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Emotional Debts: (1) Shattered Unspoken Promises
Articles - Relationships
Written by AnJ   
Monday, 30 October 2006 00:00
Have you ever heard these:

“It’s not fair after everything that I’ve done for her!”
“I cannot leave her, you know… she has done too much for me.”
“She keeps harping on my past mistakes! She doesn’t allow us to move on!”

Frequently, couples who go for counselling with pain, indignation, sense of betrayal and confusion have this in common: emotional debts. Deep emotional debts that were never noted and addressed.

This results in guilt, resentment, bitterness and hostility. (If you see yourself experiencing these, this series is for you.)

All of us have emotional needs and wants that we seek to satisfy. We seek satisfaction, excitement, acceptance, connection, spontaneity, freedom and gratitude with the one we love. When relationships are dominated by emotional debts, resentment and guilt reign. People flare up over the smallest thing, being easily irritated. Sometimes incidents that are not addressed will carry over, such that the reaction to the next incident looks blown out of proportion.

How many of us walk away from our relationships having this feeling:
“She wasn’t what i expected.”

Whenever our expectations are not met, we feel disappointed. That’s when blame comes into the picture. The conflicts that come out of this is can be harsh and taxing on both partners.
The usual options that arise:
1. Give in     2. Compromise     3. Reconsider the relationship
And many couples choose to give up on their relationship in search of more ideal relationships.

Are we disillusioned? Are our expectations over the hill?

It was said that actual estimates of genuine HAPPY relationships range from 2% to 10%. This is a pathetic range. (Many straight marriages that remain unbroken are so because of children, financial matters, religious reasons and the stigma of divorce.) Certainly, more of us can do with satisfying relationships.

Existing debts can arise from positive or negative incidents from the past to the present. But no matter what the attributes of this debt, one partner consciously or unconsciously experience being either the debtor or the creditor.

Let’s illustrate this with two examples:

The positive incident- a sacrifice for the relationship:
1. Claire sacrificed her overseas scholarship for the sake of remaining with her girlfriend (Lydia), who is really bad at long distance relationships. Lydia “repays” this favour/debt with expensive gifts and accommodating Claire’s every wish. But to Claire, a debt still exists- she thinks that Lydia is not doing enough after the sacrifice she made for Lydia. So she expects Lydia to “repay” even more… to the extent that Lydia begins to feel unappreciated and “taken for granted”.

The negative incident- infidelity:
2. Casey had a one-night stand when she was drunk at a lesbian bar. She felt extremely remorseful the day after, for she is in a monogamous relationship. To make up for this mistake, Casey responds to Lisa (her girlfriend) with “whatever you wish dear”. Her efforts to please Lisa eventually got onto Lisa’s nerves. Lisa could not understand how Casey transformed from being assertive to completely passive.

So we see that emotional debts can come out of either helpful (positive) or hurtful (negative) incidents. It is also important to note that relational debts depend on individual perceptions, not some objective truth out there (does this even exist anyway?!).

So who determines the debt?

Case 1: The self-perceived debtor
Angel is really keen on a dance-form that is particularly costly to learn. Her girlfriend Jer, generously parted with thousands of dollars to cover the full cost of her dance. Jer is happy to do so, without any strings attached, because seeing Angel happy makes Jer happy. One day Jer was sent overseas by her company for 5 years, no less. Angel willingly followed Jer to this new country, forgoing her tertiary education because “she has done so much for me, this much i should do for her.” This makes Angel a relational debtor, although Jer is unaware of it.

Case 2: The self-perceived creditor
Jackie and Debbie were in a rocky relationship. After Jackie introduced a friend, Linda, to Debbie, Debbie and Linda hit it off straight away. Soon after Debbie requested for a break-up to be with Linda. Jackie is furious at Linda for “snatching” Debbie away and demanded that Linda breaks up with Debbie if they (Linda and Jackie) are still “brothers”. Linda agrees that getting together with Debbie has cause Jackie unhappiness. But this happiness is not intentional. As such, Linda refused to acknowledge the debt as perceived by Jackie.
Jackie is thus a relational creditor, albeit not acknowledged.

In case 1, the debt is defined by Angel, the debtor. In case 2, the debt is defined by Jackie, the creditor. You can see that debt needs not be acknowledged by both parties in order to have a deleterious effect on relationships.

In concluding part 1 of this series, emotional debts impact our relationships- whether romantic or platonic. Therefore it is important for us to learn to identify these “debts” and resolve them. In part 2 of this series, we will look at characteristics of people who frequently fall into the roles of creditors and debtors.

-End Part 1-

Concepts from “You Owe Me- The emotional debts that cripple relationships” by Eric J. Cohen and Gregory Sterling.


Last Updated on Thursday, 25 February 2010 17:20


# Convenience In Comfo 2010-02-02 21:11
Convenience In Comfort « pipSqueek said,

November 27, 2006 at 12:23 am

[...] What do I think of love on a rebound? Personally, I dont think its fair for the next girl. The emotional baggages would create an expectation from the next girl to replace whats lost. Worse, theres the debtor-creditor situation to manage in the relationship. [...]

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