Forget the “facts”

How often have you and a partner argued over what was said or done? Often, issues go unresolved because so much time, energy and angst is spent arguing over the minor details. Couples come to counselling wanting to learn skills to resolve recurring problems. They are often surprised to hear me say: Forget the facts. Issues can still be resolved even if you never agree on what was said or done.

Many studies have highlighted the unreliability of eyewitness accounts. Our memories are incredibly vulnerable to the effects of mood, fatigue, and prejudice. Unfortunately, we are not usually aware that our memory of what happened or what was said may not be 100% accurate.

If you are trying to address the issue of one person working long hours, arguing over whether they came home by 8 or 9pm last Wednesday is a waste of time. If you’re upset because you feel like you do more of the housework, debating over who washed the dishes more often in the last month won’t lead to a resolution. And most importantly, if your partner is saying that they feel intimidated, controlled, or neglected, arguing over the minor details of the examples he or she gives you to back up their argument will not help. What matters is that they’re feeling the way they do and you both need to work together to address it.

It can be very difficult to hold your tongue when you believe you are being falsely accused of something. But if you want to get to the bottom of what’s going on, try not to go on the defensive straight away. By all means express your surprise and disbelief, but encourage your partner to explain why they feel the way they do. You may well find that arguments that usually go around and around in circles before someone just gives in, get resolved quite quickly when you forget the “facts.”

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