“But it didn’t happen that way!”
Living through the filter of your own life experience, beliefs, mind state, body state, and attitudes, your experience of a given event is completely different from your partner's experience. But when your needs aren't met and you want to tell your partner about it, the first thing you want to do is get him or her to agree on what happened. You can get caught in arguing whose memory is most correct when in actuality, both of you remember your experience of the event more then the event itself.
In regards to this, one gem reader writes:
"My husband has memories . . . which I do not remember; words that I do not remember saying and actions on his part that I do not have a memory of. It seems to me that I can either interpret his recollections as creations in his mind which come from his own insecurities rather than from reality or he can interpret my not having a memory of these incidents as denial on my part. Is there a third option?"
Truth is a universal need and comes up when you hear someone describing a past event differently than you remember. You can still focus on the truth in a situation like this.
You can focus on the truth of that person's experience rather than the facts of the event.
Even if you could magically access a video of the event, it wouldn't change the internal experience of each person at the time. It is this experience that wants empathy, healing, and understanding.
For our reader then, her third option is to meet her husband with empathy, perhaps like this:"When you think about how you remember that, you feel hurt and angry, because your needs for understanding and respect weren't met, is that it?"
Her husband may respond with another memory that doesn't match hers: "Yea, you didn't care how I felt at all!"
It is very tempting here, to jump in and argue your case: "But I did care! I did this, that, and the other thing for you!"
Resist the temptation to argue your case. It won't lead to truth or connection.
Again just offer empathy:"Thinking I wasn't caring about you, you really feel hurt. You want your feelings and needs to be considered. Am I getting it?"
She may go back forth like this several times as her husband soaks up a deeper level of empathy and healing. When he has received the empathy he needs, she will feel a softening and release in him. Now is the time for her to see if he can hear her experience.
Again, it might be tempting here for her to begin arguing about how events didn't happen the way he described. This would likely put him on the defensive and he might interpret that she hadn't actually been hearing him for the last 20 minutes.
Instead she can begin first with her feelings and needs that arise hearing him. First, she checks-in and asks if he can hear her. For example, "I am wondering if you can hear what comes up for me having heard you?"
Our Gem Reader: Hearing your experience, I feel sadness and regret because caring is so important to me and I am hearing that need wasn't met.
I want to move forward and do it differently so that both of our needs for caring and understanding are met. Would you be willing to come up with concrete ways we could do it differently when a similar situation occurs again?
In this particular example, our gem reader didn't remember the events at all. In a case of two different memories, she may have expressed her feelings and needs that came alive in that event and asked her husband to reflect her feelings and needs until a connection and healing was complete with her.
It is helpful and grounding to have clarity about what actually happened that someone is responding to. It is also important not to get caught here. When people are expressing any strong emotion, take in the words and then let them flow past you. They are secondary. It is the experience that wants to be heard and felt.
This week notice your impulse to correct your partner as he or she describes a past event. Try to shift your listening to hear the experience. Breath through your heart and reflect back a guess about the feelings and needs of the other person.