Intent, Interpretation and Response: Anatomy of a Super-Sized Conflict

Let’s face it.  “Super sized” any-food is too much unless we’re talking about athletes, extremely physically active people or adolescent boys.  I once saw a six-foot, thin-as-a-rail boy down two super sized Mc-Meals without blinking an eye…his body was a consuming machine, growing nightly and amazing those around him daily.  But for most of us, the super sized phenomenon has resulted in a proverbial thunder thighs and badonk-a-donk butt plague gripping America by the cholesterol-packed veins.

But this essay isn’t about America’s battle of the bulge.  Rather, it’s about the something else that makes you feel like you’ve just eaten way too many calories and and you can’t shake the weight of what’s getting you down:  a super sized conflict with someone you love.

When someone begins eating healthy, the first thing they usually have to do is come to terms with what it is they are actually putting in their mouth.  Sometimes you look at a plate of food and it just doesn’t seem that 1200 calories are sitting there waiting for you to engage.  It’s the same thing with fights…people rarely understand how they started, the result is overwhelming and they feel as thought they bit off way more than they could chew.  And…frequently they experience physical symptoms like indigestion!

However, if you break down a Big Mac into all its parts, you can see what you’re getting yourself into. From the seventies we know this is…

Click photo to view the Big Mac "Two All Beef Patties..." commercial.

And, once you know what you’re getting into sometimes it seems easier to make choices that affect outcomes.  For a Big Mac, we could pull off the middle layer of bread, one of the patties, all of the sauce and have a moderately decent meal.  For fights, however, the ingredients are invisible.  Here’s the list:  feeling, action, intent, interpretation,  and response…FAIIR.  And, fair fighting is something the world could all use more of so we’ll stick with that acronym to help you remember our anatomy lesson.

Generally about this time in an article I would provide an example of an argument.  However, I think what I’d like you to do instead is think back to one you’ve had recently.  What was it about?  How did it start?  Got it in your head?  Okay…here’s the breakdown –

Feelings There are feelings surrounding every action, interpretation and response in an argument.  Identifying those feelings and being clear about them is the first order of business.  If you started it, what were you feeling?  Sometimes you have “feeling salad” wherein you have several at the same time.  Make sure and list them all.

Action Usually the feeling precedes the action; feelings are the propulsion, so to speak, for your move.  So, what did you do?  What action did you take?  Sometimes a fight is precipitated by feelings and the action becomes “shutting down.”  It doesn’t always have to be a forward-motion behavior.  It’s important to note, however, that there is always an intent for the action.

Intent Here is a major key for you – most all intentions within normal couple fights are positive.  It’s actually a positive thing to want to resolve an issue.  It’s a positive thing to want the fighting to stop.  It’s a positive thing to think you’re protecting someone’s feelings.  It’s a positive thing to try to change something that’s not working.  Even though your partner may not view your action as having a positive intent, it usually does…even if that intent is only to protect yourself because you’re feeling attacked.  That’s a positive action!  No one wants to feel attacked!

Interpretation The next part of the argument, however, is the interpretation.  In most every fight, the “intent” of one person is “interpreted” in a negative manner.  This is where the real problems lie.  A history of hurts pile up and so many times interpretations are based upon historical “sameness,” even if this fight is different.  Further, negative intents are often labeled (correctly) as “mind-reading.”  No human being can read minds, have ESP about another’s feelings, or judge what an intent really is…you’re just not that good.  Neither am I.  But over time, trust erodes when fights continue and it’s difficult to remember that your partner is a living, breathing, autonomous person with their own thoughts and feelings.  So, this is where you need to be the most cautious:  assumptions of negative intent are toxic.

Response You can tell where this is going now, right?  If you have an behavior that was feeling inspired, had a positive intent, but then a negative interpretation…the logical “response” would be to then counter with a behavior that is feeling inspired, has a positive intent, but will probably be negatively interpreted.  This is how humans, and for that matter pretty much most of the animal kingdom, are engineered.  And many times, we can’t even really identify where these fights began or how they ended.

If this type of escalation continues, it becomes super sized.  And before you know it, your relationship may have some pretty heavy baggage (thunder thighs) to slowly repair with healthier interactions.  However, the cool thing about healthier eating and exercise, AND about healthy communications and interactions, are that they make a difference immediately.  And both, over a longer period of time, can radically change your outlook on life.

Envisioning a relationship with healthy communication (clear, open and FAIIR dialogue) feels good doesn’t it?  As I think about it, I am experiencing absolutely NO indigestion!

(Now that you know the anatomy of a fight, follow THIS LINK to learn what you can do better to avoid some of that mess I just shared with you!)

After you do that, if you’re still not there…write us and we’ll get you more resources.  Thanks.