The Zeigarnik Effect
Psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik published a study in 1927 that looked at how people remember things when they are interrupted during the memory process. The outcome was the Zeigarnik effect. The Zeigarnik effect shows that people remember things more when they are not completed than when they are completed. It has become useful for people when trying to study for exams or memorize lots of information. However, if true, this can negatively impact people in close relationships.
In relationships there is a constant dynamic between connection, a break in the connection and then repairing the connection.
Not Able To Repair
The challenged comes when couples are not able to do the repair work. This allows the disruption in their lives to continue on without any resolution. Neither member of the relationship is sure what the other one is thinking. “Does she really think I don’t care about our kids?” “Is he going to always disrespect me?” Without any resolution the two partners are left to create their own story about the other. This leaves each person in a kind of limbo state.
The Need To Repair
Repairing a break or disruption in the relational connection is critical for forming a healthy trusting relationship. When a partner says something that feels hurtful it is critical to come back together and express the hurt as well as take responsibility for what occurred. This allows forgiveness and healing to take place.
The Zeigarnik Effect
Knowing that we tend to recall things better when they are unresolved means that we are more likely to recall a break that didn’t get repaired. This means that we will continue to recall the negative qualities of our partner again and again. “She alway tries to hurt me.” “He never listens to me.”
The Importance Of Trust
One of the most important elements of a healthy relationship is the amount of trust that exists between partners. Trust is built by continually showing up for one another. When we provide a loving space for our partner to struggle, and show them we are going to stick around, a strong bond of trust emerges. However, when things go poorly and there is a breach in the trust it is necessary to fix that breach. John Gottman, the renowned relationship researcher, explains this well in his book, What Makes Love Last?
When a pattern of broken trust develops, partners begin to feel like the relationship has emptied out. They no longer feel like friends. With increasing frequency, they see each other in a negative light. (Gottman, 2012).
Committing To Repair
In my own life it is not easy to come to my wife and start a repair process. We are both usually still seething from the break in our relationship. Painful things were said and both of us are hurting. But we have committed to this process in order to maintain our relationship. We have done it over and over agin to resolve the hurts that occur when we lose the connection.
The Past Is In The Present
Usually the argument against repairing is the belief that it is best to just move on rather than bring up the pain of the past. Unfortunately, we cannot run from what happened. Whether we talk about what happened or not it is still there unresolved until we do. It can appear in the short term that moving on without any resolution is better. In the long run, like Gottman says, we start to lose trust in each other and it can lead to the dissolution of the relationship.
What To Do
In order to maintain your relationship it is really important for both members to make a commitment to repairing any disruptions in the connection. For some people, they never had healthy repair modeled for them. The idea of actually talking things through and reaching a more resolved state may seem really unfamiliar. As you try it a few times it will become obvious why it is so important. Often times for me and my wife the repair actually deepens our connection. We feel a greater sense of intimacy after sharing our vulnerable parts to each other.
Wishing You The Day You Need To Have!
Resources Used for this Article:
Gottman, John. (2012) What Makes Love Last? How To Build Trust And Avoid Betrayal. New York, New York: Simon & Schuster.