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Unspoken Bargains in Our Daily Relationships

Did you ever find yourself questioning an arrangement between yourself and another person? Not an arrangement that was mutually agreed upon or even spoken about –- but a habit, or series of habits that detrimentally affect you but which you find yourself continuing to do nevertheless?

It could be between yourself and a partner, a parent, a co-worker — even a boss, an adult sibling or an annoying someone you run into every day on your way to work. Likely, it is doing something to temporarily boost yourself or the other person in the mix. Ultimately, however, it is not to anyone’s benefit.

Unspoken bargains, these so-called “arrangements,” are those things that rear their heads in times of challenge, chaos, crisis or just haste. They appear out of nowhere and can be maddening, upon first reflection, demanding us to ask ourselves, “why did I say or do that again to this person?”

They tug at us to examine the contracts we have with others for convenience and to lessen pain. But they are ultimately not self-serving or mutually good -– just codependent traps we put into place to attempt to protect ourselves from perhaps doing the right thing.

A worker discovers an unspoken bargain in play when she realizes she’s allowed her colleague to pull less of the load in order to maintain a friendship with the person everyone in the office likes.

A spouse sees he has one, letting his wife get her way because he’s afraid of upsetting her and bringing out her depression.

Even a parent can look the other way while a child falls into trouble with drugs, just so the parent can pursue self-centered interests uninterrupted by dilemma.

There is nothing pretty about unspoken bargains. Some are certainly more benign; others are profoundly disturbing. But they do demand our attention. They allow us to see who we are, what we present to others, and how we cope in the world.

Next time you find yourself looking at the appearance of some strange contract appearing between yourself and another, don’t look away. Stare at the arrangement keeping genuine relating from happening between you. Face down the unspoken bargain that is presenting itself.

And proactively look ahead of time, as well, for where they may be hiding in your life. Always ask yourself what you are doing in the dance between another person, another entity. If it is forthright, it will not “bargain,” or sacrifice your integrity, that of the other person, or the possibility of real communication between you.

As acclaimed psychologist and author Harriet Lerner so aptly writes in her books The Dance of Anger and The Dance of Intimacy, we must garner the courage to change any detrimental “dance” with another person. And in doing so, we certainly have to look out for counter-moves first. For these habits, odd arrangements and false contracts, these unspoken bargains are challenging to break!. But the steps, the new moves you make for yourself, ultimately will be rewarding.

Unspoken Bargains in Our Daily Relationships

Lisa A. Miles

Lisa A. MilesLisa A. Miles has been uniquely blending her expertise in self-development, mental health and the creative arts for over 25 years. Based in Pittsburgh, Penn., she is a coach/ consultant who advises individually and for business, author of two books (one about an institutionalized artist), professional speaker, and composer/ performer on violin and mandolin (including collaborative work with Jungian therapists). Also available as a coach working virtually, Lisa is included in the international Life Quality Improvement directory. Please check out her webpage at

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APA Reference
Miles, L. (2018). Unspoken Bargains in Our Daily Relationships. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 26, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 25 Apr 2013)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.