Intention (in-ten-shen) n. 1. A plan of action; a design. 2. An aim that guides action. From Latin intendere, to stretch toward. (from The American Heritage Dictionary)
How important is intention in the growth and development of healthy relationships? Does the good stuff just happen by itself? Can we make our goals, our dreams, our lives, our relationships happen out of sheer will? Is there always that chance for the development and healing that is required in healthy relationships? Are some people just lucky in relationships?
We have all observed individuals who stride with purpose and clarity through their lives. We can see the quiet sense of calm in their presence, the sparkle of joy within their eyes. Many of us also have witnessed couples who seem to have a bright bond between them. They are the couples that make us reflect on our own relationships and perhaps even wish for whatever magic they seem to have discovered that enables them to feel so connected, so filled with joy and unmistakable intimacy even when surrounded by any number of people and distractions. Are these people just born into good fortune? Are they just lucky to have come from a long line of well-adjusted and well-off parents and grandparents? Were there no early traumas in their young lives? No lost jobs? No illnesses? No worries about money, other concerns, or whether someone will survive or be hurt again?
In nature, an acorn carries the intention to become an oak tree. Humans also are endowed with intention. Geneticists theorize that our innate intention, that which we are to become, is encoded in DNA which will interact with environmental factors in our development. But, as humans, we are capable of more than just reflexive or unconscious action such as that acorn growing into a tree. We are capable of memory, self-reflection, conscious choice, and the will to actualize our intentions. Carl Jung taught that we are born with spiritual instincts that program us with an innate drive to develop toward wholeness. And we have the ability to respond to and to actualize our full human potential, according to Jung. In fact it is our responsibility. When we are inspired (in-spirit) by our core intentions and feeling our purpose in life, we are empowered for success. We feel Universal energies supporting us. We feel the wind in our sails!
Many individuals know themselves to have considerable life purpose or intention to be in relationship with other(s). Relationships are a great medium for facilitating our development toward wholeness. So let’s talk further about the role of intention in relationships and communication. How does intention play out in the process of human relating?
First of all, the seeds of relating come from our own essence and who we are intended to be. What we know about ourselves is reflected in our self-concept or self-esteem. This is the energy that we first portray to others in many sensory and even extra-sensory ways. It is the energy that attracts those of like mind. We take ‘ourselves’ into every relationship. And who we are is our ultimate protection. Doing our own inner work, healing, actualizing our potentials, and taking time between relationships to get grounded and centered in ourselves are examples of ways we can help ourselves be more ready for being in relationship. We can then clarify the intentions for our individuality.
We are the only ones who can identify what our true intentions are and it does take practice to go within to identify them for ourselves. We can get in touch with what resonates for us, what feels right on a soul level—often by tuning in to our own ‘gut’ feelings on a regular basis. When we have a sense of our own intentionality, we become more genuine and expressive in our communications and more free to be in the moment with others.
Setting the Tone
In the early stages of relating, whether it is a first meeting of individuals, or the beginning of a topical discussion in a relationship of many years, there will be energy initiated in that interaction from both individuals. Here is where we can set the intention to open our hearts and to make an authentic connection from the core of whom we are. Can we create enough good energy or good will to creatively overcome obstacles and to solve concerns mutually?
We are often inspired with positive intentions in the early stages of relationships, aided by Mother Nature and natural instincts. Patricia Love describes the early stages of love as an “altered state of brain chemistry;” we act is as if the head is only able to move one way, signifying “yes!” One example of this is caregivers who often fall in love with newborns through the bonding process that helps us to commit to nurturing and protecting our offspring. Similarly, marriages often begin with intentions to “love, honor, and cherish.” In relationships, beginnings of all kinds are important.
Life and relationships, however, are not just about beginnings. With time in the relationship, depth, growth, and even complications occur. In any relationship or interaction, our “shadow material” will show itself. “Shadow” meaning aspects of ourselves that are not yet integrated into our conscious sense of self. For example, someone who sees him/herself as generous may have a stingy side. Or someone who thinks of him/herself as socially reserved may relate very warmly at times.
