In a recent couples therapy session we were talking about Taylor’s memory. He forgot (yet again) what we had discussed the previous week.
Interestingly, this is a common occurrence for many couples I see even though they are intelligent, high-achieving, and powerfully positioned in major corporations.
It turned out his memory problem went beyond forgetting our meetings. And it bothered him a lot.
We discussed the impact of his bad memory on his partner Ashley. She had to compensate in multiple ways. She would feel unimportant to him and react in pouty punishing ways which then triggered him.
She then asked if the reason he didn’t ever call her during the day just to say “Hi” was because he couldn’t remember.
He paused and said, “No, it is a problem of intentionality. I make work a priority over calling even though you ask me to.”
Ashley’s “reptilian brain” could easily have responded with righteous outrage for yet again feeling like a low priority.
Taylor knew he was potentially creating a firestorm. He could have told a lie and nobody including me would have known.
So how did Ashley respond?
She thanked him for being candid and responding with integrity.
It was a terrific example of how couples can communicate when not coming from their self-centered, self-protective “reptilian brain.”
They both responded from their higher selves, the part of the brain that can envision how they aspire to be when feeling threatened.
It was a big step toward creating a strong team where both partners can learn to trust the integrity and honesty of their partner.
This is what you want, right? To trust the integrity and honesty of your partner.
Of course it would have been simpler to say a little “white lie” but they had been on that slippery slope before. One cover-up after another had led to a vast emotional distance between them. They avoided as much as possible talking about anything that could be disagreeable. Or that would evoke displeasure.
The distance grew. And they could not talk about that, either.
The “reptilian brain” doesn’t care about emotional distance. It only cares about avoiding the stress of an argument. It wants to be safe right now even if the cost is greater distress later. Kind of like “ice cream today and diet tomorrow.”
The lizard brain lives in the moment and for the moment.
Taylor and Ashley were collaborating to create a better future. One “simple” transaction at a time.
What would you have done?