Assuming Positive Intentions

 Written By: Dewey Wilson, Ph.D.


Have you ever considered why we so quickly assume negative intentions of others over positive intentions? While negative assumptions do not always get verbalized, most agree they tend to make negative assumptions in their mind about others.

Our brains store the experiences of past events into either short-term or long-term memory. Therefore, when a person experiences something negative, it's only natural for them to assume the same negative results are likely should the environment become conducive for the event to occur once again. However, our perceived negative assumptions can also be skewed because virtually every condition of the future situation must be the same as the previous experience in order to obtain the exact same result.

When it comes to marriage, we often allow certain behaviors of our spouse to become absolute predictors of the future. Unfortunately, when spouses allow these attitudes to be their primary lenses, eventually they see almost every action of their spouse with a negative bias. When occurring frequently, trust becomes broken in the mind of the perceiver, which in turn results in weakened confidence and commitment in the marriage.

Now, you may think this process occurs fairly quickly. The fact is, it begins with one negative assumption and, like a frog in a melting pot, Satan methodically encourages us to stock pile our negative assumptions and then patiently waits for our marriage to become fragmented. The antidote is pretty simple. Assume positive intentions from your spouse.

Here are some things to consider:

First, it's important to remember to control your self-talk, instead of allowing your self talk to control you. God will never expect from you that which He has not already empowered you to accomplish (2 Peter 1:3). Before allowing your negative assumptions to dictate your actions, take captive your thoughts (2 Corinthians 10:5).

Second, even though it will likely be incredibly difficult in the beginning, remain steadfast in your efforts to assume positive intentions from your spouse when you don’t agree with their actions. It might look something like this:  

a.  Assess what just occurred. Pilots are trained to ask themselves one question when their instrumentation gauges malfunction. “Is this thing still flying?” If so, they know there is time to troubleshoot the problem. Not everything that happens warrants you labeling it a catastrophe, a thought that can lead you to jump to wrong conclusions.

b.  Ask yourself if there are other influencers that could possibly lead your spouse to respond the way they did. For example, did something happen at work causing them to be stressed? Could they be overwhelmed from dealing with children? Could they not be feeling well physically? Are they tired?

c.  Affirm, then respectfully ask clarifying questions before responding. Things like, "I recognize you're upset or troubled. Can you help me understand if there are other external influencers impacting your response or behavior?" 

d.  Ask, "Is there something I can do to make this situation better?"

Obviously, this strategy is not a “cookie cutter” solution to every conflict that can arise in marriage. However, when you begin to apply this strategy to less conflicting issues, it will help you deal with the larger conflicts when they arise.

Lastly, ask God for discernment and strength. God is intimately involved in your covenant relationship and He wants your marriage to thrive. When you pray in accordance to His will, He hears your prayers and will act upon your requests (1 John 5:14-15).

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