Selective Memory in Marriage


Wife: “Don’t forget we’re going to my parents this weekend to help them with that project.”
Husband: “What project?”
Wife: “Remember, they’re redoing their living room, and we have to help them move all the furniture and repaint.”
Husband: “You didn’t tell me we were doing that this weekend!”
Wife: “Yes I did. I told you Wednesday, when we were coming home from church.”
Husband: “I didn’t think you were talking about this weekend!”
Wife: “I swear you have a selective memory. You only remember what you want to remember!”

Sound familiar? The particulars of the conversation may be different, but most of us have experienced similar conversations.

We all have selective memories to some degree, because memory is about what we choose to pay attention to. In other words, selective memory is really an issue of selective focus. If you focus on where you set your keys, you’re more likely to remember where you put your keys. If you focus on where you parked your car, you’re more likely to locate your car in the parking lot. You tend to remember the things you focus on.

This selective focus effects our relationships, because what you choose to focus on will largely determine how you view the other person. When my daughters were in high school, one of them struggled with her grades and it was a source of contention between her and my wife and me. One day, she brought home a report card that was much improved. There were mainly A’s and B’s, with only one C. But, as you can probably guess, the first thing I noticed was the C, and I asked, “What’s up with this C?” She immediately turned to her sister and said, “See. I told you.” I instantly realized I had messed up, but I couldn’t take it back. The damage was done. I had selectively focused on the lesser grade, rather than focusing on how much her grades had improved. (I still regret that to this day.)

The same kind of thing can happen in marriage. We can focus on and remember our spouse’s faults and failures, or we can focus on and remember their strengths and all the positive things they bring to us and the marriage.

If you choose to remember and focus on all the ways they have messed up, dropped the ball, and let you down, you will respond to them with frustration and guardedness. But if you choose to remember and focus on all the good things they do to help you and make things better, you will respond to them with more gratitude and appreciation. Which approach do you think will make for a happier and healthier marriage?

That doesn’t mean that we should sugar coat issues that need to be addressed, but the problem is, remembering our spouse’s faults comes easier than remembering their good traits. Just like me focusing on my daughter’s C, rather than all her A’s and B’s, we tend to focus more on how our spouse has hurt us than on how they have helped us. It’s our choice, but using our selective memory to remember all that’s good about our spouse, rather than all that’s frustrating about them, will be better for us, better for them, and better for our marriage…not to mention it will model a good practice for those around us.

Your selective memory can either sink your marriage, or cause it to soar, so if you’re going to have selective memory in your marriage…select well!

Try the following to improve your selective memory in marriage: Over the next week, write down every good thing you can think of about your spouse. Nothing is too small to list. Make it your goal to fill up the page with the good things about your spouse that you appreciate, and maybe even take for granted. Then, make it a practice to each day point out one thing from your list that you appreciate about them. I guarantee that by the end of a few weeks, you will feel the difference in you, in them, and in the marriage.

Copyright © 2017 Bret Legg