Monday, March 24, 2014

He Said, She Said, and Google Glass Recorded

When Jason and I argue, we tend to get caught up in disagreement over the "facts" of our conflict. We remember the order of events differently or we don't remember something we supposedly promised. I feel infuriated when Jason denies saying or doing something that I can remember with perfect clarity and I am equally infuriated when I'm accused of something I can't remember doing or saying. And I don't even notice how hilariously hypocritical that is when I'm in the moment!

When we come to the frustrating point where it's clear that we just have to agree to disagree about what actually happened, Jason often voices his desire for a device that would record every moment of life so that we could simply replay the moments in question to see who was right (Me, of course, right!?). So, now there's Google Glass, which means this device of Jason's dreams may not be that far off in the future. And I wonder, if we could have that kind of instant replay, what would it do? Would it immediately clear up these disagreements?

My guess? Probably not. Our brains are not recording devices. Even when we are exposed to the exact same sensory input, we see different things based on our attention to different details and then the information is further processed through past experiences, personal information, and emotional states. Agreeing on the past, on 'what happened,' is incredibly difficult, if not impossible. So, should we just drop it and move forward?

That doesn't work particularly well. It's the past events that have led to the current moment, the current conflict and the way we feel. Additionally, those past events will continue to play a part in the way we view our relationship and how we interpret future events.

We can't agree on the past and we can't ignore it, so what can we do?
  1. Give the benefit of the doubt. Somewhere in between your story and the other person's story is the truth. Start at a level of detail where you can both agree. For example, you may not agree about what was said during an argument or who started it, but you can agree that an argument occurred. You can think about what an outside observer, like a fly on the wall, without any prior knowledge or stake in your conflict would have seen. 
  2. Acknowledge the impact. You don't have to agree on the circumstances to acknowledge that someone feels hurt or angry or frustrated. You can acknowledge the impact that events had even if you don't remember them the same way. For example, you can reflect that someone feels let down, even if you don't remember promising to pick up dinner. And you can reflect that someone feels frustrated and ignored even if you're sure that they didn't tell you about plans to go out on Friday. 
  3. Move forward. Once feelings have been acknowledged, you can move forward and talk about ways to avoid hurting each other in the future.  Acknowledge that the relationship is important to you, that you care about the other person, and that you want to move towards making things better. 
This framework will help you honor the past without fixating on the details or getting caught up in the blame game. It's the relationship that's important (at least, that's what I'm assuming if you're spending the energy to argue) - so remembering that you care about each other and demonstrating that care by reflecting feelings and apologizing when necessary will enable you to move forward in a positive direction. 

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Image Credit: By Antonio Zugaldia  [GFDL or CC-BY-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

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