A Question of Intent

Intentions — what we intend — deep down, is key for letting go of game playing and getting on with the core of relating. Learn how to let go of hiding your intent, by exploring your motivations deeply.

a question of intent

A Question of Intent

Good communicators will ask their partner, “What was your intention in saying (or asking me) that?” It’s also a legitimate question for you to ask yourself. Just don’t stop too soon. Because intent is often not what you first think it is.

Here’s a good example of what I’m talking about: this couple has been in relationship for two years.

A couple was in my office the other day … young folk, together two years, and the passion, sexual play and fun had escaped from their marriage. The woman said: “He lied to me. When we started dating, he hugged me and kissed me and wanted sex all the time. Now, he never tells me he loves me, won’t hug or kiss me, and most of the time he’s not interested in sex.”

I asked her how she felt. She indicated that she felt angry, thinking she was cheated and unloved. She told me that her response to these feelings was to refuse sex when he did get around to asking, an interesting form of punishment quaintly known as “Cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face.”

I then asked the man for his version of all of this. He replied: “I grew up in a home where you didn’t touch or tell people you love them. I come home every night. I bring her my pay-cheques. I don’t gamble or fool around. That should be enough for her to know that I love her. I don’t mind if she hugs me or kisses me, but I forget to do it to her. I’d really rather watch the Blue Jays.”

I asked him about her recollections about their early dating days. “She’s right,” he replied. “I did do all of those things in the beginning. I wanted her to like me. Once I got her, I figured I could go back to being who I really am.”

Now, as far as intent goes, the guy knew what his game was was from square one. He thought she was cute and sexy and fun, he did what he had to do to get her into relationship—AND his intent was to have a cute, sexy wife bring him cheezies and beer while he watched hockey, preferably for the rest of his life, preferably without complaint.

Not being a fool, he didn’t tell her of his intent. He now says his intent is for her to love him for being a good provider, coming home, not screwing around, being a good boy. He’s open about this one.

She, on the other hand, had, at the time of her marriage, a clear and revealed intent. She wanted to get married to a cute, sexy guy who would love to make love all day long. She thought she had met her intent in him. She hadn’t.

Now, she has a new intent.

On the surface, it’s, “I just want him to acknowledge that he’s hurt me.” (Of course we all know she’s hurting herself, but this article is about intent …) When I asked her to dig deeper into her intent, she said, “I want him to know what it’s like to be home all day and then be ignored all night.”

When I asked a third time, she yelled, “I want him to pay! He deceived me! I’m going to get even. I’m never having sex with him again.”

Response Number 3 was the actual intent. The other two were polite descriptions for public consumption.

There’s a great set of videos of Ben & Jock doing a Relationships workshop.

I remember one couple featured in the videos. He said that his approach to conflict was to lock himself in his room for a long, long time. Eventually, his wife would talk through the door, wondering if he’d died of starvation.

When first asked what his intention was for hiding in his room, he said he wanted his wife to ask him, “What’s wrong?”

She said, “I do that, and he always replies, “Nothing.”

Asked to dig a bit deeper, he then said that his intent was to see how long he could hole up in his room. “I want to make her feel guilty.”

Finally, after much back-and-forth, he stated his true intent. He wanted her to come to him and say, “I’m sorry. You are completely right, and I am completely wrong.” As she quickly indicated, and as he knew, that was never going to happen.

With the real intent out in the open, he could choose to give up a behaviour that has no chance of succeeding. Without clarity of intention, he might continue to go through the “hide in the room“game, thinking, “If she really loved me, she’d know what to do!”

Often, parents whose children are now adults have a need, an intent, to remind their kids that they are the parents.

Right up until my mother died, my dad would say, “You shouldn’t speak to your mother that way.” This was always said when I disagreed with my mother. Now, my language was the same as the language I use when talking with Dar, or with my clients —it’s direct, non-manipulative, and clear. My father’s intent was also clear. He wanted me to act like “their child,” and so, he’d find it necessary to remind me of “my place.” I would hasten to add that when my mom died in late 2000, I was a month short of 50.

Another example. I’ve seen one couple twice, the two sessions a year apart.

They have, they told me, three children, all boys. The dad says, “I lecture my boys all the time, and they never do what they are told. None of the boys is living up to his potential. They all have dead-end jobs, no relationships, live in the basement, and yell at their mother and me.”

When I asked dad for his intent in lecturing, I get, “I just want them to be happy and get ahead in life.” This begs the question, “According to whom / to what standard?”

I ask again. “I just want them to get it. I want them to grow up and be considerate.” In other words, I want them to be good little boys and behave “properly.”

I press onward, and ask again. Exasperation.

I want them to know how tough it is to be their father. They aren’t grateful enough for all I did for them.”

One more push. “I want them to behave exactly as I think they should behave, check with me before they do anything, defer to my wishes, apologize profusely when I criticize them (he added: “My responsibility is to teach them how to be men, according to what I believe,”) and to be adoringly grateful for all my sacrifices.”

Let me add: the “boys” are 25, 28 and 32…

There are many types of hidden intent.

a question of intentI’m up here because of you!
You just wait!

Rage and revenge are often hidden intents. Like in the first story, many people want to get even when they hurt themselves over the behaviour of another. Being “polite,” they may say something like “I just want her to be nicer,” or “I just want him to acknowledge me as a person.”

When I hear “just,” I cringe. There’s nothing “just” about it.

Many times, when I ask clients to go deeper into their intent, they simply present an endless list of their partner’s sins. Years worth of stuff. I’ll hear, “When my partner makes amends for all of this, then I’ll consider letting up. Until then, I’ll just keep complaining.” Doesn’t match, at all, with “I just want him to talk to me more.” It does match with, “I haven’t extracted my pound of flesh yet.”

The problem with this is that the inaccurate and mis-perceived faults of others has nothing to do with dealing with your own stuff. That requires hard work, much delving, letting go of decades long habits, and replacing dysfunctional behaviours with ones that work.

People prefer to state shallow intents and pretend they are true.

I just want my children to be strong and independent” masks “But I want them always to come home to me so I can tell them what to do.”

I just want a better relationship” masks “I’m going to make him/her behave by turning him/her into the man/woman s/he ought to be, or else… I’ll threaten to leave!”

I just tell her stuff (while blaming her for everything wrong in his life…) for her own good.” masks “She should know, intuitively, that I have all the answers regarding the way this relationship ought to be done. She’d be so much happier doing it my way.”

Once we openly and honestly begin to explore and share our intentions, we can see how ridiculous, manipulative and destructive many of the deep ones are. We can then begin to surface intentions that are simple and direct.

  • My intent is to deepen my relationship with you, by being open and honest and vulnerable.”
  • My intent is to own and express my attempts to manipulate you.”
  • My intent is to treat you as an equal adult, not as a/an (object, sex object, kid, enemy, etc.)”

Look, this week, at your intentions as you communicate, as you relate. Go much deeper than the surface intent. See what else might be lurking under the surface. Wonder at what penalty you’re trying to extract. Then, share what you’ve learned. And work toward letting go of intentions that separate and divide.


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So, how does this week’s article sit with you? What questions do you have? Leave a comment or question!

About the Author: Wayne C. Allen is the web\‘s Simple Zen Guy. Wayne was a Private Practice Counsellor in Ontario until June of 2013. Wayne is the author of five books, the latest being The. Best. Relationship. Ever. See: –The Phoenix Centre Press

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