Using technology to remind yourself
After twenty-three years of being a marriage counselor and drug and alcohol counselor and seeing thousands of clients, I’ve noticed how it’s often difficult for people to remember what they learn or realize in therapy, even when these realizations feel important or profound.
For example - and this one is a classic - men will come to the realization in marriage and couple counseling that their wives don’t need them to “fix” whatever problem they might be talking about. In fact, what they really want is just to be heard, to have their husband listen to them. This is unnatural for men, who are wired and socialized to fix or solve problems, including problems in their relationship, so it’s understandably hard for them to remember this. In the old days, a therapist might have told his client to put a Post-it note on his bedroom mirror or on his dashboard with some sort of reminder like “Don’t fix. Just listen.” Seeing these reminders every day would help keep this idea in the back of his mind and make it easier for him to remember to do this in the moment.
We don't have to rely solely on our memory
But technology has made this process even easier. These reminders can now take the form of calendar reminders on computers or smartphones. A weekly, daily, or even hourly reminder is now easy to set with something like Google Calendar or IOS. There’s no longer any good excuse for not remembering.
Women in couples therapy will often tell me their husbands will change their behavior for a little while after they have a big fight or deep conversation but then over time will fall back into the same habits that caused the fight in the first place. I’ve learned that this is not a function of men not caring but is usually about them simply not remembering. And it isn’t fair or functional to make it the woman’s responsibility to keep reminding him. Usually the men in these cases feel lousy about this and wish they could remember more easily.
Men have a hard time remembering relationship data
In marriage and couples counseling I’ve often noticed that guys just aren’t as good as women at remembering certain things even if it’s something they take seriously and want to do. For example, she might want him to remember to sometimes make plans for dates rather than having her do this all the time. He wants to do this but tends to forget. Guys just don’t seem to be wired as well for remembering this stuff. But they don’t have to rely solely on their imperfect memories; they can let their technology remind them. I’ve had many guys who find it very helpful to have Google Calendar remind them every week to make date plans or to buy flowers or an annual reminder one month before an anniversary, cuing them to start working on a gift or plans.
Sometimes guys or their wives find this insincere. If he really cared wouldn’t he remember on his own? This doesn’t seem to be the case. I’ve seen lots of good men, caring men, who just don’t seem to retain this sort of data. But this cannot be an excuse to not remember; they simply need to use external devices to remind them. Often, over time, the reminders become internalized so there’s no longer any need for the external reminder.
In grief counseling this can sometimes be helpful, too. When people are grieving, they will often avoid feeling their grief, which prevents them from ever getting past it. Usually in therapy they realize that letting themselves feel and sitting with their grief is more tolerable than they thought. So, one way to take this reminder outside of the grief counseling room is to set technological reminders with messages like “Let yourself feel. It won’t be as bad as you think.” This can help people, even during an uncomfortable moment, to remember a healthier way to deal with their grief.
This is one of the many things that can speed up the process of therapy - whether it’s marriage counseling, drug and alcohol counseling, grief counseling, etc. The more clients can take lessons or realizations from therapy and remember and make use of them outside of the therapy room, the less time they will actually need to come to therapy.
For more information, visit my Marriage and Couples Counseling page.