"I did not say that! Are you sure I said it? I don't remember it ”. Sometimes the people we interact with forget things that are important to us, which leads to heated discussions or generates frustration. When it happens systematically as part of a relationship, we can feel very lonely.
What is relational amnesia?
Relational amnesia goes beyond forgetting the other person's wedding anniversary or birthday. It refers to the systematic forgetfulness of everyday details or special moments that, for at least one of the two, are significant.
One person forgets about shared experiences or distorts them, to the point that his narrative differs greatly from the other's memories. As a result, this forgetfulness often leads to misunderstandings that create tension in the relationship.
Why does my partner forget everything?
Forgetfulness can be a defense mechanism. Sometimes our memory suppresses some experiences because they are traumatic or we don't have the psychological resources to deal with them without turning our world upside down. So our unconscious decides to "hide" those experiences where we cannot find them.
However, relational amnesia is not a clinical entity but a normal phenomenon in which there is no cognitive deficit, but is mainly due to emotional reasons.
In relationships, we can forget things so that we don't have to deal with the anxiety they generate. For example, we may forget what we said in a discussion because that topic is like an emotional trigger that bothers us. We can also forget a promise or a project because, after all, we don't like them very much.
In other cases, relational amnesia is an expression of a passive-aggressive personality. The person uses forgetfulness to manipulate and harm the partner - consciously or unconsciously. In fact, a study conducted at the University of Michigan indicates that this profile is linked to traits such as narcissism and / or emotional instability. These people may deny experiences to invalidate the other, avoid responsibilities and manipulate them, even engaging in gaslighting behavior.
In fact, relational amnesia brings some psychological benefits to the forgetful person:
• Preventing conflicts. If we don't remember anything, we avoid conflicts by deviating from the main topic that generated anxiety and tension. At least in that matter we will be "innocent", because they can only blame us for forgetfulness, which acts as a mitigating factor.
• Avoid liability. In many cases, when a dynamic of forgetfulness sets in, the other person reduces their expectations and demands, which results in fewer responsibilities for the forgetful person.
• Cognitive freedom. Forgetting is a mechanism to free up space in the mind. If we do not allow ourselves to be overwhelmed by the many details, we will have a clear mind to think of other more attractive or rewarding things.
In other cases, relational amnesia is the result of routine habits that are established in non-present relationships. It occurs when two people share the same space-time but in reality they are emotionally distant, either out of monotony or because they have lost interest in the relationship.
When experiences are lived carelessly, with the mind elsewhere, it is easy to forget them or keep distorted memories. Ultimately, emotions act as a glue for memory, as demonstrated by a study conducted at the Universiti Teknologi Petronas. If we live things without passion, those experiences are likely not meaningful and we will end up forgetting them.
At worst, relational amnesia can be the result of an almost complete loss of interest in the partner. When there is no more love, interest in shared experiences is lost, so that they become irrelevant and not very memorable.
The Consequences of Relational Amnesia: A Dangerous Unique Narrative
When oblivion occurs in a relationship, an unhealthy dynamic is usually produced that in the long run generates disappointment. In general, two different roles are created. The forgetful person is seen as immature, arrogant, superficial or incapable while the person who has to constantly remember begins to carry the weight of the relationship on their shoulders.
This takes the balance out of the relationship because one invests more energy and works harder. Gradually, the relational memory keeper stops trusting his partner and stops sharing things because he thinks it's useless. In the long run, he stops consulting the other because he considers him childish and irresponsible.
The psychological weight of relational memory causes this person to become more rigid, irritable and embittered, distancing them more and more from the forgetful person. This dynamic ends up corroding the foundations of the relationship.
If the relationship does not end, usually a unique relational narrative is established. The keeper of memory claims the right to construct the official narrative of the relationship, a story with which the other must agree. If he disagrees, arguments and reprimands are guaranteed.
The keeper of the memory believes he has "the truth" and ends up ignoring the other because he believes he is not reliable. The problem is that he not only ignores his memories but also his opinions and emotions. In this way, one of the two ends up isolating themselves from the relationship and, as a result, they both end up feeling misunderstood and alone.
A life in common: different stories with similar feelings
Sincerity is the key to dealing with relational amnesia. If the systematic forgetfulness is due to disinterest and lack of commitment, it will be necessary to reevaluate the relationship and decide if it is worth moving on or if there is the possibility of building a relationship that is rewarding for both of you.
However, we must be clear that whenever two people meet, there will be two different perspectives and memories of shared experiences. Being a couple or living something together doesn't mean living it the same way. Our experiences largely depend on our expectations, desires or even the emotions of the moment.
Not living and remembering things the same way doesn't always mean that love is over or that there is no interest in each other. We have to accept that each person builds their own story of what happened, which can make them pay more attention to some details than others. What matters is that both are willing to respect each other and commit to sharing their view of things.