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Hidden Influences on Your Marriage

We all have both explicit and implicit memories. The explicit ones we can generally retrieve on demand: who taught our 9th grade Algebra class, what the weather was on our wedding day, what we ate for breakfast this morning. Alzheimer's erodes these memories, and we have none from our earliest years because our brains could not form them yet.

The implicit ones are the hidden influences on your marriage. We cannot intentionally retrieve implicit memories, but we recall them constantly.

A large group of implicit memories are about processes. For example, unless you had to relearn how to walk after a stroke or brain injury, you cannot intentionally recall the entire process of standing up and walking, but every time you wake or leave your chair, it all comes back to you perfectly. Every habit is made up of implicit memories, too.

Good luck trying to change an unconscious process your spouse developed decades ago. You can change your own (see Charles Duhigg's wonderful book, The Power of Habit), but not without willing yourself to pay close attention to what you're doing unconsciously. If you're trying to get a change while your spouse is paying attention to a new job, a difficult client, perfecting a golf stroke, or mastering the art of keeping a 2-year-old safe without a leash, fat chance.

Another group of implicit memories affects your marriage even more. These are associative memories that link a sensory experience with an emotion. Many of these come from before we could form explicit memories, others from emotionally overwhelming events since then. And some of them are pretty weird.

Ever find yourself horribly suspicious and on alert based on just a whiff of aftershave? Are there sounds that instantly make you feel safe? How about a texture, like satin, that makes you sad?

I suspect my son would feel instantly powerful if he ever got a taste of a dill pickle like the one from Aunt Fanny's Nosheria in Pittsburgh. It was his first ever solid food, snatched from the kitchen table in a high speed hit-and-run by rolling baby seat, and he loved it!

Had I not told him the story and added explicit memories to the implicit one, he would never have a clue why.

So why do I bring this up in a marriage blog? Because if you're going to Assume Love, you have to get in the habit of considering explanations for your mate's behavior that are nothing like your own reasons for doing things. You have explicit memories of many of his or her implicit memories. You can retrieve them, even when your spouse cannot. And you just might put them together while you are looking for an explanation.

If not, make note of the unusual sounds, smells, sights, textures, and tastes when you get caught in your mate's sudden mood shift, so that next time it might all make sense. For this time, just recognize the mood shift quite possibly has nothing at all to do with you and everything to do with Uncle Charley's pipe tobacco, smelled while Aunt Sarah inflicted a brutal and unwarranted punishment on your mate as a toddler and again, a moment ago, while waiting on line for something he's suddenly no longer willing to do, even though it's important to you.

Why is it good to recognize this? Won't it lead to sweeping your own feelings under the rug? No, not if you keep going. Once you realize it's quite likely not about you, your fears for your marriage should subside, allowing you to ask questions without an overlay of accusation that triggers your mate's fears. You can try a gentle, "What was that about?" Or perhaps, "Did you smell [hear/see] that?"

You're not done with the Assume Love technique until you have at least one explanation compatible with loving intentions that seems plausible to you and suggests what to do the next time this upsetting thing happens or how to prevent a next time.

If you've gone through enough of a search to conclude what happened upsets you and could only be done by someone who does not loves you, don't wait for a next time. Get yourself to safety.

Help your fellow readers get better at considering implicit memories when they Assume Love. Which colors, sights, textures, smells, sounds, tunes, or tastes trigger implicit memories that make you feel safe, happy, or strong? Which make you less fun to be around?

Comments

A thought-provoking post Patty! The scent of crayons and play dough bring happy, safe feelings. Mawkish music on a Sunday afternoon or evening is a bit uncomfortable.

Thanks for sharing these, CJ. Did you know there is a Play-Doh® cologne spray?
(Play-Doh is a trademark of Hasbro, Inc.)

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Patty Newbold is a widow who got it right the second time...

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