What to Do When Your Partner Doesn’t Remember Details


Doctor Neha: Hi everybody and welcome. I have a special guest today. This is Haydee. Welcome, Haydee.

Haydee: Thank you for having me.

Doctor Neha: Oh, it’s a pleasure. Haydee is a brave soul who is willing to ask her questions so that all of you can learn. I’m dressed a little more formally today because I just came from a meeting. But I’m going to take off this jacket; I look a little too formal for the video blogs.

OK, so tell me what have you been thinking about? Any communication questions?

Haydee: Yes. I recently had a conversation with my husband and I noticed that sometimes when we have conversations in which we’re going back and forth, and I might say, “Well, you said something…” but the other person doesn’t remember saying it or says, “I never said that” or “I don’t remember saying that.” And I am not sure if it was because we were talking back and forth or I was talking so fast or there was so much going on in the conversation. But suddenly they say, “I don’t remember” or “I never said that” then I feel lost because I thought it was an important point to discuss. But if someone doesn’t remember, how do I get back to it? I mean, yeah, thanks for us to these cars. So I feel lost when the other person, so then he says they don’t remember saying something. I thought it was important in the conversation.

Doctor Neha: Yes. Okay. So, Haydee, you are not alone. This happens in many relationships. I’ve heard that women often remember every detail of the discussion—thought that’s a stereotype; it’s not always women versus men in the role of remembering. But typically one partner remembers exactly what happened and what was said, and the other partner doesn’t. And when the other partner doesn’t remember, you wonder “Well, what’s the point in talking about this?”

Haydee: Right. For example, he said, “You’re trying to control the conversation.” But I wasn’t; I was thinking it was important for us to discuss something from a past conversation. But then I wonder, “Did I really say that? Did I hear correctly? Am I talking too fast?” I feel like it is important for us to go back and address whatever the issues could be or whatever it was. So, I don’t want to be controlling. How do I go back to bring up those issues? Do I say, “Ok, you didn’t remember” and forget about it and move on. Then I feel like I’m not addressing something important. I do remember every detail. He wonders, how can you ever remember? I do; I know exactly when you said it.

Doctor Neha: Okay. We remember things that move us. So when emotions are attached to memories, we remember them. So you are a passionate woman, and as you are speaking about something and you’re ramping up, your emotion is getting more intense. You are remembering it because that’s how you’re thinking about the next point you’re making in relation to what was just said. Now, I’m going to go bigger than this because a lot of people who are watching may know they’re the one in a relationship that remembers details and some of them may be the person who doesn’t remember. One thing I’ve noticed is that some people are not as accustomed to discussing something or they don’t feel like they are good at a certain topic—which might be emotional, which might be controlling, which might be interpersonal. Tell me what your husband’s really good at. What’s his superpower? What’s he really good at it?

Haydee: He’s really funny. He’s good at not thinking, at relaxing and disconnecting. I ask him, “What are you thinking?” He says, “Nothing.” He says nothing. I don’t even know how can someone not think of anything. One can do that.

Doctor Neha: So, first of all, let’s just start with saying he’s the perfect complement for you. So are you really going to be so surprised that when you’re in a heated emotional exchange with him and he says, “I don’t remember”? He’s probably telling the truth.

Haydee: I know.

Doctor Neha: The first thing is to ask, where are you feeling this in your body? Start by telling me how do you know this is important to you? I feel it when my stomach tightens. I feel tight like—it’s not short breath—but I feel like my body tenses up. My stomach tenses up. Then I get really tight in my body. It’s almost like I’m ready to fight. I feel this emotion. I’m ready to go on and embark on something.

Doctor Neha: So this tightness in your stomach—tell me what’s true about what your husband said. What is true about him telling you that you’re controlling? What’s true about that?

Haydee: Well, I am opinionated. I may have a lot of thoughts. I don’t mean to be controlling, but I feel very sure about certain things. Like I feel confident. Not that I’m not willing to change. When I address an issue, I feel confident about it. I am not shaky. I am not a wishy washy person. I know what I want and how I feel about it.

Doctor Neha: Okay. Well, what’s amazing about your husband is that he is totally laid back. He’s relaxed and he balances you out. For God’s sake, you asked him, “What are you thinking about?” and he said, “Nothing.” So here’s the deal. I wonder if when the two of you end up in an emotional space, you’re moving on an intellectual level and he’s trying to balance you out. Because you have a lot of passion you’re coming with. You’re certain about it. You’re Latin. Maybe one of his strategies is actually to not check out, but step back and not get into all the details—because he does it regularly. That’s his superpower. His superpower is that while you are into every detail of making everything happen and on fire, he’s relaxed and he helps balance you out. So now when you’re in a discussion on an intellectual level and you’re deeply emotional about it, if it overwhelms him or if there are too many details, he might step back to try to create space here and do the same thing he does in his life.

Haydee: Mm-hmm.

Doctor Neha: One of the practices I use, and this is just an offering for you, is to journal whenever I wake up in the morning and my stomach is turning or I feel unsettled about something that happened yesterday or recently. I use what’s called the Three Time Rule. If something comes up three times, the first time it happens, I notice it. The second time it happens, I put it in my mental filing cabinet because it might be a pattern. The third time it happens, it’s time to have a conversation. The other way I know that it’s time to have a conversation is the Sunrise Rule: when I wake up in the morning and it’s [a topic or issue] the first thing on my mind because it’s been occupying mental real estate for way too long at night.

