When I am hurt by my husband’s words, more often than not, I tend to blame him for being insensitive. As I am preoccupied with my own hurt , I leave no effort undone to make it very apparent that ‘he HURT me.’ If our conversation proceeds further and I see that he does not care to respond to my feelings and is more interested in defending his own stance, I’m more and more aggravated and I drive myself to feel more and more pained.
As I was contemplating on how I could resolve this situation occurring and recurring in the lives of many-a- well-meaning couples, I chanced upon the book ‘Difficult Conversations’ by Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton and Sheila Heen. As I read the title of the third chapter, a new realization dawned upon me. It said ‘dont assume they meant it.’ The authors say that mostly ‘we assume what the other person’s intentions are, when in fact, we aren’t aware of it! Other people’s intentions exist only in their hearts or minds’.
Why then do we feel hurt when we don’t even know their intention? It is because of the impact of those words or action on us that we tend to assume their intentions as wrong. Eg: on a busy day, when someone makes us wait and he turns up late, we don’t think that ‘he could have run into someone more needy,’ but we think, ‘as usual, he’s taking me for granted.’
What’s ironic is that though we tend to attribute bad intentions to others, we’re more charitable towards ourselves eg: when your husband forgets to pay the electricity bill, he’s irresponsible, but when you forget to lock the main door, you’re overworked & stressed. Just see how we’re able to easily forgive ourselves or rationalize our intention because it is we who know our intentions the best. Similarly, when your husband criticizes your words, you feel he’s putting you down but when you offer him a suggestion, you’re trying to be helpful.
The reason why we can easily forgive ourselves too is because we know that we don’t intend to annoy, offend or hurt someone intentionally. We’re sometimes so caught up in our own act that we’re grossly unaware of the negative impact that our words or action has on someone else. What is most interesting, according to experts, is that it is a rare phenomena to have people with grossly bad intentions in our lives, rarer than we imagine!!
Doesn’t that bring some solace to you! It gives you a chance to look upon your family members as people who love you, who have the best interest for you or at least do not mean to hurt you intentionally. When our vision of people around us change, we start seeing them more positively, the impact of their words and actions on us too change for the better.
Going back to the question of resolving the situation of word/action-> hurt-> blame -> more hurt -> more blame, is to bring it to an objective platform. You bring the situation to an objective platform when you separate the hurt from the intention and then clarify intentions without judging them.
Examples of some clarifications when we react and judge are-
- Why do you always belittle my efforts?
- Aren’t you trying to manipulate me?
- You say these words purposefully to hurt me!
How could we bring in more objectivity into the above 3 examples?
- When you say ‘I don’t think you will be able to do it…,’ I feel belittled. What do you actually mean when you say that?
- I feel I am being manipulated in the current situation. Can you let me know what you intended when you asked me to speak in favour of you.
- You said ‘why bother!’ When you use such words I get hurt. Please tell me what you intended?
Can you see the difference of using our words carefully? How we speak to others evoke similar responses. We might think we’re simply expressing our hurt and might expect the other person to understand and probably apologize to us, but what we’re doing is to inadvertently put them on a defence. Any person will try to defend a false accusation. But when we separate our hurt from their intention and state our hurt and then objectively seek to know their real intention, we’re creating a healthy environment of discussion. Otherwise, if we mix up our hurt sentiments/feelings with their intention, we’re merely provoking them or maligning their character and your words will be farfetched from one who is looking for solace. Such conversations lead to no apology or understanding or a changed situation except a bigger misunderstanding.
Let’s learn how to separate our hurt from their intention in 3 easy steps-
- Note what the other person has said or done
- What was the impact of this on you
- Based on this impact, what assumptions are you making about the other person’s intentions
When we’re on the other side of receiving the blame, we can disarm an explosive situation by first listening to the other person’s feelings and later reflecting on your intention. Usually we fail to listen past the accusation. Accusations especially false ones, really tick us off but let us always remember that accusations about our bad intentions are always because of two reasons-
- We really had bad intention or some mixed intention (ulterior motive)
- The other person is hurt or frustrated
A constructive conversation when you receive blame is when you start by listening to and acknowledging the feelings and then return to the question of intentions. We can also take up this opportunity to purify our intentions.
Radhanath Swami emphasizes on purifying our intentions- ‘God sees not only our bodies, but he sees our desires, motivations, intentions, and he is only pleased when there is love. If we do not have love in our hearts, God sees, but he is not pleased to see us. Shelter comes when the Lord is pleased with our intention and spirit of service.’
When our intentions are pure, it reflects in our words and actions too!