattern for the promise-breakers I’ve been close to, but my answers skate perilously close to astrological profiling of the Air signs!   

With Saturn in Libra square Pluto, it’s time to rethink relationships with charmers who aren’t reliable or accountable and then to find new ways of dealing with them. The articles in the category RELATIONSHIP HELP on this blog are meant to assist you in that process.

By an Anonymous author at WikiHow

Associating with a person who makes a lot of promises but consistently breaks them, or simply doesn’t keep them, is challenging. It is even harder if they’re a member of your family or somebody whom you consider to be a close friend, or even a boss or mentor whom you have trusted.

In particular, a history of shared experiences and feelings can make it very hard for you to know how to handle this person. Nevertheless, if their continued broken promises are making your life unpleasant and you feel used up, discarded, ignored, or just plain messed about, it is essential to deal with the promise breaker and then forgive them. Note that forgiving doesn’t mean forgetting or letting them get away with it; it means that you reach a space of letting go and no longer allow this person to call the shots and ruin your chances at enjoying your life.

Is the Person You’re  Involved with a  Chronic Promise Breaker?

Assessing a promise: a promise is an offer to do something that will result in you gaining a benefit, or an involvement in something, or a strengthened tie with someone, or a tangible gain. In other words, someone says that they will do/give/be X,Y,Z for you, so that you get/are involved in/are kept informed about, etc. something. The promise-maker has made a pledge that he or she will do precisely what they said they’d do. And you, as the recipient of this promise, can be assured that the person will do as they have said.

Assessing a broken promise: a promise can be broken obviously, for example, Uncle Joe promises to come to your 30th birthday party, and he doesn’t get there. A promise can also be broken in minor ways, gradually, or partially. For example, someone might promise to involve you in the team planning a new project but they simply forget to call you after the initial few meetings, and you are left thinking nothing is happening. All of a sudden, a completed project is presented and you’re left wondering why you weren’t involved any further without your being told. The project leader shrugs and says “Oh I thought you weren’t that interested anyway.” You know deep down this is just a lie to escape from the fact that they stopped involving you.

Stereotypical traits: Promise-breakers are often people who use others without thinking through the consequences. They are often untrustworthy, unreliable, and they abhor active listening. Frequently, a promise breaker doesn’t understand how this impacts on their credibility and future prospects. Their behavior is very much driven by the “me, me, me” mentality, so woe betide you if this person is more senior, older, wealthier, smarter, better looking, etc., than you, and they know that this pushes your buttons. It is better to reconcile with your lack of self-esteem in relation to whatever it is that pushes your buttons than to succumb to wanting their “mojo” to rub off on you; it won’t but they will know that they can use you in the meantime.

Steps to take in Resolving the Situation

Consider your position. It is important to acknowledge your feelings about the broken promises. If you sweep these feelings under the rug and keep allowing yourself to fall for this person’s promises in the hope that he or she will change, it’s time for a reality check. The very fact you are reading this title shows that you have started to wake up to the potential damage the constant promise-breaking is doing to your psyche. Own your feelings and use these to guide you through the remaining steps.

Consider the behavior in question. Think about the “promises” that this person has broken and how many times you have been in the position of letting them get away with it by excusing their behavior for many reasons. Then ask yourself these questions:

  • In what way do you perceive these as promises being made to me? Are you justified in this viewpoint? (See “Tips”)
  • Why do you let yourself believe in this person who makes promises to you that you know he or she will not keep?
  • Why do you keep hoping that he or she will make good on what is promised?
  • Why do you need to have this person fulfill the promise?
  • Why are you giving this person yet another chance?

Write down your responses to these questions. Think about the answers. You should begin to ascertain the pattern and your own weaknesses. Consider those weaknesses – do they surface only with this person, or generally? Consider the ways in which you might meet these weaknesses with better self-talk, clarity of thought, and promises that you make to yourself not to let another person be your source of hope and direction.

