Words May Hurt, But Intentions Matter

4 years ago

First, I have a story to tell you. Last night, the evening of the 4th of July, some friends of ours stopped by to pick up their daughter who had spent the day with us. For the sake of this story, we will call them Bob and Sue. As usual, Bob, Sue, Big Poppa and I ended up sitting around chatting when Sue told a story about meeting Bob's elderly aunt for the first time before she and Bob got married some years back.

Image: Eric Kilby via Flickr

As Sue explained that Bob's aunt was legally blind, she described how the woman had sat next to her and felt her arm to get a sense of Sue's size and in doing so commented, "Oh, you got a good healthy one here!" Umm...I think that I should tell you that my friend, Sue is like most of us, an average-sized woman, not thin, but not heavy, and laments about that 10 to 20 pounds that she'd like to lose. So you can imagine that this whole situation was a little, shall we say, uncomfortable for her. But wait! There's more.

Bob then proceeded to say that it was a good thing that his uncle wasn't alive then because he really liked big women. "He would have loved you!" Silence. Everyone else stopped talking -- everyone except for Bob, who hadn't realized what he had said. He continued on with the "compliment." "Oh, yes, he reeaally would have loved you!!" This was about the time that my husband stopped breathing and sank down into the sofa next to me, hiding behind pillows. He wanted to throw his friend a lifeline, but he knew that there was no way that Bob could be saved.

I was laughing so hard that I had tears running down my cheeks. Not laughing at what he had said, of course, but at the look on Bob's face when he realized just what he had done. I have to tell you that my friend Sue is unbelievably funny and an incredible actress, because her portrayal of the wounded wife was worthy of an Oscar. I say her "portrayal of the wounded wife" because of what she said after we all collected ourselves. I'm not saying that Sue wasn't bothered by the statement, but, for other couples, Bob's remarks could have ended up causing a major argument that would have lasted days or weeks. However, Sue said, in so many words, that while Bob's words may sometimes be clumsy, he never intends to purposely hurt her -- and that makes all of the difference.

This made me think about when Big Poppa and I were preparing to marry and we went through premarital counseling with our pastor and his wife. We were discussing marital conflicts and conflict resolution, and I had never considered that husbands and wives would ever intentionally do or say things to hurt one another. I mean, I know that arguments happen and things get said that you may regret, but I never thought that it could be intentional. Why would you ever marry someone, then intentionally hurt their feelings? What good could you ever expect to come of that?

Now I know how naive I was, because people do it all of the time without any regard as to how to pick up the pieces afterward. Sue was completely right. The fact that I know that Big Poppa handles my heart with care and would never intentionally inflict pain on me is a huge factor in how I respond to our disagreements. Admittedly, it takes a lot of effort to remember that in the heat of battle (sorry, just an expression).

How often have we all said something to our spouse and immediately wished that we could get those words back? Or even worse, how often have you wanted to say something, but knew that it wasn't going to go over well and couldn't find the right way to say it? That second one really frustrates me because, in my opinion, Big Poppa should know me well enough to know that I would never intentionally say anything to hurt him. He should know that my intentions are to help us get to the heart of what ever is between us. It's called giving someone the benefit of the doubt. Am I sometimes blunt? Yes. Do I like to get straight to the core issues? Yes. Am I warm and fuzzy when it comes to working out our differences? No, not really but, I think that intent matters and that it is something to be considered by both sides.

Whether intentional or not, my words and/or actions can inflict pain on my spouse and I am responsible for the outcome. Therefore, I should be prepared to deal with the fall out afterward. On the flip side, if we accept the words in the spirit in which they were intended, doesn't that lessen, not eradicate, the hurt? After all, this isn't a stranger that we are having a disagreement with, but it's our spouse. The person that we have chosen to spend our life and more time with than anyone else. Shouldn't we be able to extend to them some consideration?

Don't get me wrong, there have been many times during a disagreement when I have wondered how Big Poppa could be so insensitive or thoughtless. However, I have had to take a step back and remind myself that he is not doing this on purpose. That's not to say that I don't take a moment to make him aware of how he has made me feel and why. We just don't see this issue the same way. It's a matter of trust.

Admittedly, there are things in a marriage that are done with the intention of hurting your spouse. Domestic violence is intentional because it's a power play and the abuser uses it to instill fear and to control his victims. Lying is intentional regardless of what you're lying about because you actually have to take the time to think up the lie to cover for whatever it is that you are doing wrong. Infidelity is intentional; it never just happens. You actually have to think about it and make plans to meet your lover at some predetermined location. Even if you meet someone in a bar/work/gym and a one night stand follows, there are opportunities between meeting and the act to stop the entire thing. It is a conscious decision.

Intent means a lot. It can be the difference between experiencing some reaching a positive conclusion after uncomfortable moments and completely destroying a relationship. Just something to be considered. By the way, Bob and Sue are just fine. She made him squirm a while, but then let him off the hook.

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