Why do couples have a conversation and then remember it so differently? Arguments over two different versions of an event can digress quickly and create significant frustration and conflict. A study from the early 1980’s published in Behavioral Assessment found that women tend to recall more about relationship issues than men do. Although women’s memories are more vivid and detailed, they are not necessarily more accurate. Women tend to report more emotions during relationship events and may pay more attention to those feelings along with the event. People also tend to remember their own actions better than those of their partner. Most significant in these studies is that mood plays a big part in memory. Negative moods tend to cause stronger memories and since research has found that men win more often in interpersonal arguments, it follows that women remember it more clearly.
As I’ve discussed in previous blogs, being right doesn’t bring happiness or resolution. Couples can spend an inordinate amount of time, energy, and negative emotion trying to prove a point. This type of conflict is so common, yet it can keep couples stuck for days or even weeks trying to discern which recollection has the most truth. Wall Street Journal writer Elizabeth Bernstein covers this poignant topic in her article on couples’ memory differences. Some suggestions from the WSJ article include: assume good intent, accept that there is more than one version of the situation, avoid arguing based solely on the memories, focus on the truth, and practice collaborative memory. Remember that different is better than wrong and chances are both stories have some validity. Focus more on the emotions rather than the specific details of the event and recall joyful events together which creates collaboration.
Lastly, accept and respect your differences since we often grow when we are challenged and required to look at a situation differently. Our memories of a situation can be tainted by multiple variables including the issues mentioned above, but arguing with the person who is supposed to be on the same team as you seems futile. Sometimes agreeing to disagree is the best solution. Try arguing the opposing position for a few minutes to gain a better appreciation for the other person’s perspective. Regardless of which approach works best for you, decide that fixating on your own perception when your partner views it differently doesn’t work. If you take action to let go of the need to be right, life will become much easier.