Intent vs impact in Relationships - Good intentions can still hurt you

How do you deal with feeling hurt by your partner's actions when they didn't really mean to hurt you? If you try to ignore their impact on you, you still have to sit with your emotions and feel alone in your experience. If you attend to your pain, you feel guilty and wonder if you're overreacting. 
 
A close friend of mine, Rachel, called me one morning crying for a while before she could even get a word in and when she did finally speak, I could hear the pain and the hurt in her voice. I knew then exactly what had happened, the same thing that happened many times before - a fight with her boyfriend over something trivial. 
 
Once Rachel felt a bit more calm, I asked her what happened, turned out that she and her boyfriend, Steve, had yet another argument while having dinner the night before. Her boyfriend started feeling frustrated during the fight and pushed his dinner plate off the table. I asked Rachel how she felt at the moment as she responded "scared." She said I was scared because it reminded me of my abusive childhood, but as soon as she said that she immediately followed with "but Steve didn't mean it that way. As soon as I started crying, he tried to comfort me and told me that he didn't mean to scare me. He just acted out of anger because he didn't want to say anything hurtful."
 
Rachel told me that she felt angry at what had, but also guilty for making her boyfriend sound bad, since his intentions were good, she was blaming herself for not being able to let go of what had happened. Her exact words were: He has moved on from the fight. Why do I always have to hold on to the drama?
 
At that moment, I realized that Rachel was just in the validity of her experience, her emotions, through the length of her boyfriend's intentions. She wanted to move on by dismissing her feelings and the impact of those well-intentioned actions on her.
 
Dangers of intent and impact gap
 
How often have you heard people say you misunderstood me? I didn't mean it that way.
 
That statement seems harmless at first, but what it's really saying is that you are the one who is mistaken because the intentions weren't bad. You should put them before you. You should focus on what they meant to say rather than how their words actually made you feel. But even the best intentions only matter when they have the impact that matches those intentions. Understanding this difference between intent versus impact can be the difference between a successful and a failed relationship.
 
You can never find happiness by focusing on the positive, if your felt experience wasn't positive, you might get a short-term relief by letting go of that uncomfortable issue at the moment. But what are you going to do the next time it happens? If you don't bridge the gap between your partner's well-intentioned actions and the impact of those actions on you, then it's only a matter of time before you will be telling yourself again "oh, they didn't mean it that way." The real danger of focusing on someone's intent at the cost of your own emotions is that it traps you in this never-ending loop of self-gaslighting. When you tell yourself that words or actions that brought up an emotional reaction for you weren't that important, you're gaslighting your own experience. You're telling yourself that what you felt was not as important as the other person's intentions.
 
I understand why, though.

Every action we take impacts the lives of others around us. The question is: Are you aware of your impact?
Arthur Carmazzi
It often feels like the right thing to do - to focus on the positive or an easy way to move forward. And when done correctly, these perspectives can be great, but are dangerous, if you don't resolve the underlying issue first. You want to make sure that the other person is aware of how their words and actions impacted you, so they'll have a reason to do things differently in the future. If you simply push it under the rug, then that's how you're setting the tone of the relationship.
 
Another danger here is this gap becoming an excuse? Oh, I didn't mean it that way, so let's just move on. The more you use this statement, the more it sinks into your subconscious mind that your partner doesn't really get you. It makes you feel lonely even when you are in a relationship, because you feel alone in your emotional experiences.
 
Often this gap starts with small things that you don't really think much of. For example, if your partner buys your flowers or chocolate to cheer you up, it's a nice gesture - great intention. But do flowers or chocolates really cheer you up? Is receiving gifts your proffered love language?
 
For some people receiving gifts is the best expression of love and care. Others prefer to sit-down for some quality time and talk through the stresses. It's all about how well your partner knows you and what works for you.
 
Now imagine that you have been feeling stressed at work and your partner knows that thoughtful gestures make you feel special. You come home from work one evening. There are lit candles everywhere and music playing in the background. Your partner prepared a bath for you and why you relax, and unwind from your day, they are preparing a special dinner for the two of you. If your love language is act of service, then this example might speak to you more strongly than the example of receiving flowers or chocolate.
 
But building this kind of understanding and compatibility requires work. It requires both - thoughtfulness and accountability. The thoughtfulness and the responsibility of changing their behavior falls upon your partner, for which I will share step-by-step action plan, later in this video.
 
