Forgetting Is Okay, But Remembering Is Best

One of the stories we love about marriage is about two fictional characters, let's call them D and B. D and B absolutely love each other, but every year when their wedding anniversary rolls around they never really seem to connect. D always tries to do nice things for B, but B never really seems to be happy with the effort. (I am sure B does nice things for D as well but that isn’t relevant to this story.) After 50 years of marriage B finally says, “I have been waiting 50 years for you to buy a cake for our anniversary, can we finally have a cake this year?”

We love this story because the solution seems so obvious, and yet different people’s “obvious” solutions are different! Some people will say, “Why didn’t B say something 50 years earlier?” Others will say, “Why didn’t D realize (and ask about) the problem sooner?” Still others will say, “Why did B care about a cake so much?” The point is that each of us sees and thinks differently.

In our relationship we have come up with an adage we use in these types of situations: “Remember, Remind, Do.”

This tells us that:

  1. It is best if we are able to remember what the other person likes, wants, and needs.
  2. If the other person forgets something, we either need to remind them, or any expectations on our part are no longer really valid.
  3. When we are reminded of something it is expected that we will take action happily, and often, with a simple apology.
  4. Ignoring a reminder, or acting like it is no big deal or unimportant, is the worst potential outcome.

Ignoring a Reminder

D and B are a happily married couple. One day as D is leaving for a business trip (they are a little flustered and distracted) they head out the door without even saying goodbye. B notices, and a little disappointedly, heads to the door, opens it, and calls out to ask if they can have a goodbye kiss. By this time D is already at the car. When they hear B call to them they feel a little guilty that they forgot to say goodbye. Instead of being willing to face those feelings of embarrassment at having forgotten, and not wanting to be delayed getting on their way, they just pretend they didn’t hear and finish getting in the car and closing the car door.

This is, in the “Remember, Remind, Do” world, the worst case outcome. Someone forgot, was reminded, and then for some reason ignored the reminder. It doesn’t really matter if both partners knew it was deliberate or not, over time these actions are the ones the corrode trust in a relationship. These are the actions that aren’t acceptable.

No point arguing about the past

D and B are a happily married couple. One day they are having a small argument over some random part of their life. Part way through the discussion D says, “Earlier in the discussion you said I wasn’t very helpful, and that really hurt my feelings.” B gets a confused look upon their face and says “I don’t know what you are talking about.”

This is a perfect place for the “Remember, Remind, Do” principle. It is fine for them to continue this line of discussion for another couple of sentences, but if they both remember the past differently then there isn’t much progress that can be made. Instead it is up to both of them, when their spouse says or does something that offends them, to bring it up as soon as possible, when memories are freshest and repairs can still be made. If you aren’t going to say that you want a cake, it isn’t fair to complain about not getting one well after the fact when it can no longer be fixed.

Reminding and Being Reminded Is A Good Thing

D and B are a happily married couple. Each day they get up together. They take turns using the shower and then finish getting ready for the day. Each day B leaves their towel on the floor of the bathroom. Each day D reminds B to hang the towel up. And each day B apologizes for forgetting again.

This is one of the tougher examples of the “Remember, Remind, Do” principle. The principle says we don’t blame B for forgetting, D simply reminds them, and B graciously apologies and fixes the problem. In many ways this is a perfectly good example of a couple working well together. And yet it doesn’t quite feel right. Depending on the personality of D they may at some point get annoyed with having to regularly remind B. Depending on the personality of B they may get annoyed at constantly being reminded, or they may get frustrated with themselves for having to be reminded.

To be honest there isn’t a simple solution for this case. We all have lots of things to remember. We have important things going on at home, at work, and all sorts of other distractions in our day. Likely a towel on the floor is neither B or Ds most important situation of the day. As a result this daily little nudge and graceful apology may be as good as this situation will ever get. D may just decide it isn’t worth reminding B each day and they will just pick up the towel themselves or that it isn’t that important and it can stay on the floor.

This may not seem satisfying, why can’t there just be a solution! There can be, if we care enough about the problem. We can try different ideas, we can discuss different ways to make the morning smoother, but if it isn’t that important then it simply may not be worth the time to try to fix. This is the beauty of the “Remember, Remind, Do” principle. Reminding someone isn’t perfect, but it is also clearly not bad, in fact if the other person happily complies to the reminder, it gets very close to good. Both people in the relationship need to be okay, and in fact happy, with reminding and being reminded.

In Conclusion

We have found that our “Remember, Remind, Do” adage helps us realize we are both fallable and that we both see reality differently. As a result, when our partner is forgetting things that we feel are important, the best course of action is to simply remind the other person of our expectations. It also means that we don’t have to feel bad when we forget, instead we can easily repair the oversight by simply apologizing and taking care of the concern as soon as possible.

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We should also point out that “Remember, Remind, Do” is really only relevant if the other person agrees with our expectations. For example if we have both agreed that the towels should be hung up, or if we both agree that it is appropriate to say goodbye with a hug and kiss before leaving on an airplane. It is not appropriate to keep reminding our spouse of something they haven’t agreed to do and don’t want to do.

In order for “Remember, Remind, Do” to be an effective tool both partners have to be willing to share their expectations, agree on expectations, and let each other know if their opinion on an expectation has changed.

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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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