What Creates Unnecessary Misunderstanding in a Relationship?

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There are many frustrating aspects to a relationship, but feeling misunderstood is at the top of my list! I know that I’m not alone: I see this frustration in my work with couples all the time. Let’s talk about the one challenge that leads to many misunderstandings in relationships. This one:

“We judge ourselves based on our good intentions and yet, we judge others based on their behavior”


Let me explain with an example:

One evening you prepare a meal for you and your partner. The normal in your home is that you cook meals for the two of you perhaps 50% of the time (both of you work and don’t assume that the other will cook). Your partner observes that you’ve cooked the dinner (the behavior). After you’ve prepared the meal (a meal that required more thought and time to prepare than normal), you tell your partner that dinner is ready. Your partner says that they are tired and suggests watching TV while you eat. You respond by stating that you’ve worked hard preparing this meal and would rather not sit in front on the TV. The response is: I’m sure I will enjoy the meal; let ‘s just enjoy it while watching TV. An argument evolves from there.

The Intention:

All too often we are hurt when our loved one does not recognize our intentions. And it confuses us that they don’t recognize our intentions because it is so obvious to us. So why isn’t it obvious to them?

In my example above the person who prepared the meal prepared it with the intention of ‘giving’. More so, it was a ‘giving’ to show love, and with the hope of spending quality time together, being present with each other. The intention was to create an opportunity to deepen their connection. It wasn’t ‘just a meal’ in the mind of the cook, but it was ‘just a meal’ for the spouse.

The hope attached to the intention was to create a closer, more intimate connection, or to connect on a deeper level by simply enjoying an emotional connection through conversation and laughter during the meal. Perhaps it would lead to cuddling later, making love, or just an overall feeling of being closer. Whew!! All of that was behind cooking a meal!! Well, yes: it was for this person. However, there’s a problem – let’s look deeper.

The Challenge:

The problem here is that the intention was never made known. Like I said, the intention was obvious to the person who made the meal but to the person on the receiving end it was just a yummy meal! The intention came attached to hopeful expectations, and the risk is disappointment and feeling rejected.

I am convinced that a great deal of turmoil in relationships is because one’s intention is not known, or seen by the other. The result is hurt feelings, and eventually resentment and bitterness.

Another example:

The two of you had an argument that goes unresolved. Both of you leave for work and at the end of the day you get a text from your partner that reads: “I’m stopping at the grocery store after work, do we need anything”?

The Intention:

The intention was to take a small (safe) step toward reconnecting. Texting the ‘question’ is a way of checking to see if the waters are safe and gain clarity to see if their partner is open to reconnecting based on how they respond.

The misinterpretation in this example could be that the person texting is ignoring the argument or your hurt feelings that resulted from the argument. But this is rarely the case. More often than not, it is a means to reconnect: that is the intention but instead we judge the ‘texting’ behavior!

It is necessary to be aware of our intentions so that we can communicate them to our partner. Like I said, all too often we assume that our partner is aware of our intention, which is never a good idea, and yet I do it too!

There is an element of vulnerability in communicating our intentions. The risk is that our intentions may not receive the loving response we hope for. For example, the person on the receiving end of the meal might still say, “I’m too tired, let’s just eat in front of the television.”

Rejection is then felt on an even deeper level because you’ve made your intention known and it is still rejected. However, it is helpful to recognize that ‘rejection’ is not a rejection of you, it may just be unfortunate timing. A helpful response to the intention would be to acknowledge it with appreciation and suggest another time when you are not so tired and you will be the one to take care of dinner.

Intentions & Expectations:

 If you are aware of your intentions, there is most likely a hope and/or expectation attached to it, as I shared in my ‘cooking’ example above. And when we have an expectation, we are often disappointed if our expectation is not met. Yikes! Now what? First, be aware of your intentions and then communicate them to your partner in advance. If you would rather not communicate an intention to your partner, then it becomes necessary to let go of the expectation. I know, that’s not an easy thing to do!

If you recognize your partner’s intention, communicate this to them. Let them know that you see them and their intention, just do so in a loving way!

One more thought: After reading this blog, try to be mindful (even daily) as to whether or not you have an intention behind your actions. You might be surprised to discover that you have many intentions that you were not even aware of. The more aware you are of your intentions, the better you will be able to communicate them to your partner. This prevents misunderstandings and hurt feelings.

Finally, when your partner becomes upset with you for something that doesn’t seem to make sense, ask them about their intentions. It might just shift the entire conversation to something a bit more positive!

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If you want to learn more about relationships – I wrote this for you “Ten Essential Things I’ve Learned About Marriage & Relationships” I’ve included the lesson that saved my marriage. I care about the work that I put out to you, and I hope you find it helpful. Let me know!

And you can keep up with my writing on relationships, random thoughts and more by subscribing here.

One more thing… I really would love for you to share your thoughts with me. It’s not easy to do, I understand because it took me a long time to work up the courage to begin blogging! But I want to get to know you. When you feel ready, please feel free to share your thoughts with me in the comment section. And, if you would like me to blog about a specific topic – let me know! 

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Details of any stories told in my blogs have been changed to protect the identity of people that I work with in therapy.

Photo Credit: Tobias SashaW@flickr.com

What Creates Unnecessary Misunderstanding in a Relationship?
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What Creates Unnecessary Misunderstanding in a Relationship?
Let’s talk about one challenge that leads to many misunderstandings in relationships. This one: We judge ourselves based on our good intentions and yet, we judge our others based on their behavior. Let's look further into this relationship challenge!

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