Is there someone in your life who often points out how you, once again, let him or her down? “You never remember to get me flowers!” “You know I don’t like salmon.” (That’s one from my own marriage.) “You should know that I don’t like when you do that!”
Such generalizations are based on a common communication error called mind reading. We assume that if the other person truly cares, then s/he would remember.
This is also related to another psychological principle called attribution theory. Attribution theory states that we tend to blame others for the cause of their behavior (“You were late to this meeting because you didn’t give yourself enough time to get here.”) and attribute external circumstances to the cause of our own behavior (“Traffic was unusually heavy this morning.”)
We often judge the behavior of others from our own lens of how we see the world rather than attempting to understand his/her lens. This leads to many unnecessary arguments.
For example, many Buddhists believe that being late is a form of stealing and disrespect. If I were Buddhist and you arrived late to something I invited you to, I might judge you as disrespectful. On the other hand, if I viewed time as fluid, I would have a greater tolerance for my own lateness and the lateness of others. In this case, when you’re late you’re not coming from a place of disrespect, you’re simply operating from your own understanding of the world.
Taking all of this into consideration, here’s a series of responses that might be helpful when your partner gets upset at you for something s/he thinks you “should” remember:
If your partners says, e.g., “You always forget our anniversary,” respond with the following: “Do you believe I love and care about you?” (If the response is “No,” then you have much bigger issues!)
Then ask, “Do you believe I care about your happiness and well-being?”
Followed by, “I do love you and I care deeply about your happiness and well-being. I will put more attention into remembering our anniversary in the future.”
This should be followed by real action, such as setting a one-week reminder on your calendar. Meanwhile, the partner may want to explore his/her internal dialogue that assumes that forgetting their anniversary equates to not caring.
If you missed the previous parts in the series, please check them out here: