What is an Agenda?
An agenda is a belief that we keep because it serves a purpose. We believe it “must be” this way for us to be “OK” or to get what we want. For example, we believe that if we are 30 years old, female and not in a committed relationship we are doomed to be single the rest of our life. Or we believe that if we choose to not have children we will be judged as “selfish”. Or if we are the first and only couple to be divorced in our family we will be seen as a “failure”.
To avoid being judged or live in constant dread of some negative life issue, we often make decisions that we believe will help us avoid the negative issue we must not experience. Our agenda gets in the way of our discretion in choosing a mate. For example, we might “choose” to not see, or overlook those qualities that will be problematic because we would then be in conflict with our goal to be married by a certain age. Or we fear being seen as a failure in relationships. But we will be living with those qualities or fears on a daily basis.
Why can’t we see this?
I cannot tell you the number of times that I hear from men and women “but he or she was never like that before.” It is as if the person just woke up one day and found their mate angry, or distant or critical. This is rarely the case. Upon occasion I have found that the person simply did not recognize what they were seeing in the other person – an unhealthy trait that would negatively affect their relationship. But the majority of the time, in hindsight, they recognize that the trait was there and they chose to ignore it or hope it would “go away”.
Harville Hendrix Ph.D. in his well known book entitled Getting the Love You Want coined “Imago” because to him we have an unconscious memory bank of experiences with our caretakers early in life. We hold on to these memories, especially the negative ones, because they threatened our sense of safety or worth at an early age. It can come from images of our parents, sibling, relative, or friend in our life. It can be positive images as well, but often the more deeply embedded images are the negative ones.
We are most often unaware of these images because they live in our subconscious mind. When we are attracted to someone it often is about correcting these negative images or reinforcing the positive ones. We are more able to recognize the positive images in a current potential mate, but are often unaware of the negative ones because they remain out of our consciousness. Sometimes we choose someone unconsciously to repeat a negative pattern early in life with hopes of “fixing” it and having a happier outcome. But we are not aware of this in the time. It is often much later when we begin to see the similar traits from family or other early negative experiences. Or we miss it totally and discover it when we are in psychotherapy.
Other examples of an Agenda:
In addition to the unconscious hope of “fixing” or redoing past negative experiences, there are other reasons we override what our “core” or gut is telling us. For example, we might feel as if we wasted our time if we end a long-standing relationship. Or perhaps we fear hurting the other person, or we perceive them as “broken” and needing us in their life for them to be “OK” in the world. Or we just don’t want to “start over” again with a new person. Or we just don’t want to get back into the “dating world”.
How to recognize an Agenda:
- You override a gut feeling of something being wrong.
- You choose to not bring up a negative situation to avoid conflict or the person pulling away.
- You feel forced to “stand up” for the person to your family and friends, or even lie about circumstances. You justify why the negative behavior is “OK” or make excuses for the person.
- When you do consider ending the relationship for any of the above circumstances you begin to think of what it would be like to be without the good things in this person and you stay. You convince yourself the good outweighs the bad.
- You fear being on your own again, or not having the financial support of the other person.
- You fear admitting to yourself or others that you have once again repeated the same pattern in a relationship.
- You recognize a pattern of negative behavior that does not feel good to you and do nothing.
- Your friends begin to question a pattern in your relationships.
What to do if you recognize you have an agenda:
- Think about what it would be like to live with this negative behavior on a daily basis.
- What is the worst case scenario if you choose to stay in this relationship and live with that behavior on an ongoing basis?
- What is the worst case scenario if you choose to end the relationship and take an inventory about how the agenda is really affecting you and your choices?
- See a psychotherapist to help you fully understand what your agenda is about and if it is valid in terms of what your thinking is based upon.
- Do you believe you might have an agenda going on? If so, what is the agenda about?
- Ask your friends if they agree with you.
- Have you had an agenda in the past? Are any pieces of that agenda lingering today that might still affect your choices?
- Can you recognize themes in your choices of a dating partner or mate? Are these traits positive or negative ones?