Think about how it makes you feel when this person breaks promises. The previous exercise had you asking yourself the reasons for why you respond in the way that you do to what you perceive as promises. This one is about asking yourself to express your feelings:

  • Do you feel lonely without this person’s input/guidance/friendship/authority?
  • Do you feel worried about losing this relationship?
  • Do you feel that there is something “special” between the two of you that you want to guard (jealously) from others?
  • Do you feel needy, sad, lonely, depressed, down, angry, scared, lost, etc. in general and find that this person somehow alleviates these feelings even though you know that he or she will rarely come to your perspective or aid?

Confront the situation through visualization first. Do this in two stages, the first talking back to yourself and the second, talking to the promise-breaker.

  • To yourself – Acknowledge that you are fed up of the broken promises, that this person cannot be trusted, that this is not worth subjugating yourself to any longer. Trust yourself, believe in yourself, and stand up for yourself.
  • To the promise-breaker – Write a script and play it over in your head. In this script, tell the promise-breaker how you feel about being constantly subjected to broken promises and how it has reached a point at which you no longer wish to be friends unless they make an effort to keep their promises.

Confront the promise-breaker for real. This is the time for assertive behavior and constructive criticism. Avoid blame, avoid saying “you” statements. (See How to Practice Nonviolent Communication.) Stick with how their broken promises make you feel, and why you see their promises as both “broken”, and as “promises” (hence the reasons why you did the exercises above). Tell the promise-breaker:

  • How this has made you feel
  • How it has impacted your personal/professional life (give concrete examples)
  • How you feel that you can no longer place the same level of trust in your relationship with them (give examples of the key time or series of times they have proven incapable of maintaining the promise)
  • How you still care about them as a person but that this is to let them know you will no longer be asking for their word as you simply cannot rely on it (this ties in with the next step on forgiveness; you are not rupturing the relationship, just ordering it clearly).

Forgive. For your own sake, it is important to forgive. Be compassionate in your approach; the promise-breaker often doesn’t see this anywhere near as seriously as you, even if they feel a twinge of guilt. For them, it could well be a case of “easy come, easy go”, especially since they don’t hold promise-keeping to a high enough standard. In forgiving, you will need to do the following:

Assess how serious the promise breach actually was. Is it worth breaking a relationship over? Or is it simply better to just make it clear to the promise-breaker that for now, you can’t trust them (or maybe ever), but that you’ll remain a friend/colleague/project collaborator, etc. In general, try to find the path of least resistance for the sake of maintaining cordial, even friendly, relations. Yet, if it is so terrible for you that you cannot bear this person any longer, part amicably and sincerely, but with clarity that things are finished between you.

Put yourselves into their shoes. Ask yourself what you would have done in the same position. Are you being too judgmental, too harsh? Was the promise one that was easier said than done?

Think about your relationship with this person 5 years from now. Do you want this? Or not? How easy will it be to walk away and start anew with a new spouse/colleague/boss/friend/coach/mentor, etc.?

Is this the lesson you had to learn? Remember the Danish saying that “eggs and oaths are easily broken”. How much a role did your own naivete play in what panned out? Perhaps it is time for classes in assertiveness, where you can comfortably learn to say “no”, and to recognize when someone is behaving in a way that is just no good for you.

Live the forgiveness. You don’t need to forget to forgive; indeed, to do so would be foolish or you’d repeat your errors. Learn from the experience and apply it wisely down the track. But do let go. Don’t wear this issue around your neck forever more, bleating about the injustices to others every chance you have.

 By all means talk things through with someone you trust as a means for righting your perspective and moving on, but don’t harbor anger, or harp on about what happened. To do so would be to allow the promise-breaker to keep on breaking your heart. Ultimately, your compassionate empathy in understanding their motivation and in distancing yourself and shoring up your own defenses is the best form of forgiveness possible.

See more articles in the category RELATIONSHIP HELP.

free astrology booklet by Donna CunninghamIf this post was helpful, DON’T MISS THE NEXT INSTALLMENT IN THIS SERIES.  Sign up for a subscription, and get a FREE EBOOKLET for Skywriter Subscribers Only: Mothers, Daughters, and the Moon, a 50-page excerpt from The Moon in your Life. Read more about it here: New: Free Booklet For Skywriter Subscribers! practical

 If you’re already a subscriber and want a copy, forward the most recent email post to me at To sign up for a subscription, go to the top right hand corner of the blog and click on “Subscribe.”  Then send me an email with your subscription confirmation or an email post with a request for the booklet in the subject line.


