Living By Intentions – What’s It All About For You?

Living By Intentions

What’s the point of you coming to psychotherapy? Why bother coming to couples counselling?

Here’s my premise: it’s easy to start both activities and forget why you started in the first place.

This is a reflection of how we live our lives. You fall into autopilot and do things because you’ve always done them, never really questioning yourself as to why you’re doing them.

Why Are You Here?

Whenever I work with a couple or an individual, or even if you’re a participant of my couples counselling training, I’m going to be asking why you’re here and what your intentions are for the work.

In individual work I will be talking to you about your values. What do you want your direction in life to be?

If you’re doing Imago Relationship Therapy with me I will invite you to connect to your intentions at the beginning of every session. I will help you and your partner create a Relationship Vision, so you have a clear idea of what you want your relationship to look like.

Mindlessness Sneaks Up On You

Take work. Autopilot flicks on easily in work. You go to work day in day out without really questioning why you’re doing it. Sure, it’s to pay the bills and make sure you’ve got a roof over your head but are you happy doing what you’re doing?

There are many ways in which you can earn money, so asking yourself whether you are feeling fulfilled with the way you are doing this can be a useful thing to do.

I Don’t Care About Oranges

My first job after university was as a Graduate Retail Manager with one of the big supermarket chains. I’d worked with this company since I was 16 as a student. In order to earn more money in less time during the holidays I’d managed to get a place on their undergraduate sponsorship scheme in my final year of university.

Yes – in 1991 I had hair …

Like most students, I came out of university heavily in debt so found it impossible to turn down the offer of a graduate position in their company once I’d graduated.

I hated it.

It may come as a big surprise to you (it did to me), but supermarkets have one priority – To make money.

I found myself being taken to task for how much my department was making (not much), how my goods were being displayed (not very well) and questioned why I wasn’t being more horrible to my staff (I was too nice).

I was terrible at what I did because I didn’t care about money but I did care about people.

Within a few months I’d got myself a place on a teacher training course and even though the job had a high salary for a debt ridden 21 year old, I left soon after.

I was lucky. I didn’t have a mortgage to pay or children to feed so it was far easier for me than most people to change my path and go back to being a student earning bugger all.

The lesson I learnt from this experience is that putting short term goals before long term values leads to misery for me. Having money in the bank was not in itself enough of a reward for me to merit working in a job I found unimportant.

Values in Relationships

Connecting to long term values within relationships is one of the most impactful things you can do. It’s all about getting your intentions for the relationship clear.

Having a clear idea of what you want your relationship to look like can help focus the direction you take and guide your day to day actions towards your partner.

Let’s presume you want a close, loving relationship (who doesn’t?). How can you behave moment by moment in order to move in that direction?

Arguments are a great example. Is winning that argument really the most important thing? Is it taking you towards connection, and a loving relationship with your partner?

Hell no.

Step back and tune in to the long term outcome you want.

Listening to your partner and exploring their perspective is going to move you towards a harmonious relationship far more successfully than winning the argument.

Do what matters. Listen to your partner instead of pushing your own perspective.

Intentions In Couples Therapy Training

Having clear intentions is front and centre of the work you will do with couples if you’re a therapist. If you were to come on the Clinical Training in Imago Relationship Therapy, I will teach you that there are 6 reasons to make an intervention whilst working with a couple:

To increase safety
To increase connection
To increase differentiation
To Increase integration
To increase empathy
To increase consciousness

Otherwise, leave the couple to dialogue.

These intentions make the work easier and more focused. They help you support the couple you are working with more effectively and get out of your own way.

How Do You Connect With Values And Intentions?

If you want to get an idea of what your values are, click here to be taken to my values post and do the exercise suggested. If you want to nail this like a pro, only choose 3 values – you can remember 3 things more easily and your values will stay in your head whilst you go about your day.

Look for opportunities to move toward those values. I’m not as naive as to suggest you should quit your job if your values don’t fit, but you can look for ways in which your values could help you decide how you behave whilst you’re carrying out your role.

Simple Relationship Vision

From a relationship perspective, writing down 10 things that you value in your relationship and sharing them with your partner would be a great start. I would encourage you to do this in dialogue if you can, to help you connect with each other. If you want to talk to each other instead, give each other lots of space and get curious about what your partner has to say.

Find 10 things that you agree on and write this up as a joint relationship vision. Viola! Your relationship now has a direction.

Counsellors and Therapists

If you’re a therapist, reconnect with why you do this work. What’s it all about? How can you move towards that purpose more effectively so you can be the best counsellor possible?

