02 November 2012

Keeping Your Word

Honoring one’s word used to be the mark of a man. An honorable man (or woman) did what they said they would do. And they did it even if it was uncomfortable or inconvenient. In fact, most honorable folk would keep their word even if it hurt them to do so. When did that change? When did a man’s word cease to be his bond?

Have men of today traded being honorable for being comfortable? If it costs us anything to keep our word, are we tempted to look the other way and conveniently “forget” our promise? A young man recently told me that he didn’t think he was obligated to keep his word unless he had coupled it with “I promise”. When did it become necessary to tag “I promise” on to make one’s word into a commitment?

Certainly we need to look after our health, finances, and other areas of our lives that may be affected by our commitments. If those commitments (perhaps made without counting the cost) threaten our well-being, are we justified in turning our backs on those commitments? Self-preservation has replaced honor and integrity for many people. Is that so bad?

There is a side to not keeping your word that people don’t talk about much. It was refreshing to find an article that actually focused on the price we all pay when we don’t keep our word.
Michael Hyatt stresses that keeping your word is at the heart of integrity. Without integrity, leadership is compromised. So what does that have to do with your old fashioned marriage?

A husband of a traditional marriage is a leader. The degree to which he honors his word determines how effective his leadership is. Hyatt hits the nail on the head when he links integrity to trust. If you want to be the kind of husband whose wife chooses to follow your lead and desires to submit to you, then you have to be the kind of husband who can be trusted. And how do you become that kind of husband?

You start by honoring your word 24/7 - not just in business or in your workplace, but especially at home in your marriage. If you said you would do something, don’t drop the ball - do it. If you find you often forget about things you said, ask for help. Put a system in place that encourages your wife to help you become an honorable leader. Place yourself in a position of accountability to her when it comes to keeping your word. When you become a man of your word, your integrity as a leader will encourage your family to follow you.



  1. This is such a great post. The Man does this alot. He has ADD, so he sometimes struggles. He will say, Help me remember to... or he makes lists. Does he always get it done? No, but the fact that he is TRYING so hard, it makes a huge difference.

    1. Thank you, Dana. Your husband's effort are indeed commendable. I think sometimes people think that to claim the title "a (wo)man of my word" one must be perfect. No, I think its more about attitude and the desire to live with integrity. A man or woman of intregity does mess up sometimes, but then they do all they can to make it right - they don't cover up or pretend they forgot or simply care too little to do anything.

  2. I found something interesting when I started on my journey toward being a better husband. I learned that my wife expected consistency between my word and my actions even over very small things. For example, if she asked me in the morning what I thought we should have for dinner, and I said soup, but then that evening I decided to make pasta (I often do the cooking), she'd be unnerved even if the pasta was much more enjoyable than the soup would have been.

    So I learned (and I'm still learning) to consider my words carefully, especially when I'm distracted. It can be difficult because she often presses insistently for an answer about when I'll take care of this task or that. I may have plans to take care of it, but if I'm not 100 percent sure I can do it at a certain time, I'd better not say that it will happen then. For me, integrity means watching out for implicit promises as much as it means keeping them.

    1. I am familiar with what you have described, Kevan. Women are typically more detail-oriented than men are - women (speaking generally now) seem to have the capacity to remember details that most men consider unimportant. You may have heard the light-hearted description of women as parallel thinkers, while men think in series? Men tend to think in a very focused way (one idea at a time), while women are accommodating a variety of thought exercises at the same time. For women to keep the mental multi-tasking working fluidly, detail and the expectation created by those little details matter. So yes, if you promised to "mow the law on Saturday morning", then your wife has probably built a bunch of different plans based on the expectation that the lawn will be trimmed before lunch on Saturday. To you, the 12h00 strike of the clock might mean very little, but to her it will mean chaos in her perfectly arranged parallel system IF the lawn isn't mowed by then. Men who "disappoint" their wives over and over again when it comes to keeping their word, tend to lose ground in their authority, and it becomes harder for their wives to show them respect.

      You have pointed out something that I think it often takes husbands years to realize: "integrity means watching out for implicit promises as much as it means keeping them". We all must learn to count the cost of our words BEFORE we utter them. Thanks for sharing that nugget of wisdom, Kevan.

