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'But That's Not What I Meant' : Intention v Impact in Conflict


This week, 'Therapy Begins with T(ea)' steeps on navigating conflict by considering both intention and impact through the 1+1=3 framework & offers a body based check-in to practice holding both in the body while staying regulated & connected.


intention impact conflict in relationships

Therapy Begins with T(ea) is a weekly newsletter based on the themes that come up in my sessions as a therapist who specializes in conflict & attachment styles in romantic relationships, imposter syndrome, and our psychological relationships with money. Each week consists of a 'steep' in thought reflection, an accompanying body based check-in, and tea card intentions for the week to come. Its intended use is for educational purposes only and is not a replacement for individualized medical or mental health treatment.




'Steep' in Thought (3-5 min)



But That's Not What I meant!

Chances are you’ve heard that before. And, just as likely, you’ve said it before too. Our words (and our actions) have meanings -- that ‘s’ there is intentional. In relationships, meaning isn’t solely dictated by the speaker/doer nor is it only interpreted by the person receiving it; they co-exist. And that’s why considering both intention and impact is so necessary in navigating conflict.



1 + 1 = 3 in conflict

Relationships defy basic math. For a couple/duo, 1 + 1 = 3. That’s an integer for each individual and one for the relational dynamic itself. Each one of the 3 have (sometimes conflicting) needs, expectations, histories, and ways of making meaning. If two people in a relationship only take their meaning into account (either the intent or the impact), no one is holding space for what it means to/for the relationship. It’s considering intention and impact that allows us take a step towards each other and repair a conflict.


We have to let the meanings co-exist -- assigning right and wrong only results in a standstill (or lingering resentment). It’s also not about blaming or having to ‘pay the price’ for the negative meaning a person interprets from your well intentioned words/actions. Meaning is rarely (if ever) objective. But, if we can understand each other’s (subjective) experience, we can find common ground, and we can then use that to negotiate on behalf of the relationship’s wellbeing without entirely sacrificing our own.


Use this week’s full body check-in to practice holding both intention & impact while staying regulated and connected in the body.






Full Body Check-In (2-4 min)




Connect to your breath. In through the nose, out through the mouth in a sigh. Let it be all you focus on for a moment. Let your breath connect your mind with your body.



When you’re ready, explore a recent conflict. What stance did you take, intent or impact? Remember what you were feeling. As you feel it again, check in with your body. What comes up? Do you feel more activated or shut down in this feeling? More afraid or dejected? What is the unmet need coming up?



Now, breathe out, releasing the feeling. Gently wiggle your fingers, toes, & body to help let it go. On your inhale, invite images, memories, and feelings that remind you of the warmth and curiosity you feel towards this person in general.


Step into their shoes -- where were they coming from in this conflict? You don’t have to agree. Understanding their stance doesn’t make yours wrong or any less valid. What is the unmet need that might’ve come up for them?



Connect back with your breath. In slow, out slower.



What is the common ground in this conflict? Is it empathy? Is it a need for closeness? Autonomy? Deep care? As you breathe in & out, identify what connects you & the other person in this conflict.


Check in with your body. Notice how it feels right now. When we feel grounded, safe, & connected, we have better access to our resources -- like clarity, empathy, negotiation. Try to get to this place in or soon after a conflict to help you work on the repair.





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