One particular problem I see being played out in my office over and over again is when a couple gets into a fight about something that happened in the past because they don’t remember it the same way.
The biggest mistake people make in that situation is that they are trying to figure out exactly what happened.
Are You Wasting Time with Unnecessary Fighting?
Couples waste a lot of time arguing about the “objective truth” of the problematic event.
For instance, John might have said something that really hurt Sally. This might have happened 10 years ago. John doesn’t have any memory of this, but Sally sure does. Instead of getting on with the business of fixing the injury, John and Sally are having a big argument about whether John actually said the hurtful thing or not.
That’s a big mistake.
A couple can argue forever about whether or not something actually happened and get absolutely nowhere.
Two Different People, Two Different Brains
The fact of the matter is that no two people are ever going to remember a single event the same way. The reason is that in a couple, you are dealing with two different brains, two different experiences and two different perceptions of reality.
What we know from the research is that our words, memories and perceptions are all inherently faulty. That means that the way we perceive and remember things and the way we talk about things are all being impacted by our past experience. What an individual finds scary and dangerous is based on things that happened to that person in the past. And that is going to affect the way that person perceives the present. That’s true for that individual’s partner as well.
The idea that any human being could ever figure out the “objective truth” really isn’t possible because we are always being impacted by our perceptions based on the past.
Distress-Relief is Paramount
What does that mean for your relationship?
What do you do when you are having a fight and you and your partner don’t remember things the same way?
The answer is to keep in mind what your job is as a couple. Your job is to create distress-relief in your relationship as quickly as you possibly can. You don’t want to get into a big, long drawn-out argument about whether this thing happened or that thing happened.
You want to do whatever you can to relieve your partner’s distress as quickly as possible.
You Don’t Need to Be Sure You Messed Up in Order to Fix It
So in the case of John and Sally, John might ask himself something like this: “I don’t remember saying that hurtful thing to Sally. But is it possible that I could have said it? Yes. It’s possible, even thought I don’t remember.”
Even if John were to say this to Sally, it already helps provide a sense of distress-relief because he is acknowledge something that she is upset about. If it’s possible that John said the hurtful thing, then it certainly is important to apologize, even if he doesn’t remember for sure that he said it.
You would never want to say or do something that is so deeply hurtful to your partner and not do everything you need to do to repair it. Repair is part of what helps relieve distress in relationship.
Don’t Waster Valuable Energy and Goodwill on Never-Ending Fights
When you and your partner have two different ideas about something that happened and one of you is really hurt by it and you don’t remember it the same way, don’t make a big deal about it.
Just acknowledge that you could have messed up and fix it. Right away. You will be so glad you did.
Don’t Make “Objective Truth” More Important Than Distress-Relief
In therapy, John acknowledged that it was in fact possible that he had said that hurtful thing to Sally, even though he had no recollection of it. That was all that was needed for him to go ahead and apologize.
He was able to tell Sally that if he did say that to her, he felt really bad about it. In this way, John was able to repair the 10 year-long argument and give Sally a huge sense of relief.
The couple was finally able to move on from this argument. They now understood the mistake they had been making all these years: They had been fighting about figuring out the “objective truth,” rather than just repairing the injury.
Many Partners Struggle to Acknowledge When They Mess Up
A lot of couples don’t make repair the most important thing in their relationship. A lot of partners don’t think that it makes sense to apologize for something unless you are absolutely sure that you did it.
People are often afraid to give their partner even just a little bit of acknowledgement or relief by acknowledging that maybe they messed up.
As a couples therapist, it’s amazing to me how hard it can be for people to say to their partner, “You know, I messed that up. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have done that.” And there’s a good reason why that’s so hard to do.
The My-Way-or-the-Highway Approach to Conflict
If we look at our relational histories from our families of origin, a lot of times, we didn’t see parents who worked together to figure things out in a way that felt good to both people. We may have come from a family where one parent was very dominating, and the other parent was very submissive. It was a “my-way-or-the-highway” approach to conflict.
One of the things you will learn in my couples therapy practice is how to work things out in a way that both people can have an experience of distress-relief.
Nobody should ever feel they are being taken advantage of or steamrolled in their relationship.
Everyone needs to feel that their concerns are being addressed by their partner. When people get that sense of fairness and sensitivity in their relationship, and they really feel heard and understood, that’s when they get lift-off and go to a new level as a couple.
Get the Help You Two Need to Get Out of Conflict
If you are a couple in distress and you would like someone to help you learn how to resolve your arguments quickly and get back to the joy that brought you together in the first place, let’s connect and talk about how I can help you achieve your results much faster.
You can contact me at the number below or leave me your name and email below.
I look forward to speaking with you soon.