Intentions versus Actions

Last week we looked at “live in an understanding way” with our spouses (1 Peter 3:9). Here are some further thoughts…

Check out these negative examples:

“You don’t care about anyone except for yourself.” “You’ll never change.” “I know you’re only trying to get back at me.” “You don’t even want to understand.” “You care more about work (shopping, sports, friends, hobbies, etc.) than you do about your family.” “You’re lazy and selfish.” “You’re so stupid.” “All you ever do is think about…”

Once you start judging the motives behind your spouse’s actions it can only produce a defensive reaction.

The couple was “discussing” some of their struggles over lunch with a friend/counselor. It was at Macaroni Grill, where they have paper tablecloths (and crayons).

Their friend drew the picture (something like this) – wife and husband on 2 sides with 2 lines on each side, “you can only see your spouse’s actions, never their intentions. If you want to work on your communication, you’ve got to learn to ask for clarification of intentions behind those actions. Stop blaming. Stop jumping to conclusions. When you get upset at him working late, instead of saying ‘you don’t care about me or the kids,’ say something like ‘when you work late I feel like we’re missing out on connecting with you and it is very hurtful.’”

Point out the action (working late) and how it makes you feel (missing out and hurtful) versus judging the intention (you don’t care…).

Over the years we’ve learned in situations of conflict to hit pause and ask for clarification of intentions, avoiding the trap of blaming and attacking. It isn’t always easy, but opens the door to understanding.

Most married couples actually have good intentions and want to please their spouse. Think about it. Your spouse really does want to make you happy, can’t you see it in their eyes?

When conflict hits and you slip into judging intentions you’re not giving your partner a way to respond. The walls get built one brick at a time, and before long hearts are walled off from each other. If you can’t see that love, then seek out some help with someone who can coach you through these elements of communication.

We can start over by asking forgiveness and taking the time to be honest without assigning blame. And when your spouse gets up the courage to be honest, try to reflect back what you hear them saying and clarify your intentions without defending yourself. I’ve found that “I’m sorry for how that has been affecting you” (without defending) along with effort to change my actions is much better than “Well, you’re missing the boat and these are all the reasons why…”

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