    2. Anonymous4/11/12 11:32

      I learned a long time ago that this could happen. I used to get frustrated about it, especially when it was a household repair that really needed to get finished. I learned to wait until I really wasn't comfortable any more with it, and then I would learn to quietly finish it myself (or save up money to hire someone to finish it, if I really couldn't handle it myself). If I mention it, I mention it only ONCE and in as respectful a voice as I can possibly obtain. I usually prepare ahead of time, often write it down on paper first before I make a request.

      If the request is ignored, I learn to complete the task myself. It's actually kind of neat, because I have learned how to do a lot of things I otherwise probably would never have learned. I can do these things with my children. I usually incite his anger when I nag him, and asking more than one time or asking the one time inappropriately is nagging, and I get frightened when he gets angry.

      My chief goal - and I think this is probably the chief goal of every married woman, more or less - needs to be "avoid his anger". You really need to do all in your power to avoid his anger. A man's anger is a frightening thing. It must be avoided at all costs. By avoiding it, you can discover a lot of talents you otherwise might not have discovered. I know I have.

      You also need to make sure you have one close friend in whom you can confide. This is especially important during times of incredible stress, to have this friend. Remember, men process stress differently, and going to your husband when you are under a lot of stress is a surefire way to ignite his wrath. (Men are quiet when stressed.) Find your close friend when you can't sleep more than three hours straight at night, and talk to her.

      These are all important techniques, I believe, in maintaining peace at home. I have found that I have abilities I didn't know I had (see above), and I also have learned to not rely on my husband for things. I have learned to anticipate what he wants and keep the proper distance between us to keep the peace. Silence is golden. Keep careful attention to speak of necessary information or speak when spoken to. It is a similar motif to the old advice to children. Children should be seen and not heard; you'll make marriage a LOT better if you remember wives should be seen and not heard. It's simple as that.

      Is it an enjoyable life? Nope. But it's a LOT better than getting punished. And the perks are that you discover strength deep inside you that you never realized before.

    3. Thanks for your input, Anonymous. Nagging is a bad habit that is easy to develop, especially for wives who have a keen eye for detail. You have done well to avoid the nagging trap. You also seem to have grabbed the opportunities presented by a difficult situation and turned them into new talents - a commendable attitude.

      You did highlight another important point: we all need good support structures, and having close friends we can confide in is important.

      I must differ from you on one significant point, though: I do not believe that the chief goal of most wives is "to avoid the anger" of their husbands. Perhaps we will explore the marriage goals of the husband and wife in a later post.

    4. Anonymous7/11/12 12:51

      I agree it shouldn't be the main goal of every wife, but it is mine. I don't enjoy my husband's company much and I try to avoid him if I can. I am fortunate in that he is okay with that, he actually prefers that I be very far from him because I am a burden. I don't earn any money consistently, and that bothers me because I feel like a freeloader, so I try to work a little from home doing sewing work for people (I didn't realize how many folks needed mending and hemming done, which is very easy for me to do). This helps me. In my situation, any asking of any kind is nagging. That's sometimes hard because sometimes there are things I really, really would like to ask for. It's kind of hard to fake being all excited over a Christmas or birthday gift you don't want or even remotely like, and there are a thousand other things you'd rather have, you know? :-) Oh, well!

      (I keep these gifts out for a while, and then after a decent interval I box them up again and give them away or sell them because they annoy me -- looking at them while resenting the fact that I can't stand them and want other things ends up eating me up inside, so I get rid of them.)

      I have a method for things I want or need. I write everything down. If it is something I can obtain for myself, I rely on myself. If it involves another person, I try to find an acceptable substitute or learn to go without it. I will NEVER, EVER ask my husband for anything. I often see other wives ask their husbands for things and/or see things they did to make things nice and I am always amazed. Sometimes I get angry and want that, too, but I've learned that sometimes it's just not meant to be. Most of the time I just pretend I'm not here. When I have to interact with him in any way, I imagine myself somewhere else so I can deal with it and stay professionally detached as is proper.

      We've been married over ten years, and I never really thought it would be like this, but I was prepared by a family of origin where everything was very formal and little to no affection was shown, and discipline was promptly meted out for pretty much everything. I have a nice good wall that I have put around myself and it's working so far. It didn't at first, because I let my wall down a little bit when we first married, but I learned pretty soon that it was better to get it back up again....so I learned.

