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Does Intent Matter?



Mandy [00:00:01] Welcome to another Art of relationships podcast. We are grateful for listeners like you. Let's get right into it.

Chris [00:00:12] Well, it's good to start another podcast with you, Lis. Alisa [00:00:15] Hey. Welcome back Chris. Good to see you.

Chris [00:00:18] Yeah. It's fun to do an Art of relationships podcast. You know, we're sponsored by the center for Marriage and Relationships. Biola University. And, listen, I think we've been talking and doing relationship stuff now for, well, we've been married for, like, 75 years, and but we've been running a center for marriage and relationships for over ten years and gotten to see and talk with a lot of fun people over the years.

Alisa [00:00:41] You really have. And we've crisscrossed the country doing marriage conferences, family count, healthy relationships seminars for decades now. And we find that as we go from, meeting to meeting, that we frequently have a lot of questions from people who are attending. And we also notice, Chris, that they tend to fall into some similar categories.

Chris [00:01:07] Yeah, they they always seem to be about, you know, how come Chris, you married way up. And she married way down. How did you accomplish that? And then they always say, Chris, can you tell us your secret? How do you get somebody so amazing? And I always say, you know what? It's just I was just born this way, you know? I don't know.

Alisa [00:01:29] Man. Blessed of God.

Chris [00:01:31] Man blessed of God, you know? And. Yeah, and there are a lot of good questions. And it's fun to go over some of these because whether they're about marriage or relationships, whether they're about singleness, you know, relationship with family conflict, yeah, whatever these stories are, they and questions are, they seem to fall into certain categories. And this one kind of falls into the communication and maybe even what's going on in one's heart, what's going on in one's perception. So let's.

Alisa [00:02:02] Yeah. So okay, so this is what they said recently. We've gotten into arguments where my partner has taken offense to something I said. However, I didn't say them with the intent to do harm. My wife, however, said that the intent doesn't matter. Really. The only thing that matters is how it made her feel. So this listener is he's wanting to know, does intent matter?

Chris [00:02:27] Well, it's a great question. We can even just take this on a general level, right? Does intent matter when it comes to friendships, when it comes to any kind of relationship? Right. I remember as a kid, you know, my mom yelling down and asking us as young kids, I remember her yelling, you know, where is something? And I had been in the habit of saying, who knows? I don't know why. You know, when you're ten, you just. Yeah. Who knows? And so, she just got fed up with it one day when she yelled down, you know, hey, kids, what's going like? Who knows? And, man, it just must have tripped her. She comes running down the stairs, you know, with intent in her eyes of harm thing. Yeah, yeah, yeah. She did. She threw some. No, I was quick at that time and I ducked underneath a ping pong table and I missed whatever she threw. And my younger brother took it. Right. And, he did, and he was fine, but. But we laugh because she, she was a very, non post, you know, very easy going.

Alisa [00:03:32] Mom. She has the patience of job.

Chris [00:03:33] Yeah, she has patience. But somehow another we finally tested it and okay, let's talk about though this question if it's intent, in this particular case it's a marriage. But it could be with your roommate. It could be with your friend. So, Lisa, I think the question is going to be, when I speak, I oftentimes have a thought in my mind, a feeling that I want to convey, or just stating, you know, a fact or a cliche, but oftentimes there's something behind that. So it's normal for all of us to speak a fact in communication or to say something that has feeling or, or something behind it. Right? That's that's just normal communication principles. But what happens is then words are spoken. That may not be exactly accurate to what I'm thinking. You know, and then the next person, the person that's the hearer, has to then hear the words, interpret them through a filter that they have, and hear what either is, you know, the words that come out. But then the perception, once it turns into and through the filter, they can hear something almost very differently. And so, oh. So let's just say this. First of all, I think this happens too many times, especially when people start to maybe get to know each other very well. Maybe they start. To apply this filter and perceive what they expect the other person to say and make assumptions. So what do you think?