When shadow material shows itself, something that feels like negativity often occurs. Shadow material is likely to be noticed and tends to be a little disruptive until it is integrated. There may be some defensiveness, some illusion, some reflection of something one dislikes in oneself. With loving intention these challenging times will be opportunities for development and transformation. We must integrate our valuable shadow material, instead of just projecting it outward. As we become more whole, that stingy side perhaps helps us realize our more thrifty nature. Integrating our self-concept as both reserved and warm helps us to be more balanced. But in the learning process, there will be mistakes, learning opportunities, and hurt feelings, as our partners can often more easily see our shadow than we can. But we are capable of getting the creative energies unstuck, honoring ourselves and the other, and moving once again in a positive direction. We can overcome egotism and conflicts and further build our communications, our relationships, and our own wholeness in the process... if we are well-intended.
We learn that relationships are more functional when we can clearly communicate our intentions with others, as well as ourselves. We learn to assert what we feel and what we want more tactfully, and to really tune in to what the other is saying. We find that we are capable of creative intelligence and finding win-win solutions. Our human nature intends us to grow.
So, what follows? What’s next? Do we finally just live “happily ever after?”
Most often, it’s not quite that easy. Relationships are often like plants or trees that continue to grow, need water and sunlight, nourishment, and some tending. With care and attention, they offer us protection, growth, and many seasons.
Ongoing relationships are never a finished product. As differences are resolved, we must hold the intention to remain conscious and awake. We must stay humble and open to change. We must continue to tend our relationships.
Teilhard de Chardin, a French philosopher and mystic, said “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.” Those human experiences are constantly giving us opportunities to grow.
Conclusion (or perhaps the Beginning)
We have touched on the nature of intention in relationships. Life intends for us to know ourselves, consciously set the tone of our relationships, creatively deal with challenges, and stay awake during the lessons that relationships naturally bring.
Some say we are “always at the beginning.” Perhaps life itself is a form of meditation: When we realize that we have drifted from our intentions (in meditation speak: our mantra), that’s just the time to begin again and return to our intentions.
Life goes on. We learn. We manifest. And hopefully, we love.
Knowing Yourself: Ideas for Practice
Learn to become aware of the intentions behind your choices and interactions:
- Keep a notebook at bedside. Journal immediately upon awakening in a stream of consciousness fashion. Capture the images, thoughts, and feelings that show themselves between sleep and full waking consciousness.
- Record dreams. Explore a written dialogue between yourself and a dream figure. See where it leads and what you can learn.
- Incubate a question or concern in your notebook before going to sleep. See what answers show up in your morning journaling.
- Retreat from daily activities and objectives, whether for a couple of hours or for an overnight getaway. See what bubbles up into your awareness. Journal.
- Sketch, dance, play, walk, be in nature, pet the cat. Let there be time and openness to hear your own true desires and intentions.
Setting the Tone: Ideas for Practice
Learn to set the tone for intentional beginnings in daily communications:
John Gottman, marriage researcher and therapist, says that couples who stay together are the ones who can turn toward each other under stress rather than turning against each other, away from each other, or shutting down.
- Cultivate and consciously choose ‘softened startup’ strategies especially when initiating difficult discussions.
- Set aside a time to begin a discussion when parties are available to engage.
- Use ‘I’ statements, rather than ‘you’ statements, which can set the tone for blaming.
- Build rapport. Begin with sharing acknowledgement, appreciation, and acceptance.
Facing Challenges: Ideas for Practice
Learn to face challenges intentionally:
- If emotions are very strong, write a letter (not to send) before engaging in problem-solving discussions. This provides a chance to clarify feelings and intentions and lower emotional reactivity.
- Learn to express a) what you feel and b) what you want, need, wish or hope for. Be honest with yourself and direct, yet tactful in your communications.
- Speak from the heart by getting beyond thoughts and judgments. Practice using feeling words. Use a feeling vocabulary list if needed. Express what is underneath the feelings of anger or frustration.
- Practice reflective listening until your partner really feels heard.
- Learn to enjoy doing brainstorming and creative problem-solving with your loved ones.
- Learn and respect each other’s boundaries.
- Staying Awake: Ideas for Practice
Keep up your good intentions:
- Create a comfortable setting and set aside regular times to connect and share conversation.
- Set aside a regular time for ‘family meetings’ for ‘relationship business’ talks. Come with intentional agendas.
- Exchange ongoing meaningful experiences: What was the worst/best thing that happened to you today?
- Keep each individual’s life values (adventure, peace, independence, creativity, etc.) upfront in relationship awareness, so that you can respect and honor individuality. Otherwise these intentions may get hidden within conflicts.