      I get tempted a lot, but it's okay. I am too distant from others to really be in a serious problem, and I am very careful to avoid men. I stick firmly with other Moms and their kids only, including avoiding family gatherings if I know other men might be present -- if my children really will benefit from the activity, I go, but I always bring things to do in case there are any men there who may speak to me. This way I avoid problems.

    5. Thanks for sharing your experiences, Anonymous. It may not seem like it when viewed from within your situation, but you are actually blessed. Can you see that? Did you know that there are other wives out there who go for years wishing they were important enough to receive a gift? Years pass without their “loving” husbands remembering their birthdays or other special dates. You may not be getting the gifts you want, but your husband actually remembers your birthday. He makes the effort to get you a gift. Wow! That is something to be truly thankful for.

      Did you know that a part of a husband’s traditional marital role is to be the provider for you and your children? If you don’t communicate to him what you need, it’s highly unlikely he is going to provide you with the right things. Communicating needs may be difficult, especially for women like yourself who have proved themselves capable of providing for themselves. But when a wife withholds her needs from her husband, she denies him the chance to be (or at least try to be) the provider for her. You desire that he provide for your needs, yet you keep him from doing that: that must be as confusing for your husband as it is frustrating for you. The independence on the part of the wife that shuts down the husband’s provider nature doesn’t heal a relationship - it creates more distance between the partners, partly because it stifles the husband from growing in his marital role.

      You have obviously been deeply hurt by your husband, and you have distanced yourself from him as much as he has from you. This may be an unpopular thing to say, and not something you want to hear, but at some point you have to accept some of the responsibility for the state of your marriage. The distance between you is partly by your choice. You mentioned that you grew up in a home where affection was not readily shown. Is there a small chance you may still have some things to learn about showing affection to your husband (especially if your parents didn’t model that kind of warm, affectionate spousal behavior in front of you)? Could it be that your upbringing conditioned you to expect distance from those who love you? Could your past experiences be encouraging you to interpret certain behaviors as punishment when that is not at all what they represent? Are you expecting rejection instead of a warm embrace every time you approach your husband? You care about your marriage - enough to protect your marriage from temptation - so why not take that next step and stretch your faith. CHOOSE to slowly take down the walls YOU have built around your heart. While the walls remain in place, there will be distance between you and your husband.

    6. Anonymous8/11/12 21:49

      I understand what you're saying...I should be more appreciative of what he gives me. Yes, he does remember my birthday. But I often tell him I really don't want anything, and I truly don't...and after the number of children I've had and struggling to lose extra pounds, I really don't want birthday cakes, either. The kids enjoy them, though.

      I have come from a family in which I had to constantly watch my back. This is true. And yes, I am always watching for the other shoe to drop, as it were. I was corporally punished as a child and did let loose at my parents at how much I hated that...I told my mother that since she likes to pride herself on the fact that she still has the old belt that she used to use on us, that if I ever did find it, I would cut it in a million pieces so she could never use it again. I blew up at both of them about how abusive I believed they were and how it was going to be one of the most difficult things I would ever do to forgive them. When I get in an altercation with my parents, I can and do recount in heavy detail each and every whipping I got as a child along with my opinion that they were unjust and cruel.

      My husband often complains that I remember every detail of every negative encounter I have. I once asked him what he expected of me; I always have to watch my back to make sure nobody takes advantage of me. We quit DD because it wasn't working for us; we tried, but it was probably the icing on the cake to make me hold him at arm's length. We never really did it in great earnest, but it was enough to make me hate him. Really nothing we have tried has helped me. I just want him far, far away where I don't have to get out of my comfort zone.

  3. Even in the bad times of our marriage, my husband has aways been a man of his word. It is sometimes difficult to extract a promise or a commitment from him, but once given can be taken to the bank.
    Practicing dd has just opened that part of his character to new areas of our lives. I have been the traditional breaker of promises in our marriage, and now that Ian has the authority to hold me accountable, I am getting better at being more reliable.
    Very interesting topic.

    1. You are blessed to be married to a man of his word, and it is great that he holds you accountable for the promises you make. I think it has to work both ways. This post focused on the importance of husbands keeping their word, but it is just as important that wives become women of their word if the trust in the marriage is to grow. Thanks for sharing, Lillie.