One thing marriage counseling can teach us is to assume positive intent in our intimate relationships. Assuming positive intent means that we give our partner the benefit of the doubt. Instead of jumping to the conclusion that they were intentionally hurtful, we operate under the assumption that they were doing their best in the moment. To the contrary, if we believe that our spouse hurt us on purpose, then we’re going to behave very differently in response to whatever they said or did.
With that in mind, here are some ways couples can benefit from seeing the best in each other.
We’re All Trying to Figure This Out
Often, it’s easier to assume someone had good intentions in the early stages of a romantic relationship. This is because you were still getting to know one another. Additionally, you were probably enjoying the chemical rush of love hormones, like dopamine and oxytocin, that accompany falling for someone. Similarly, we may be more willing to overlook a new lover’s comment or behavior because they just don’t know us very well. But what about further on in the relationship? Shouldn’t your spouse know how to avoid pushing your buttons by now?
Marriage counseling can help us see that we’re all trying to figure things out. When we assume positive intent, it gives us a moment to consider our partner’s actions or words through a kinder, gentler lens, and also to respond with more presence. When our responses are automatic, we’re not really making a conscious choice about how we want to show up in the relationship.
Let’s say our partner was late for a special dinner. Instead of assuming they don’t care about sharing quality time together, or that they don’t appreciate all of the effort we put into grocery shopping and cooking, we hit the pause button for a moment.
First of all, it’s okay that we’re angry or disappointed, but instead of attacking our partner’s character, we can remember that sometimes we get stuck in traffic, too, etc. As you might imagine, it would be easier for your partner to apologize and express empathy if you don’t blast them with character assassinations the moment they walk through the door. If something came up that was beyond their control, your spouse is likely already frustrated and equally disappointed. These are the perfect emotional conditions for a memorable argument.
But just as we can adopt an us vs them stance in our relationship, we can also choose to adopt a frame of positive intent. This can feel challenging if you’ve both been operating under the assumption of negative intent, but marriage counseling can help turn things around.
When We Assume Negative Intent
Too often we attach malicious intent to the behavior of others, including our romantic partner. When the relationship becomes challenging, we want to blame the other as the reason why the connection has dissipated. From there, we may begin to pick apart who they are as a person. We may spiral into thoughts like:
- They’re out to hurt me
- They only think of themselves
- They’re withholding, or mean
- They’re out to get me
- They’re never going to change
- Why try?
While there are relationships where all of this may be true, most of the time, it’s just not the case. That is, unless we unknowingly choose unavailable people who predominantly focus on themselves. If we’re drawn to avoidant personality types, we have some of our own inner work to do in order to figure out the origin of this pattern.
Making New Choices
When we make the decision to step into the relationship forum with each other, we know we will feel challenged, and we will feel pain. This is inevitable. Relationships are often the source of our greatest growth. The beautiful thing is that we can make new choices regarding how we relate to each other. But in order to do that, we first need more awareness. This is the missing piece that couples counseling provides.
What if you approached interactions with each other with a working hypothesis that there was positive intent? No matter the circumstance, the level of anger expressed, the historical trauma, hurt and disappointment. How might that impact the relationship? You might find that there would be a little more room for forgiveness, vulnerability, and connection. If you remove fear from the equation, what might happen? This can lead to a softening that was probably present at the start of the relationship.
Scheduling Marriage Counseling
The pandemic has been notably hard on partnerships. Even couples that usually see the best in each other may be drifting toward opposite ends of that spectrum during lockdown. If you need support through this difficult time, contact the office of Brett Beaver, LMFT by calling 925.324.4514. Teletherapy sessions are also available throughout the state of California.