Stop Arguing About The Past, Discuss The Future

We want to be right. We hate being wrong.

As a result, once an argument starts, we often want to fight out the details. What happened, why it happened, who said what. We want to be right about the details. We don’t want to admit to our failures. We want to justify our actions.

The problem is the past is the past. We can’t change it.

Even worse, we can’t even always accurately remember it.

Stop for a second and let that sink in. You really can’t accurately remember the past. Our brains filter out a pile of information to allow us to pay attention to what we think is important, the unimportant gets almost immediately discarded. When we need that information, that our brains originally filtered out, our imaginations rush to fill in the gaps. Leaving us with a partially real, partially imaginary view of the past.

And when we are stressed, like when we are in an argument with our spouse, our brain is focusing on that stress. Leaving us with even less ability to remember an accurate view of the past.

And to top it off, our brain doesn’t realize it’s filling in the holes in our memory. Leaving us with the impression that our memories are real.

What is the solution? First, humility. Recognize that when you and your spouse disagree on the particulars, you are just as likely to be wrong as they are. Agree to disagree. Second, agree on the future. Just because you don’t have an accurate memory of what happened, doesn’t mean you can’t agree on what should happen in the future.

Let’s look at an example. The towel after a shower.

Did you drop it on the floor, or did you hang it up and it fell on the floor? Stop worrying about it. It’s on the floor now, so pick it up.

But, if this is a regular occurrence, this solution will feel completely unsatisfactory.

So, how do we solve it in the future? We decide on the proper rules and etiquette for dealing with post shower towels. Should the towel be used and then immediately hung up? Should it be worn into the bedroom, and then hung up after you get dressed? Should it not be hung up at all and just thrown into the laundry each day? Or maybe you just agree that it doesn’t matter, and that in the future there are no expectations for towels. It really doesn’t matter what you and your spouse decide, the point is that instead of arguing about what happened, you can agree on what should happen.

Taking an argument into the future allows us to move past the details of what happened (which we disagree on). It allows us to stop talking about who is right and who is wrong. Instead focusing our energy on future expectations.

And when it comes to expectations, “Clear is kind, unclear is unkind.”

This solution to “he said, she said” arguments isn’t simple. In fact it’s really hard. It requires humility. You have to be willing to recognize that your version of events might be wrong. And so you have to be able to drop it. Truly dropping it, moving on, and not thinking “But I know I’m right.”

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But even though the solution is difficult. It is worth it.

Time arguing over who did or said what, is time wasted.

Increasing the clarity of expectations we have for each other is a path to increased kindness, reduced tension, and more contentment in our relationship. Time discussing future expectations is time well spent.

Stop arguing about the past. Start building a better future.

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The purpose of “The Couple Project” is to learn more about what makes a strong marriage or relationship. We share what we are learning, which ideas we are trying, and which ideas helped improve our relationship. We realize not everything that works for us will work for you, but we still hope you will find our journey valuable.

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