Alisa [00:05:20] Yeah, I think that's exactly right. And I think what you keyed in on right there, Chris, was, first of all, was to be aware that you've really got to express yourself clearly. You know, you want to pause and think about what you're going to say before you say it. And in granted, oftentimes that might just be a throwaway comment. You're just having a conversation and something inadvertently, you know, pokes at someone else and you don't intend for it to, but you that it's incumbent upon all of us as communicators in a conversation to make sure that we're expressing ourselves clearly. And then that second step, I think, is what you're alluding to here is that we all have filters. We all have filters through which we hear a message and that we attach, the interpretation to. And so many things can affect that, that filter. Right. It can be your family of origin. It could be that your past experiences with this person, it could be what kind of day you had at the office and in your coming home. All those different things can have, how good you're feeling. Are you hungry? Are you sick? All those things can impact it, that you really key down on something can. And let's flesh out maybe a little bit more about those filters. You said you hear what you expect to hear. Yeah.

Chris [00:06:49] Yeah. We oftentimes just do delays in us. Maybe we used to call this in social psychology being a cognitive miser, which which just simply means that people would rather not have to overthink and spend time processing every thought, every word, every intent, the status of my relationship, how I'm feeling, my mood. We would rather just simply, take things as, quickly as we hear them and interpret them without spending a whole lot of time trying to dissect the other person. Okay, that just makes sense. However, there are times in serious conversations, you know, we can tell by the other person maybe the status of the relationship, that this is a moment I need to really be listening to the other person. I need to clarify what they're saying. I need to hear them and confirm that I'm hearing them. Healthy communicators. What? I would tend to do that. So wait a minute, you just said this or what does this mean? Or how do we process this? So first of all, we like to do things, you know, without a whole lot of thought and effort into it when we're talking with our friends and our people. But you ask this very question, well, what does how do filters, and come into play? And I think, you know, if people aren't familiar with the scar study, right, they have this scar that they placed on these subjects, sometimes just these college students that they, you know, a makeup artist put on this, you know, very ugly, massive scar that ran, like, from their ear down to their neck. And, they looked at in the mirror and they saw this scar and they thought, great. I got to go out in public, walk around, and the researchers just said, yeah, go walk around. We want you to come back and then report how people react to this scar that you're wearing and see if they treat you any differently. So they they did. They walked out. And almost every subject who went through this experiment walked, came back saying, yep, it was weird. People treated me differently. They treated me more cold, distant, unfriendly, not as kind I felt in people. It's like they were standoffish because of the scar. Well, the twist to this whole study was no one. Not a single person who walked out of that room, walked out with a scar on because right before they did, the makeup artist said, hold on just a second. You know, the glue was coming off. Let me put some glue on there and make sure that the scar stays on. And they inadvertent or not, inadvertently, they purposely removed the scar. And so here come the people walking out there believing they have a scar and they don't. What happened? Why are people more cold, standoffish, distant, unfriendly now? Well, because everybody walking out there saw what they expected to see. They they used this filter now of I'm different. I have this about me. And therefore I, I'm going to see people I believe is more cold, distant. And that's exactly what happened. But they weren't wearing the scar, so. Lisa, what do you think about that? I mean, it's an amazing demonstration of the way we filter information as to how we believe or what we see things how we see, you know, people.

Alisa [00:10:26] Yes. And I and I think especially if you're in a situation where maybe the relationship has has become more negative, more conflict laden. Research shows that that we tend to interpret others more negatively than they actually intended.

Chris [00:10:47] Well, yeah.

Alisa [00:10:48] Wow.

Chris [00:10:48] Yeah. And that's a that's great. So if you have if you're already in conflict, you're going to interpret the person and those that are in, you know, as Gottman, a leading researcher, also talked about people that have a higher positive to negative ratio, interpret things more positively than those in which they have, for example, more negative or equal number of negative interactions to positive interactions. They might tend to see things more negatively as their interpretation. Right, right. And so if you have this, you know, higher level of more ratios of positive to negative comments and interactions, then I'm going to listen to you, Lisa, as you say something pretty neutral and most likely give you the benefit of the doubt here in this question. What's happening is the spouse or the other person is clearly not one giving the person the benefit of the doubt. And two, they're interpreting things based upon something that's going on in which they hear something as in as way more negatively intended than what the person actually said and what the person actually intended to say.

