I often have memory loss, except it’s not due to a car accident as it is for Rachel McAdams’s character, “Paige,” in the soon to be released movie “The Vow”; mine is voluntary. When my husband, Neil, and I had a few chinks in our newlywed armor, we decided to enlist a little help getting past what ailed us and found a marriage counselor who practiced short-term couples therapy. Dr. Get Right To The Point laid it out: decide if you really want to be in the relationship. If so, accept the reality that couples fight, disagree, annoy each other from time to time and generally piss each other off. Then, develop amnesia.
Neil got on board from the get-go, as he’s not much for grudge holding. “A waste of time and energy,” he called it. But the therapist clearly had no idea with whom he was dealing when it came to me. Not only did I have a memory like a steel trap, I held on to every infraction, cruel word and perceived slight with a vice grip. After the jump, how I learned to forget to save my marriage.
1. The only place for score keeping is in sports.“To me, forgive and forget is like handing someone a ‘Get Out Of Jail Free’ card,” I told the therapist. My rationale was that, just like criminals, he or she who gets away with something once, will believe they can get away with it again. Their indiscretions need to be kept in front of them, so they know what not to do. To prove my point, I enumerated with a flourish all the things Neil did (past and present) that had gotten us into the office for counseling. I then took note of Neil’s incredulous, as well as rather hurt, facial expression and realized if I continued filing every event in my memory bank, I would eventually be referring to him as my ex husband.
2. Forgiveness is not in the details. Mercy is easy to dole out when you choose not to dwell on what the person did in a play-by-play fashion; it’s not as hard “let go” because lack of recollection of every little thing means there’s less to let go of. It’s like a black out without alcohol.
3. The hour of power. For the big ticket items, (someone stays out too late, has too much to drink, won’t do his share of housework, etc.) sit down and dedicate an hour (only one) to discuss it. Brevity is key.
“I feel bad when you stay out all night because it’s like you want to be anywhere but with me. I also worry. When you go out can you please be home by 2 a.m.”
“I’m a grown man. How about 3 a.m., and I’ll call around 12:30 to check in?”
This is followed by a promise to hold fast to the resolution. Then, discussion’s over; visualize the incident disappearing, like Alka-Seltzer disintegrating in a glass of water.
4. Each day is a clean slate. Think “Groundhog Day.” The thing you have to avoid is having the same fight over and over, like the tiff which starts with who didn’t pick up the loaf of bread and then shifts to, “The time three years ago when you were late for dinner and I was embarrassed in front of my family who were waiting for you so we could eat.”
5. Ask yourself if this will matter in a year … or ten. First, I think back about something that happened long ago that I held on to. As annoying, and hurtful as it was in that moment, I ask myself, “Did it really make a difference? Did it keep me from going to the prom, graduating college, getting a job, meeting the man I’d spend my life with?” Then I think of present day annoyances. A decade from now, would I want to realize that I had wasted all that time harboring resentments about stray toothpaste caps, raised toilet seats or missing dry cleaning?
Even though the therapy was short-term, practicing the therapist’s suggestions is a long-term commitment – hopefully like my marriage. I just have to keep remembering to forget.
Lorraine Duffy Merkl is the author the novel, FAT CHICK, and a columnist in NYC.
This piece was pitched and written for The Frisky completely independently and is not sponsored by “The Vow,” which does currently (and somewhat coincidentally!) have ads running on the website.