  1. Donna,

    Have you ever thought about writing less? I mean your past 60 now, what do you have to prove, are you trying to choke more words than any other living blogger?
    Take a nice vacation, and eliminate every other sentence, fer chrissakes.

    • Hmm. Writing isn’t about proving anything, as far as I’m concerned. Writing is what I do, who I am, what I love. It’s there for people who want to read it, and if it annoys other bloggers, they aren’t compelled to read a word of it. It’s not like it blares out on television; you’d have to make an effort to find it. It’s not a competition, though competitive people might respond to my productivity as such.

      PS. If you look more closely, you’ll see that several of the posts each week are by guest bloggers writing on topics related to the current astrological conditions, so that it’s become more of an ezine focused on self-help than a blog.

  2. That has to be the rudest, most uncalled for comment I ever saw.

    On behalf of the Internet community, I apologize, DC.

    But wise as you are, I’m sure you see the human drama as what it is sometimes: gratuitous drama.

    I come to your blog every day and every day I’m grateful for your posts. And I know there are many, many of us who feel like me.

  3. Um, Bill… that was either some kind of verbal seizure on your part or you’re just jealous. You may have noticed from the other comments here and on other entries that Donna’s actually really good.

    If it was a jealousy thing, please post a link to your blog, and I’m sure we’ll all have a look and let you know our opinions.

  4. I for one am very impressed with the comprehensiveness of Donna’s advise, and the well-composed way she laid out a process of dealing with very difficult people.

    Speaking of whom, BILL! Studies show that if women speak for over 15% of a conversation, most men perceive them as dominating it. You must be one of those who can’t do the math. This is Donna’s forum, how dare you try to silence her? Why not go tell your auto-mechanic to attend to fewer vehicles?

    Anyhow, THANK you, Donna!

  5. I’m with Matthew. And I wish I had your writing stamina. As for Bill, if the button pushes, it’s yours. Nobody makes you check out a blog you don’t like…

  6. well as any astrologer knows- and any person off the street perceptive enough to feel energy- both mars retrograde and saturn/pluto square are activating a lot of people’s shit- and unfortunately many are unable or unwilling to handle it so they vomit it onto others. i put bill’s comment above in that very category. clearly he has been triggered by something and it was easier for him to lash out at donna than go within and deal with it himself.

    big lessons right now involve taking back projections and understanding the source of and expression of one’s anger, will, passion and ego. and for those who do inner work like this on a daily basis- without needing retrograde planets and dynamics squares to motivate such growth- the lesson is to not take things personally and realize that when someone is throwing crap at you 99% of the time it is because they are overflowing with crap. learning not to be activated by other’s projections is just as important as learning to not dish them out.

    btw- i love your writing, donna.

    thank you.


  7. You must have been really impressed by the Kanye West/Taylor Swift encounter, Bill… Gotta say, it’s been quite a while since I’ve seen that sort of insensitivity in the astrological community. And it’s not even accurate, which makes it even more disturbing—and sad.

  8. Bill,

    Have you ever thought about sitting down and shutting the hell up? I mean, you’re obviously nothing but a troll, what do you have a to prove, are you trying to visit as many blogs as you can and leave more irrelevant and insulting comments than any other living troll?

    Take a nice vacation, and actually use your brain to read, fer chrissakes.

  9. Bill, what a pathetic way to seek attention!

    • Folks, I really appreciate the support, but honestly, I can see where Bill is coming from and his rage sounds like a place of pain and self-hate to me. No more beating up on Bill, please!

      I’ve been thinking about what he said for the past few hours, and it’s true that I am blogging my heart out these days. To someone who has to struggle to write, the number of posts may seem excessive. But there’s a reason for it.