So I recently had this experience with someone I was dating. He was saying, “I can’t remember the conversation. I don’t know what you’re talking about. I don’t remember.” So you know what I started doing? I started giving him recap notes. “I wanted to talk about last night when this happened and then this was said and then this was said and then this was said. Let me know once you’ve had some time to think about it. Let me know when a good time would be for us to talk about it.” And then he wrote nothing. And I wrote back and I said, “Did you get the text that I wrote? I was just curious because you’re talking about other things. I’m just wondering if you’ve got the texts.” And he said, “Yes, I did. And I like me a good set of notes. Thank you. I’ll let you know when I’m ready to talk about it.” So what I realized is I’m processing things at a different pace and at a different level of energy and a different style than someone else.

So my curiosity about your husband would be to ask him a few questions. You would say something like, “Honey, it sounds like you don’t remember what happened. It was really important to me. So moving forward in the future, I don’t want to feel like I’m really engaged and excited and trying to convey something to you and then bring it up later and it seems like you’ve forgotten about it. So what would be supportive? If I put in writing something important that I want to talk about? Some points to recap it? What would be supportive and helpful? Because what I don’t want to be is to come across as controlling. The last thing I want to do is control you. My intention is to connect to you and grow and learn together. I’ve learned so much from you. Your laid back nature. I dream of having my mind not thinking of anything in a certain moment.” So it’s a curiosity about your pace and how you’re processing and what happens to him when you get emotional? Does he feel like that is controlling? You think it’s passionate; you think it’s exciting; you think it means how much you care. But that may not be what’s happening for him. He may shut down; he may start to take a few steps back. This is Haydee—she’s doing her thing. But we won’t know until you ask him.

Haydee: Great.

Doctor Neha: The other question is to say, “My intention is to connect with you and grow and learn with you. So what’s a good way for us to do that? Do you like a good set of notes? Cause I’d be happy to give it to you. And do you need time? If you need time to integrate it, you can always hit pause and ask me to give you a little summary of what I’ve just said, so you can digest it.” Okay. Tell me what resonated for you? What were your takeaways?

Haydee: Well, my takeaways are that in these types of situations, my husband does have a strategy probably on backing up and having space because I can be very passionate. I’m intense. I raise my voice when I’m excited. And I don’t mean anything, it’s just that how I emphasize the importance. The louder I am, the more important it is.

Doctor Neha: And you want to make sure that he gets how important this is to you.

Haydee: Yes.

Doctor Neha: Except what he starts doing is shutting down.

Haydee: And he goes the other way. And I’m trying to bring it back. So it’s helping me to understand that he’s processing. It’s okay not to feel hurt that he doesn’t remember. I need to understand that he’s processing things in a different way and that maybe I need to step back myself. That is not the time to finish the conversation; instead, I need to give us space and say, “Can we talk about it later” or come back later and ask him those questions.

Doctor Neha: So I just had another thought that I’m going to share with you. What if when you keep ramping up and getting excited, he almost feels bulldozed because he can’t match that level of passion, intensity and excitement that you have. What if he interprets that as controlling because he now has no say—like he can’t say no or he may have that feeling of “I want to make my wife happy and if she’s this excited about it, there’s not a lot of space for me to have another opinion.” Do you think that might be some of it.

Haydee: Yes. And I think that he’s also a strong man. So he loves me so much. And he wants to make me happy. And in those situations he feels probably like, “I cannot take this. This is just way too much. I love you, but please.” I think he doesn’t know what to do with me.

Doctor Neha: Well, let’s just ask him. Go in profoundly curious about what it means for you to come across as controlling to him and what happens for him when you’re really passionate and he doesn’t remember conversation. If something is really important to you, ask what would be the best way for you to share that information? Would it help for him to digest it and have some time before the conversation? Would that be helpful to give him preparation? Some prep: here are these five points I really want to talk about tonight after dinner. I just thought I’d throw them down and share them with you because I’d love to hear your thoughts. Then he can get a running start. So you’re not bulldozing right over with your passion.

Haydee: I think so. It would be pretty easy to send him an email so he can think ahead of time…

Doctor Neha: …or afterwards. Write a good set of notes.

Haydee: Right. This is what I shared. And maybe without the emotions and my voice maybe it’s easier to, to comprehend everything I’m saying without the emotions and intonation and my hands are up in the air.

Doctor Neha: I also want you to know we’re making up all sorts of stories because we actually don’t know what’s going to work for him or what he’s thinking. But what I am most excited about for you is how much you’ve opened your perspective. If you expand your perspective, you’ll be curious and you’ll be able to figure it out because he’ll let you know as long as you’re open versus going down only one path.

Haydee: Right. Okay.

Doctor Neha: So biggest takeaways—give them to us.

Haydee: So I need to go ahead and find out from my husband how he understands what I’m saying, what we need to do either ahead of time or me giving more information.

Doctor Neha: If something’s really important to you…

Haydee: Yes, is something’s really important to me—which is a lot of things!

Doctor Neha: Don’t worry, he signed up for this. I’m not feeling bad for him.

Haydee: …does he need time before or afterward.

Doctor Neha: Well, for all of you who know that your passion sometimes gets the best of you and sometimes you don’t feel heard or the other person tells you that you’re controlling, remember to get curious and expand your perspective. Be open to how the other person receives important information and partner with them. Partner with them to create a way that can work for both of you.

Awareness Prescription

  1. How do you know when it’s important enough to say, “Can we talk?” Use the Three-Time Rule or Sunrise Rule; see “Three Tips for Successful Conversations.

  2. Get curious about how someone else receives your emotion or passion.

  3. Ask “What’s the best way for us to talk through something important, so that it’s easy for you to remember?” (The other person may prefer notes in writing, limited timeframes to talk or space/time to process the information.)

Doctor Neha


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