A newlywed young Jewish woman; Bluma Zeigarnik sat in a café in Vienna and watched as professional waiters listened and took large orders from a good number of people without writing anything down. Then she watched as the waiters hurried from table to kitchen to table remembering everything the customers asked for.

However, when she interviewed the waiters after they had filled the orders, they had forgotten everything. In other words, when the orders remained unfilled, they remembered them, but after the orders were processed entirely, the waiter forgot the order.

The discovery was later called the “Zeigarnik effect.” It is defined as follows: We have better recall of events that we have not completely processed. Zeigarnik found that, on average, there is 90% better recall for “unfinished events” than for events we have somehow completed.

It is one of the reasons the saying ‘time is a healer’ is untrue, as long as the event was not processed in a way that is satisfactory to the person the mind holds to it.

Also, it explains why a rape victim could still have posttraumatic stress disorder, ten or more years after the incidence or a person stops driving after an automobile crash that almost claimed his life.

In very close relationships like marriage, when couples repeatedly use hurtful words on each other, are dismissive or disapproving of each other, they not only erode the trust in the relationship but the partners are unable to let go of the hurt.

Over time the hurt partner or couple would begin to rewrite their relationship history in a more negative light. Since the hurt was not processed in a way that heals, the mind holds on to the pain. The partner unconsciously begins to seek evidence both in their history and present interaction that tells a negative story of the relationship and the partner. Often, this is how a relationship slowly dies.

The key, therefore, is for partners to;

Become more aware of how they are feeling and call for a time-out when tempers begin to rise, often people say and do the most hurtful things when we are ‘flooded’ (when our fight/flight response kicks in).

 Repair; Talk over negative interactions when each person is calm in other to help each other heal from the hurt. The idea is to talk about the disagreement to process the negativity and repair the relationship without getting back into the fight.

Nancy Oblete

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