Once you get past assigning motive …

© Liudmila-Gridina | dreamstime.com

Yesterday I suggested you avoid assigning motives when your bride does something you dislike. A tweet I saw today sums up my thinking well:

If you assume negative intent when listening to your spouse, you’ll view EVERYTHING he/she says with suspicion, fear, and distrust. @mrgwrks

Not assigning motive is an important first step in being able to have a good conversation about action or words you dislike. If you start with “Why did you …” or even worse by telling her why (you think) she did something, you make the conversation about her motivation. It is far better to deal with the action. Kindly and simply communicate that what she did offended you, hurt you, or caused you some difficulty. When you do this, you are stating a fact about your feelings. With this start, you can discuss the issue rather than her motivation.

Doing this gives your wife a number of options. She can apologise, she can explain (she might have a good reason), or she can ask you what you would rather she do. Because you are dealing with her actions, not her motivation, she will feel less defensive, and will be better able to resolve the issue. At first one or both of you may fall into your old habits, but keep working to avoid the issue of motive and in time it will become habit.

The other side of this is learning how to avoid your motive when she has an issue with you. If she questions your motive, try to redirect by asking how your actions bothered her. Then deal with that rather than motivation. Apologise if appropriate, explain if there really is a good reason, and work with her to figure out a way to avoid the problem in the future.

The bottom line is you only get one start to a discussion, so start with what matters – changing the action.

Resource: In the comments for yesterday’s post, someone said they found great help in the books by Shaunti and Jeff Feldhahn. I agree – For Women Only and For Men Only are excellent books. The box set, For Couples Only is the best buy if you want both.

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One Comment on “Once you get past assigning motive …

  1. A good way I’ve learned to position assuming positive intent is this way:

    “I know you didn’t mean to hurt my feelings, but when you did [action], it made me feel [emotion].”

    Like, “When you walked out while I was talking to you, it made me feel like what I said wasn’t valuable to you.”

    I don’t try to avoid motivation altogether because I want to keep our communication channels open, even when we are frustrated with each other. But going into the discussion assuming positive intent, pointing out the action that bothered me, and then a brief explanation of why it bothered me has helped every argument I’ve had with my wife.

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