Relationship Fitness

S13 Communication Basics E6: Confusing Intention with Impact

In “Relationship Workout for Men,” Season 13 Episode 6 titled “Confusing Intention with Impact,” Vince navigates the complex terrain of misinterpreting intentions based on the impact of actions within relationships. He elucidates how hurt feelings can lead to assumptions about a partner’s intent to cause harm, often before understanding their perspective. Vince discusses the importance of distinguishing between the effect an action has on you (impact) and what your partner might have intended, advocating for open communication to clarify intentions. Through this episode, Vince aims to break the cycle of accusation and misunderstanding, promoting a more empathetic and thoughtful approach to resolving conflicts and enhancing the quality of intimate connections.

Welcome to Relationship Workout for Men, a podcast dedicated to helping men be intentional in choosing a better partner, and being a better partner for the person they choose.

Season 13 Episode 6: Confusing Intention with Impact.

In this episode, we explore Relationship Workout Communication Basic #5: Confusing Intention with Impact.

Okay, there’s an issue and you’re left feeling hurt and angry. In your head, you may scream “How could she possibly have done that?!” You’re convinced she intended to hurt you before you’ve even heard her side of the story. 

But did she really mean to hurt you? Maybe, maybe not. Maybe it was just a miscommunication. Maybe she didn’t mean to hurt you at all.

Put simply, we often confuse impact with intentions. Therefore, a strong communicator will untangle impact from intentions. I feel hurt, but I don’t yet know if she intended to hurt me. You can certainly hypothesize and then ask questions to clarify her intentions. You might ask something as simple as: “I feel hurt. Did you mean to hurt me?”

In addition, we often assume the worst without giving the other person the benefit of the doubt. Guilty until proven innocent. This can be especially true early on in a relationship before trust has been established. 

For instance: My ex-girlfriend lied to me; therefore, if I’m feeling lied to in my new relationship (in other words, the impact), then I assume this new person is also lying to me (in other words, the intention).

Confusing impact with intentions can create a potentially six phase vicious cycle. Here are the six phases assuming you – the guy – is impacted by an issue created by your partner:

  • Phase 1: A life situation triggers an issue
  • Phase 2: You feel negative emotions like hurt or anger that were triggered by the life situation. This is the impact.
  • Phase 3: You assume your partner wanted to hurt. This is the intention.
  • Phase 4: Since you assume your partner intentionally wanted to hurt you, you label her somehow as a bad person.
  • Phase 5: You accuse your partner essentially of being a bad person.
  • Phase 6: The perhaps false accusation pushes one of her hot buttons, as no one likes to be wrongly accused of being a bad person. 

This new life situation – her feeling wrongly accused – triggers an issue bringing you and your partner back into phase 1, but this time with her being the one feeling triggered.

Basically, in this example, you feel hurt or angry triggered by an action or inaction by your partner. This is the impact. You confuse impact with intentions and direct anger toward your partner, judging her as being bad for intentionally wanting to hurt you.

In turn, feeling wrongly accused of being a bad person pushes a hot button for your partner.

Consequently, the she can take out her anger on you, and around the couple intentions-impact cycle you two go. Each time around, the initial issue is expanded to include additional issues created by the argument, making it harder and harder to find resolution.

It’s also important to remember that in general, intentions and motivations can be quite complex. Yes, on one hand, you may be just trying to play the noble knight. However, you may also have other intentions mingled in your actions (such as judging that she should do things your way).

Therefore, a strong communicator also stays open to the complexity of his or her intentions. None of us are saints: There will be times when our intentions are not so noble. For example saying something like: “I can’t help it, but sometimes I become controlling” might be the more honest account for what just happened. The more honest we are with ourselves and with each other, the easier it will be to navigate this potential intentions-versus-impact minefield.

Bottom line: Just because you feel hurt by something your partner did or didn’t do, doesn’t mean she intentionally tried to hurt you. A strong communicator will try to understand the other person’s intentions before jumping to any conclusions. In other words, just because you feel hurt, doesn’t mean she intentionally wanted to hurt you. 

And of course, the reverse goes for your partner: If she feels hurt by something you did or didn’t do, she shouldn’t jump to the conclusion that you intentionally wanted to hurt her.

So that wraps up Relationship Workout Communication Basic #5: Confusing Intention with Impact.

In the next episode, we’ll discuss Relationship Workout Communication Basic #6: Difficult Conversations are Difficult.

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