Layla thought this had potential.
He was funny, he was hot, he had great dance moves, and his big brown eyes and soulful smile warmed her from the inside.
But sometimes he did things that seemed super-insensitive.
Like going off with his friends and forgetting to invite her.
Or telling an off-color joke and not realizing how it made her feel.
Or not replying to her text and then acting like he hadn’t seen it.
Her friends told her she should dump him.
Obviously he was an insensitive jerk.
But he didn’t act like an insensitive jerk most of the time.
Most of the time, he was a great boyfriend.
What should she do?
When I spoke to Layla, I asked her the question I always ask whenever there’s relationship conflict:
“Have you talked to him about this?”
She said no.
She was afraid of saying anything, because she knew that if she brought it up, he would think she was too sensitive or making a big deal over nothing, and they’d have a huge fight.
I asked her if he’d ever said or implied that she was too sensitive or overreacting before, and she said no.
Then this was an opportunity, I told her.
If Layla and her new guy could handle this, they’d end up feeling stronger and closer than ever.
What Layla needed were some strategies for having a successful conversation, and these 3 principles were just the ticket.
Assume positive intent
It’s human nature to take things personally.
It starts to rain on your only free day? The weather is out to get you.
Your favorite show got canceled? The networks want to ruin your life.
It’s easy to laugh at examples like that, but not so easy to laugh when we look at how personally we take things in love.
He didn’t reply to your text? He’s ignoring you.
He told an off-color joke? He’s making a dig at you.
He didn’t seem happy about your news? He doesn’t care about you.
This is often our natural setting when it comes to relationships.
We believe that our partner’s behavior—no matter what it is—is because of us.
Or we go even further and conclude it’s because our partner doesn’t respect/like/appreciate/want to be with us.
A relationship can’t thrive unless you change that default setting.
Luckily, there’s a simple antidote:
Instead of taking his behavior personally, assume positive intent.
Assuming positive intent is the relationship equivalent of “innocent until proven guilty.”
You don’t jump to the conclusion that his motives were malicious unless you have clear evidence.
In most cases, a guy simply didn’t think through the possible effects of his behavior. He didn’t mean for his actions to hurt you.
If it bothers you, talk about it.
When you assume positive intent, you can have a conversation about something he did without having it sound like an accusation.
You can say, “Hey, you know that joke you told? It didn’t feel very good to me.”
Which gives him the opportunity to listen and apologize, without feeling like he’s a bad person.
Assuming positive intent makes all the difference in the world to difficult conversations.
No one wants to be made wrong. No one wants to feel like they’re being judged.
When your guy feels that you’re giving him the benefit of the doubt, he’s less likely to become defensive.
But many people don’t know how to have conversations like this.
So they say nothing.
They let their resentment grow.
They vent to friends rather than talking to their partner.
Don’t do this.
If you truly love this person, pluck out those weeds of resentment before they gain a foothold. Talk to him!
Here’s another strategy that can help…
Focus on what you want (not what you don’t want).
Focusing on ways to make the situation right is much more effective than focusing on what went wrong.
If he went off with his friends and forgot to invite you, you can say, “Hey, you guys were having so much fun! Invite me next time.”
If he has a habit of not replying to your texts, you can say, “It makes me feel really good when I get a message back from you right away. Is there a way I can make sure I’m texting you at a time when it’s convenient to reply?”
See this as an invitation to ask for what you want.
When you don’t let small things build up, and you assume he meant well, you build greater trust within your relationship.
You’re no longer afraid of talking about things.
And you may just find that the way you see him changes. He’s not an “insensitive jerk” after all. He’s just a guy who’s trying and sometimes failing to balance his life with yours.