If your intentions as a counsellor are to be potent and impactful, one way of getting better at doing this might be to see less clients.

Overworking is a big problem in our industry, so stepping back and creating more space for yourself might be a great way of being more present and focused when working with the clients you do have.


My invite to you is to hit that pause button right now. Examine what you are doing in your life and how it fits with what you want your life to be about. If you don’t know what you want your life to be about then work that out first.

By doing this I’ve noticed that my life feels more fulfilled and I feel more connected in the relationships I have with my loved ones. Give it a go and see if fulfilment increases for you too.

Buy The Course

I’ve mentioned Imago Dialogue a couple of times in this post. It’s a way to talk to your partner in a safe and structured way so you can both be heard and both listen effectively to each other. I honestly don’t know what I would do without dialogue in my own life. It’s allowed me to really understand my partner in a way that I’ve never experienced before.

If you’re interested in learning how to do this in our step by step guide, click here to be taken to the online training.

Photo by Martin Shreder on Unsplash

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  1. Rach Morris on October 3, 2020 at 9:35 pm

    What a handsome young man! Did old ladies ruffle your curls and coo how you would break all the girls’ hearts? Hahah thanks for this really useful reminder to pause and reset – and for laughs x

    • Ian Tomlinson on October 4, 2020 at 6:52 am

      Well thank you Rachel, yes – my hair had waves and now the tide has gone out! I’m pleased you liked the post and thanks for your lovely comments!

  2. Judy Czuchnowski on October 4, 2020 at 12:26 am

    Thank you for this blog. First of all, your link to the values page is broken. It would be great if you could fix that. I hunted until found it, and then did the values exercise. Boy, that was a revelation! On the values page, you mention honing them down to 8 values. That was extremely difficult. I got them down to Co operation, Flexibility, Honesty, Knowledge, Non-conformity, Purpose, Rationality, and Realism. However, I realised that some of the values cards were not quite accurate for me. I couldn’t quite agree with Accuracy. I am more interested in Precision. I have had more arguments with people, only to find that actually we were talking about 2 separate things. The words were the same, but the definitions in our heads were different, so what I find accurate, someone else doesn’t. Accuracy is in the eyes and ears of the beholder.

    The 2nd thing I found enlightening was in Friendship. The definition to have close, supportive friends is not accurate for me. I like being the close, supportive friend, but I don’t necessarily want the opposite. I like Friendliness, where I talk with everybody in a friendly manner. So, for me it is an external “motion”.

    I’m not sure I could get it down to 3, to be honest, but it was an interesting exercise. In the end, I asked myself what I would want someone to say at my funeral.

    • Ian Tomlinson on October 4, 2020 at 6:50 am

      Hi Judy, thanks for the comment and the heads up on the broken link – I’ve now ixed that. I’m pleased you enjoyed the values exercise and I agree that getting them down to 3 values is difficult. I suggest that because the human brain can remember 3 things, any more and it gets a bit fuzzy. You want to be able to remember your values off the top of your head so you can check in with yourself whether you are living in the direction of your values regularly.
      Another alternative if you’re using more than 3 values is to take a photo of the ones you have chosen on your phone and use it as your screensaver – you see them regularly then.

  3. David B on October 4, 2020 at 10:00 am

    Thanks Ian- I found your blog interesting and a helpful reminder of the importance of values. In my experience when this topic arises in conversation most people say their values are ‘family’ and ‘being a good person’. What I’ve found more helpful is to focus on behaviours that embody my values, especially, as you say in your blog, when you are in a role that you may feel is less than ideal. For example, I have a habit of being opinionated, and this can lead to expressing my views at work. No problem- I usually do it without sarcasm, or hyberbole; I’m not at risk of being fired for it- but it can rub up against my value of understatement. I may shed more heat than light in my verbal offering…So, when I think of a situation where I am likely to do that I visualise how being ‘understated’ looks and a word/phrase, or even a picture of someone who embodies the quality (I’m NOT thinking of the late Kenneth Williams (: ), to help me connect to my value. It’s a work in progress, of course, and that’s where good therapists like you come in to help on the jounrney. Thanks again Ian.

    • Ian Tomlinson on October 6, 2020 at 9:16 am

      Hi David
      Thanks very much for your comment, I have this vivid image of you going all “Kenneth Williams” at work now and seeing the shocked faces of your colleagues! I love the value of being understated. I hear that stepping back from being “Kenneth”, taking a breath and responding is a far more successful strategy. And you’re right, we can always get better at these things and they take practice. I really appreciate that you’ve shared this with me.