Alisa [00:12:04] That's right. And there have been times that you and I tease about this, because we've noticed that even in our interactions, we can we can be totally driving down the street having a conversation about something. And then one of us says something and it's like, whoa, what? What did that mean? Where did that come from? And then the other one has to stop and say, wait a second. Oh, was it you thought I just said, what was it you thought I just meant? Because oftentimes it was completely unrelated and and misinterpreted all the time. And that's even in, in a good marriage, in a good circumstance. We can do that.

Chris [00:12:45] Yeah. Yeah I think that's true. I in our relationship there have been various times where one of our kind of weird patterns is Lisa. You'll say something. I will tend to interpret it slightly more negatively than you intended. Not all the time, but if, if, if, if there is a time in which someone interprets it more negatively, it's usually me. And I'm like, what did that mean? What? What the hell?

Alisa [00:13:14] You're calling me fat?
Chris [00:13:16] Yeah.
Alisa [00:13:16] No, I just said you should turn left.

Chris [00:13:19] Yeah, or you shouldn't eat all those French fries because, like, what does that mean? Because I wanted some or whatever it is that. And so knowing that it has really been of help for me to be able to stop and question my filter in times in which I feel, not about the work triggered, but I feel like, oh, you said something negative. Wait a minute. Hold on. Did I let me clarify at least. What did you just say? Or why was my reaction so quick like that? And it really does help to have some experience going through this, to know that sometimes you're if your filter is slightly more interpreting things negatively, then you need to stop and pause and ask the question somewhat at least what it tell me about, you know, as a communication major, you know, you learned these major ways of, you know, summarizing our interactions with another person. And and I mean, it's complicated, right? Oh, people say what we expect to say all these things, but you've narrowed it down to, to like eight, for example.

Alisa [00:14:30] Yeah. Okay. So here are those eight messages. First there's what I intend to say. Then number two, what I actually say. And then there's what I think I said. There's what the other person here's what they think they heard what they intend to say back, what they actually say back, and then what they think they said back and then what the other person actually heard.

Chris [00:14:58] Yeah. Well, so there you go. That's the communication summarized, right. These this very fast interaction that we tend to have with people. And I mean, that's, it's. Way more complicated than those eight. Because. Yeah, because we take into account our mood. We take into account the relationship status, all that. But all right, Lisa, so, you know, we joke about how easy it is to mis communicate mis here. And and it could be a here's an example of just, you know, four words. Right. So that, you know, we're sitting next to each other lying next to each other. It's a hot summer night, Lisa. And and we had this quick conversation. I say you're hot. And then you say back to me, scoot over. And here's what happens. What I intended to say was, I love you. What I actually said was your hot. What I think I said is, I love you, you you sexy thing, you hear? You heard you're hot. You think you heard me complaining about your body temperature. You intend to say you're complaining again. What you actually say is scoot over. What you think you said is moved to your side of the bed. And what I think you said was, come get me, you sexy thing. Right. So we have four words here.

Alisa [00:16:18] Different thought patterns.

Chris [00:16:20] Yeah. You're hot. Scoot over and you can see right there that what will happen is we can end up, you know, on the opposite sides of the bed, so to speak, with one person chasing the other, you know, going, what just happened? Well, imagine then that your filter comes in and your relationship is solid. I say you're hot. You're like, oh, you mean body temperature? Or do you mean in another way that would, you know, then that would curtail or help the communication. But in a bad communication climate, it might just go unchecked.

Alisa [00:16:54] Right? Right. And this their feelings might be hurt. They don't say anything, but suddenly you're getting the cold shoulder. You know what's going on? We were doing fine. What happened? Yeah.

