The Ziegarnik Effect.

John Gottman’s new book “What Makes Love Last” focuses on trust and betrayal. John Gottman is a couples therapist who does a great deal of research on what enables couples to maintain long term intimacy. He has written several books and this is his latest.

In his book he discusses the Ziegarnik Effect. In the 1920s, Bluma Ziegarnik noticed that Viennese waiters were able to remember complicated orders without writing anything down. She also found that once an order was filled, the waiters didn’t remember the order. Gottman describes it this way:

“The Ziegarnik Effect, in simple terms, is the propensity of human beings to remember uncompleted or interrupted tasks better than completed tasks. In the world of trust, Dr. Gottman has found that it translates as follows: unprocessed negative events between partners have an enormously destructive power — through an ongoing erosion of trust, they gradually screw-up and ultimately destroy our most intimate relationships.”

Conversely once something has been completed or processed, often human beings can let go and move on. I see this over and over again in couples therapy. Often an individual in a couple will ask why we have to revisit something again and again. Particularly when I am encouraging someone to stay with a tough emotion or try to do something new and then repeat it again and again. The reason for this is really to complete the cycle.

If an individual is hurt and the injury, big or small, is not dealt with, the hurt tends to grow rather than shrink. Many people have the instinct to brush it aside or minimize it but the pain underneath this word or action tends to remain. Typically, it is not until it has been uncovered, explored and then understood by one’s partner that the healing really happens.

Sometimes it is my job to open up those stories and incidents and explore them in a safe environment so that they can be seen and understood in a new way and then often, they can be healed.

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