Live Free & Happy

Assume Positive Intent

Dating Ryan was a dream.  From our first sushi dinner to an open swim in San Diego’s Mission Bay, I was blown away by his humor, kindness, generosity, and relaxed vibe.  Most of all, after a history of “it’s complicated!” relationships, our hangouts were drama free and just so easy.  And yet, within weeks Ryan was indirectly highlighting a personality trait I hadn’t realized existed.  Sure, I was accustomed to my brothers firing off the command “Stop being defensive, Rach!” But pointed questions by my new guy felt different—and I didn’t like the feeling at all.

“Why do you think I’m attacking you, Rachel?”

“Why do you think I’m upset with you for being late?”

“Why are you assuming the worst of me?”

After a number of similar, straightforward questions, I paused to reflect on my behavior.  “Why am I assuming the worst instead of assuming the best?” I wondered.  It didn’t take a genius to figure out my defensive and suspicious persona.  I assumed the worst due to a history of attacks by people who questioned my motives and used manipulation/putdowns to empower themselves.  Like a pup who growls on her porch, even when approached by a loving hand, I developed a solid defense system and was constantly on edge.  But now, dating a good dude and anxious to surround myself with positive vibes, I was ready to kick my overzealous system to the curb.  Not only was I missing out on kindly given advice by immediately labeling advice as judgement, but I was also (unjustly and hypocritically!) assuming the worst of others.  And guess what?  Presuming the worst of others isn’t the best way to channel happiness!  Rather, assuming the worst makes you feel…the worst!  

But how?  After so many years of thinking the worst, how could I shift my perspective and start to assume the best?  How could I surmise when Ryan arrived late or cancelled last minute that something important must have come up?  How could I believe Ryan would think the best of me if I went radio silent for hours on a text exchange or didn’t call him back?  The answer was API: Assume Positive Intent.  API is an acronym of trust that has become an invaluable feature of my relationship with Ryan.  It’s a reminder to the other person that we are trying our best and not intentionally being a jerk.  Often written in a pinch, it’s also shorthand for “I can explain everything but I don’t have the time right now—I love and respect you!”  Some of our of previous texting examples include:

“I don’t think we should book those flights Ryan—API”

“Please don’t invite me tomorrow night Rae—API”

“Can you handle that for me Rae?—API”

The coolest feature of API is that it works in a wide range of scenarios, far beyond the ups and downs of romantic relationships.  “API!” I try to remind myself when someone cuts me off or doesn’t return my “hello!” on the street.  “I don’t know what is going on in that guy’s life but something must be off.”  “API!” I conclude when a friend doesn’t return a text to hang out.  “She doesn’t hate me; she’s probably just busy!”  Sure, API doesn’t work flawlessly all the time; it isn’t a fail-safe for unhealthy relationships we may or may not have chosen.  Sometimes we must deal with difficult people who judge us unfairly or who intend us harm.  In such cases, if you feel unable to distance yourself/confront them, I hope you can at least understand why they are acting as they are, since understanding helps to mitigate the impact on our spirits.  When and where API can help, however, I hope you can let it work for you!  Apart from helping you to build trust with the people you love, it’s a handy tool to keep in your arsenal as you harness a lifestyle of health and happiness.