      I don’t talk about it because the last thing I want is to make people anxious, but the truth is, I just don’t like the looks of that Pluto-Saturn-Uranus lineup at all. I have no idea what it portends, not being a mundane astrologer, but periods of history where those 3 have combined have been very difficult ones. We have an extremely volatile situation in the mideast and a whole lot of people in that area that hate us. We have an economy that under those aspects is as likely to get worse as it is to get better.

      What I’m trying to do with all these posts is to give people with those early Cardinal degrees highlighted in their chart all the tools I can come up with to make themselves less vulnerable when those aspects all kick in at once. If they can use the next three months to make themselves and their families more solid, it’s the best service I can give now. But we’re all going to have to leave that comforting denial behind and get to work on things that need to be taken care of.

      I don’t mean to scare you, people. I DO NOT believe the poles are going to shift or that the world is going to end or that there’ll be a huge natural disaster. I don’t give a rat’s behind about the Mayan Calendar. Whatever these aspects may mean to us individually, the things that are going to happen to each of us are already happening, we just don’t let ourselves know what it means.

      We try to convince ourselves it’s going away, that it will all be better in a month or two. We just need to wake up. So, sorry, Bill, I’m going to keep on writing because I can and because I have to.

      Donna, who isn’t going away either, not any time soon.

      • Yeeeaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh! Hurray!!! I not only want you to write, I want you to vlog, blog radio, make cds, and shout from every star in the heavens.

  10. I thought the people past 60 (and 70, 80, 90, etc) were the ones who had the best chance of some wisdom borne from life experience. Maybe we could learn something (or a lot) if we let them pour that wisdom onto the page? Just a thought… I hope to keep writing until I’m dead… or possibly longer.

  11. Ageist and attention deficient I suspect.. Mr. Bill, you are not Shakespeare, just cranky and dark and look at your own shadow maybe.. just maybe? Some of us are capable of reading more than 2 second bytes.. and truly we appreciate the insights that Donna is taking the time to share with us.

  12. Thanks for a great posting. It has helped me take jumbled thoughts in my head and iron them out into a logical train of thought. One of the best articles I have read about dealing with people who continually break promises. Especially thoughtful and helpful was the section on forgiveness. It will help in my discussions that I must have.

    Please keep up the excellent blog !

  13. Hey Donna, a person has to actively seek a blog such s this, one doesn’t jus “happen to find” it. I was looking for some insight in regards to my 80y/o mother who has been a big “promise breaker” for many years. From past experience she will only “keep a promise” if she stands to benefit from it in some convoluted way. Since Oct of 2010 til Jan 2011 she has broken 3 promises and I’m not even listing all the previous ones in prior years. Anyway, I have come to the realization that our relationship is just not worth maintaining simple because she cannot be trusted. And as for as thge comment from “bill” well that is her brother who is a MD/Psychiatrist for GOD’s sake…can you believe that? Yeah my family is pretty messed up.

  14. hmm– interesting.. I read this post precisely today when I have decided to talk to a promise breaker. (sometimes God’s hand is so cue-perfect)

    He makes promises to meet, and then when the required time and day comes, he is no where to be found- no message. It has happened a couple of times. The only times we materialized our plans of meeting were the ones where I planned and Invited him over- he can only come IN and fill my plans, and not go out or plan anything. (I feel I have to carry all the burden or as if I am the one who should do everything)

    over repeated such events- I stopped calling and responding, trying to live the wisdom of ”show is better than tell”.. but then he sends guilt-inducing texts like >> Have you really ditched me – Am I now nothing to you.. etc etc..

    I have repeated fallen to such statements, and the circle repeats.

    This time, I have decided to put it in open, how his disappearance after making a ‘vague-plan’ just day and place (no time), and then not been there to execute has rendered him ‘untrustworthy’ and it pains me and I feel ”taken for granted”. That can not go on, and we do not need to have anymore of these. it is best we remain social-circle-friends and not one-to-one/ intimate.

    for his astrological picture ::: Aquarius Sun – Pisces Moon
    (I have thought of giving this astro makeup leniency- but damn-it- it is ENOUGH)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: