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Intent vs Impact

Do you ever find yourself locked in a tricky spot with a significant other, where one of you makes a gesture with all the good intentions in the world, but it falls.... short?

Isn't it amazing how even the most well-intentioned gestures and statements can have such a negative impact? One partner gets their feelings hurt (or even devastated) and meanwhile the other partner is likely exasperated, proclaiming "I didn't mean it like that!" or "I was just joking!". To be honest, this is a fairly inevitable part of being in an intimate relationship with someone, because we can't always predict how someone will interpret or react to what we do and say.

At the end of the day, the only one who gets to have any say about the impact of words or gestures is the partner who is impacted. Even if it seems like the most innocent statement, you can never 100% guarantee how it will land. So, what should we do if and when our best intentions miss the mark? Although you might feel like you "have" to, to put it bluntly, one of the worst things you can do is to is to defend what you've said and your intent. It's up there with telling an upset person to calm down. Just don't do it. Regardless of your intention, there has been a hurt caused, which needs repair (yes, even if you don't agree that the thing was hurtful). We repair these hurts (which, again, are par for the course in intimate relationships) by attuning to the impact that was felt and approaching it with empathy.

Sometimes it can feel that by validating and understanding something we don't agree with, we are admitting fault (or, bad intentions). What we are really doing though, is letting out partner know that we hear them; we understand them; and that we accept them. The wider impact of this, of course, is that we build on that sense of closeness between us and out partner, and foster a real sense of emotional safety within the relationship.

If you are interested in discussing any of the points further, we would be more than happy to hear from you. Feel free to send an email to and we will answer any questions you may have.


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