Perception trumps intention

photo credit: Neil Coulter via photopin (license)

photo credit: Neil Coulter via photopin (license)

I have advised countless couples that come into my office for counseling that their INTENTION in word or deed toward their spouse is far less important than their spouse’s PERCEPTION of what was said or done. I say this not to minimize a possibly positive intention, but to assist the couple in realizing that their actions have to be considered through the lens of the other couple member.

This notion is especially true when we’ve spoken or acted in ways toward our spouse for years without an ill intent, but then realize that they don’t see it as such a benign word or deed. Once this is realized (sometimes through the help of a marital counselor), we then MUST attempt to step into their shoes to feel what they might feel.

Here’s a practical example and application. If my husband perceives that I’m parenting him, even if I had zero intention of doing so, his perception remains. If he can then articulate that perception, then it’s now my responsibility to understand his perception in order to apologize and attempt to improve our future interactions. If this doesn’t happen and negative perceptions continue and become entrenched, the problematic interactions are much more difficult to repair.

We DO need to have the best of intentions toward others, most of all our spouses; however, we also need to understand that his or her perception of any interaction will be the thing we’ll need to examine, discuss and attempt to heal, if necessary.

How well and how often do you attempt to see things through your spouse’s lens?


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About Lori Mitton

Lori Mitton is a licensed clinical psychotherapist (MA, LLP) specializing in marriage and family therapy. She is co-founder of Permanent Passionate Partnership.