Assume Good Intent
How to change the whole dynamic of your relationships.
“Assume good intent.” This was one of the pieces of advice in a recent WSJ piece on marriage (03/24/15). The article was focused on situations where husbands and wives have different memories of the same event (and here I thought it was just us!) but the advice could be applied to marriage in general. And could stave off so many arguments, so many moments of frustration, so much sense of hurt or betrayal.
Assume good intent. It will change the whole dynamic of our relationships. Instead of flying off the handle when our spouse is ten minutes late, we can assume they really wanted to be here on time and that the delay was unavoidable. They don’t want to hurt us. They aren’t deliberately sabotaging our plans or our carefully constructed schedules. They love us and want us to be happy. It was out of their control.
We have an obligation to “judge everyone favorably”. If this applies to casual acquaintances, how much more so to our spouses. But “assume good intent” takes it one step farther. We aren’t just judging them favorably as human beings and in confusing circumstances; we are judging them favorably in terms of their effort and intent within our marriage. Many of us have been so battered by life – by tumultuous upbringings and prior unhealthy relationships that trust is hard to come by. But assuming good intent takes everything down a notch. We need to give our spouse a break, cut them some slack.
This is always true if we want to build a good relationship but it is particularly true when they have already demonstrated their love and loyalty, their caring and conscientiousness. If they have a history of good intent, then that should be our default assumption. We shouldn’t immediately jump to unpleasant thoughts and dark places; rather we should expect good. They have always shown up on time until now so they must have had no choice.
I believe this idea is one of those small (or not so small) secrets that make the difference between a warm and enjoyable relationship and a tense and stressful one. It’s such a simple thought yet so essential. “Assume good intent.”
As crucial as this is to a marriage, it is actually most relevant in our relationship with the Almighty. How many times do thoughts of “Why me?” and “It’s not fair” and “Everything works out better for them” enter our minds. How many times do we rail against situations that are too painful or too stressful or don’t work out exactly the way we want them to? Assume good intent. In our relationship with our Creator, it’s actually more than an assumption. It’s a statement of reality. He has good intentions. He wants what’s best for us. He knows better than anyone what that is.
We would all be so much freer if we took this idea to heart and applied it particularly to our marriages and most of all to our relationship with our Father in heaven.