Relationships thrive on appropriate remembering.
Just as forgetting implies a lack of caring, remembering affirms that we care. Remembering past events spent together and remembering subsequent events in our partner’s life show that we value our relationship and our partner’s concerns.
But not every memory sustains a relationship. Some types of persistent memory can weaken the bond between two people. This post focuses on the types of memories that nourish a relationship.
1. Creating new memories – going places together
Long-term relationships are enriched by creating new shared memories that build on the foundation of established memory. Adding memories together makes a relationship grow.
Memory is linked to and differentiated from places, so visiting different places together creates vivid memories that endure.
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Travel fosters new memories, but doesn’t have to be extensive. Day trips, visits to unfamiliar neighborhoods in your own city, or a break in your geographic routine can provide unmistakable location cues for new shared memories.
2. Define memories – form collective memories
Evolution has left us with the potential to remember subsequent events for a lifetime. Early hominids with the ability to form long-term memories of their own family and mate had a greater chance of survival than hominids that had less ability to form these connecting memories.
Just as personal episodic memories define the individual self, shared memories define a relationship and remind us how much we mean to each other.
Notable long-term memories of both partners are denoted as relational memories. In an extensive meta-analysis of couples, agreement in these relationship-defining memories was positively associated with measures of relationship quality and negatively associated with divorce.
Remembering these shared memories also ensures that we are part of each other’s minds, and the more we are together in mind, the stronger the relationship.
3. Remembering good times and laughter
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A large study of married couples showed that reliving vivid, positive, and emotionally intense memories was significantly correlated with higher marital satisfaction.
In particular, remembering events where we laughed hard with our partner affects reported relationship satisfaction more positively than remembering other positive events.
This increase in relationship satisfaction is directly related to exploring laughter itself, which creates significant physical and emotional benefits.
When we recall a time of uncontrollable laughter with our partner, we bring back a primary memory of that uninhibited happy time by recalling and reliving the sights and sounds and joyful emotions.
4. Creative remembrance – and living on
creative remembering uses shared memories as a springboard for plans and ideas for future activities. In this way memories themselves become the present life we live and we can build on that.
5. Find topics
Certain interaction memories can fuse into patterns and provide enduring knowledge about a relationship. It can take a while to recognize these patterns, but you should remember them once they are identified.
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Possible themes include working together to overcome adversity, enjoying challenging situations, and being surprised by unexpected romantic gestures.
6. Understanding with forgetting
Of course we forget a lot. Everyday forgetting is usually not a moral failure or a personal insult. It’s easy to forget. From time to time, however, this natural forgetting leads to conflict. When our partner forgets that we had a late work meeting or dinner with friends, it’s best to acknowledge that forgetting and then put it aside and not consciously repeat it.
in general, Every day Forgetting itself should be forgotten – even if it seems ruthless or indifferent.
In particular, we are able to remember the gist of conversations but not the details. Our memory doesn’t work by remembering certain words. We should not be expected to remember what was said verbatim.
7. Helpful forgetting
Some forgetting can be beneficial for a relationship. Remembering an unresolved disagreement is necessary for subsequent successful conflict resolution, but once resolved it is better to put the disagreement behind and move on.
It also helps to forget the harshness of an argument or interaction that was atypical and for which your partner apologized. Let go atypical Irritations are beneficial.
8. Recognize individual differences
When remembering together, it’s important to remember that we all have different strengths and weaknesses when it comes to remembering. We should acknowledge our own and our partner’s distinctive ways of remembering, and recognize that ingrained patterns of remembering and forgetting shape what we remember. (For example, I can remember who was in a movie 25 years ago, but I forget who gave me a gift from my last birthday.) Differences in remembering and forgetting should not be taken personally or taken to heart.
As young children, we learn the value of remembering primarily through family interactions. Our parents teach us the importance of remembering by asking specific questions about past events even before we care much about the past. In particular, gender differences have been identified in what children are typically expected to remember, which then influences what they later remember in adulthood. When this research was conducted, girls were asked more about friendships and emotions, and boys were asked about facts and activities. (See the references below.)
9. Predictive remembering
Prospective memory remembers a future action or event—buying a birthday present next month, taking medication before dinner, remembering to call someone at a specific time. Online calendars and scheduled reminders can inform us about meetings and appointments, but many informal daily events rely on prospective memory.
In particular, we should make an effort to remind ourselves of what we promised—and do it as effectively as possible (sticky notes, email ourselves, spend time rehearsing the promise). Prospective memory is also helpful in our partner’s important work commitments and on busy or difficult days.
10. Choosing to reminisce
Reminders can be useful early in relationships and in mature relationships. People who study relationship-forming memories are typically in their 30s or 70s. In new relationships, remembering the first ones can be fun and lasting. Later, important events are helpful to look back on – trips together, weddings, births of children – and grandchildren.
Between the formative years of a relationship and much later years, memory should be invoked with caution to avoid using nostalgia to replace lived experience. (Remembering can have the downside of implying that a relationship is mostly in the past.)
We live our lives forward, but every once in a while we can stop and reminisce with our significant other.
Memories have multiple effects – suggesting, supporting, disturbing, confirming, aggravating, comforting and guiding. We should not appeal to memory to dwell on isolated inconveniences, unusually harsh words, occasional forgetting, or resolved disputes. Instead, reminders should be used to plan new activities, discuss, note attachment patterns in our relationships, and enjoy happy, fun times together. By using the potential of memory to work to the us, we can nurture our relationships.