Chris [00:17:03] So here's maybe is the solution to the question. At least one answer. I would give it this way. If your spouse and you can agree to the fact that and it sounds like they do, that there is an interpretation problem going on. He's saying I am not communicating as negatively as she thinks I am, and she says, no, you are intent. It was this, that's a great starting point that they first of all, can agree this is happening. So if you're in a friendship like this, you just say, okay, let's stop and pause. Let's talk about the scar study ten. You first of all, I would ask the spouse, can you really discern the intent to the heart of another person? Well, if you can, yeah. Might be the smartest person in the world out there, because to know the heart of a man. Yeah. You know, Jeremiah talks about the heart of a man flows, and it can go one direction. It could go another. Who can ever understand it? In fact, the heart is wicked and deceitful above all else. And, you know, I think the Old Testament, New Testament and and new psychologists and old psychologists have all said, you know, to discern the heart of another person is really almost impossible. And so we're left with asking, hold on here. Let's agree that you can't mind read. You can't mind read what I'm thinking. That's called intent. And and my heart was saying, I love you. That was my intent. I said the words, your heart and I could have been clearer. You're right. So, Lisa, when you have some some situations like this and both people are willing to sit down and talk about, listen, can we agree that you can ask me what my intent was or I can explain it to you in situations come up where you're interpreting me more negatively? I would like to talk about what's really going on in my heart, and maybe that's a great place for what some people call heart talk, or some people call speaker listener technique, or some people just say, hey, it's just a way of really sharing what's going on.

Alisa [00:19:19] Yeah. And I think one thing that you did in there, Chris, that's really important to point out is, that that idea of giving your partner the benefit of the doubt, you know, you want to give you instead of just immediately assuming the worst about the other person. You want to give them the benefit of the doubt. And oftentimes, you know, that could sound something like, you know, Chris, and I know you love me and you are a wonderful person. You're not a jerk. You're actually really nice guy. And what you just said, I kind of interpreted negatively and this is what I thought I heard you say, but that doesn't seem like something you would normally say. Is this what what I this is what I heard you say. Is that right? Or. Or am I misreading something? And then I give you the option to say, oh no, least you totally misread it. This is what I was trying to say, as opposed to, oh my gosh, you're such a jerk. I'm just just immediately going to go to the negative and and get onto you for this negative interpretation, when actually that might not be it at all in the point you were just making is we can't mind read. Please don't mind read. Use that as an as the opportunity to, number one, assume the best of the other person, and then number two, to ask a clarifying question. This is what I, what I thought I heard you say. I thought, you know, you asked me, did I go shopping today? But what I actually hear you saying is,ooh, I'm a little bit worried about our finances, and I'm afraid that you might have overspent today. Is that what you're really saying? Is that there's that fear that our budgets in trouble?

Chris [00:21:11] No. It's great, I love that. And I think that, you know, brings us to the point where does intent matter as this person has? Yeah, of course it does. It absolutely does matter. And if you're checking your heart and you know you're saying something and it's being interpreted negatively and you intended it to be negatively, well, then, okay, let's open up and let's dive in and see what's going on in your heart. But we do, Lisa, start with giving the other person the benefit of the doubt. We then analyze the relationship, and then we look at our filters to make sure that we are not misreading, mishearing, or seeing something that isn't there. And then of course, getting into the placing or just having the ability to speak, words that are life giving and affirming in, in a situation in which there seems to be conflict while we hear and listen the heart of the other person. And that takes some skill, doesn't it?

Alisa [00:22:11] It takes a lot of skill, but it's learnable, too, and it's doable. So, that's our question for today. And if you have a question that you would like Chris and me to address on the podcast, send it in to We would be happy to take a look at that. But in the meantime, we also want to encourage you to hit the like button on whatever platform you're listening on. Give us five stars because that really helps us out a whole lot. And we just want to tell you how much we appreciate you as a listener. So be sure and share this episode with your friends. Share it with your loved ones and we will see you next time on the Art of relationship.

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