But the role that you have to play is to empower yourself to share how things impact you. You have to hold your partner responsible for how their actions affect you, even when uncomfortable.
 
Would you be upset if someone were to hit your car because they were texting and driving? What if they tell you that their intent was never to hit your car? They didn't mean to hurt you, but their actions still had that impact, and you will likely hold them responsible. It's easy to see why the impact matters more than they intent when talking about strangers, but when something similar happens in our close relationships, we tend to have double standards.
 
Instead of convincing yourself of those excuses, communicate. Communicate how you expect to be treated in the relationship. The goal here isn't to make your partner feel bad for their actions, but to bridge the gap between you two. You'll have to sit-down and talk about what the intent was, what the impact was, and how you can bridge this gap in the future. This will help you feel respected and repair the relationship, all at once.
 
When you should focus on the intent
 
Of course, as with most things in life, the intent and impact gap is not black and white. Sometimes it's okay if some one's intentions don't match their impact, but only if one of these two things are true - First, their good intentions come across as genuine and authentic. If you know and believe that your partner's heart was in a good place, you are more likely to look past the impact. And secondly, if it's not a repeated action. If they keep behaving the same way, it becomes harder to believe their intentions were pure. After all, they know how their actions impact you after the first time, you need to start asking directed questions such as: are you intending to make me feel like it's all my fault? Did you mean to make me jealous when we were hanging out earlier with so and so?
 
These questions might even feel confrontatie at first, but if they're already in your head, talking about them, it's better than letting them fester into insecurities. In doing so, you initiate a conversation out your emotions, which can be just the right motivation for your partner to change their behavior. On the other hand, if you simply avoid the uncomfortable conversation, then nothing will ever change.
 
This is why, contrary to what you might think, the biggest obstacle in this process is not motivation, but rather self-awareness and communication.
 
Self-awareness is essential for your partner to stop and think about their choices, and communication will help with knowing what's going to work best for your relationship. The process is pretty simple really. So let's talk about a step-by-step action plan that you can use yourself, share with your partner or best yet, work on together as a team to bridge up the gap. So if you're watching this video by yourself, they share this action plan with your partner, so the two of you can build your dream relationship together.
 
How to bridge the intent vs outcome gap
 
The first step in bridging the intent versus impact gap is to pause and think about what are you hoping to get? Because this clarity in your head is a game changer. It changes everything. For example, suppose you decide to buy a gift for your partner after an argument. It's a nice gesture, but before you do that, you just need to ask yourself two questions.
 
The first question is: why? What is your intention? Are you trying to apologize? Are you trying to cheer your partner up, or are you trying to just say hey, let's just move on from what happened yesterday? They might sound similar at first, but the distinction is important. If you intend to apologize, then deep down you know that you did something wrong. If you're trying to cheer your partner up, then you may not feel that you were in the wrong, but you're still making a gesture to lighten things up. It will help you understand where you are with the situation. 
 
This step might seem trivial for some and overwhelming for others, but asking this why is the first step in becoming more self-aware. It helps you become consciously aware of your intentions, and what you want. 
 
The second question is how your gesture will come across to your partner. Based on everything you know about them, do you believe that your gesture will speak to them the same way as it does to you? Or is there a better way to show your intentions, specifically to them? 
 
We often don't stop to think about these thing, and simply try to replicate what we see in the movies, or what we hear from our friends. That may seem like a good idea on the surface, but where it falls short is that it doesn't take your partner into account.
 
Your gesture can only be successful if you tailor it specifically for the person. Do they feel loved and cared for when receiving gifts? or will they be more impressed if you cook them dinner? Maybe they prefer sitting down with a glass of wine and having a heart to heart conversation. You can learn more about the five love languages in this video right here. 
 
The second step of bridging the intent verses impact gap is purposeful communication - not just for the sake of resolving an issue, but with the active intention of learning about one another. This kind of hunger to know more about your partner helps you understand not just what your partner likes, but also the experiences that shape those needs and desires. You can lean in on this understanding to tailor your gestures, to connect with them more deeply.
 
Learning this kind of self-awareness and communication will take some time and patience, but getting started on the process is easy. The first step of the process, the only thing you need to focus, on for now, is to start asking yourself: What is my intention? This simple awareness will begin opening doors for you that you potentially could never imagine. 

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