Couples Communication: Assuming Positive Intentions

Learn how to improve the way that you communicate with your partner

The wonderful thing about this method is that it requires no speaking and no special skills. It doesn’t even require your partner to be present! But I have seen over and over again that it can truly change and significantly improve the nature of communication in a relationship.

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Please note, the information in this post is not a replacement for personal medical advice.
By Rachel Van Wickle, LMFT

As a marriage therapist, one of the most common things couples say they want to work on is communication. The thing that many people neglect to understand is that communication is happening all of the time. Whether you are having conversations or not. In fact, it is impossible to not communicate. Everything from our body language, to our tone of voice, to our cold silence is communication. I usually clarify with couples that a simple increase in communication can’t be the goal. We have to improve the way in which we communicate.

Assume Positive Intent

For the sake of this blog post, I want to offer one single method that can change the quality of your communication with your partner. The wonderful thing about this method is that it requires no speaking and no special skills. It doesn’t even require your partner to be present! But I have seen over and over again that it can truly change and significantly improve the nature of communication in a relationship.

It comes down to just three words: assume positive intent.

Assuming positive intent means truly believing that your partner isn’t waking up in the morning trying to think of ways to hurt you, make you angry, or be insensitive to you. Let me provide a couple of examples of the difference between assuming positive or negative intent.

Example #1: The Dishes

Imagine that you walk into the kitchen after a long day at work. You notice that the dishes haven’t been done, and you know that your partner got home earlier than you today.

Negative Intent

You feel upset, unappreciated, and exhausted just looking at those dishes. Maybe you think to yourself, “They really thought that I should take care of this when they knew I had an extra long day? I can’t believe they would be so insensitive and selfish!”

Positive Intent

OR you may feel upset, but you remain curious as to why the dishes are still sitting in the sink. Then you pause and notice that the trash did get taken out, and the floors were mopped. You smile to yourself, because you know out of all the chores you prefer to do the dishes. Maybe your partner couldn’t get to it and tried to get your least favorite chores out of the way. When you see your partner, you ask them about their day before bringing up the dishes.

Example #2: Responding

Additionally, imagine that you see your partner sitting on the couch staring at their phone. They look a little shut down.

Negative Intent

You immediately think to yourself, “They’re just punishing me for that silly argument we had last night. I wish they would just get over it! Oh well, two can play at this game, I won’t speak to them either.”

Positive Intent

OR you pause for a moment, then decide to walk over to them. You put your hands on their shoulders gently and say, “Hey, you look a little down. Is everything ok? I’m here if you want to talk.”

That is the magic of assuming positive intent! Couples can immediately change the direction of communication and improve connection by being aware of how you are thinking. Not only about your partner but about their intentions as well. So, if you want to improve your couple’s communication today, start with challenging the negative story in your head about your partner, and start seeking out stories that assume the positive.

Rachel Van Wickle, LMFT
Rachel Van Wickle, LMFT
Rachel has experience working with teens, individual adults, couples, and families. She helps people navigate managing depression, anxiety, mental health diagnoses, communication, and relational problems. Her work includes a specialized focus helping medical professionals and their families, as well as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS).
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Rachel Van Wickle, LMFT
Rachel Van Wickle, LMFT
Rachel has experience working with teens, individual adults, couples, and families. She helps people navigate managing depression, anxiety, mental health diagnoses, communication, and relational problems. Her work includes a specialized focus helping medical professionals and their families, as well as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS).
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