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Caree Brown L.C.S.W. Psychotherapy

Individual, Couples, & Family Therapy


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Intention vs. Impact

The sometimes huge gap between intention and impact is an unfortunate but very common miscommunication couples struggle with. In spite of one person’s positive intention to express his love and concern, the impact received may be quite negative.

For example, a person may want to nurture his partner by encouraging her to exercise more regularly. Contrary to what is intended, his partner may experience his behavior as intrusive or controlling. . . . and an argument ensues.  Or, one person gets his feelings hurt and reacts in silent withdrawal. Misreading this behavior as a need for privacy, the other person decides to respect his perceived preference and gives him space. Sadly, miscommunication rears its ugly head and the hurt person experiences this behavior as cold indifference or hostile alienation. . .  and distance between them multiplies.

A way to lessen this gap between intention and impact is to take a moment to acknowledge and empathize with each other’s feelings and check out the assumptions about each other’s intentions. For example, “When you tell me to exercise, I feel criticized as well as controlled by you.” The other partner can then clarify that their intention was to encourage and support, not control, and that he is sorry for the way his communication was misinterpreted. The person dealing with the negative impact can make room in his thinking for his partner’ positive intention and the positive intention person can be made aware of the negative impact of her behavior. Both people need to make space in their thinking for their partner’s different thought process.

Because we all come from different backgrounds, different experiences and different inclinations in our temperaments, we all don’t connect the dots in the same way. Given these different backdrops, the varied perspectives make sense to each partner.  Even if they are not understood and don’t make sense to each other, they need to be respected and given consideration in the discussion.

Hopefully, this heightened awareness can translate into a higher level of consciousness going forward, encouraging both people to be aware of how their thinking and behavior impacts each other, in spite of their positive intentions. A more thoughtful and careful orientation can proactively avoid many needless snafus and can help unravel the ones that seem to be unavoidable.

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