Relational amnesia: characteristics, causes and effects on couples

“I didn’t tell you that!”, “Are we sure we went together?”, “I don’t remember when it was…” in their orange half they don’t remember anything very well. thing they were supposed to have experienced together.

The other person may be upset that the person they share their life with doesn’t remember an experience that was very meaningful to them, such as celebrating their birthday, going to a fancy restaurant, or listening to a date together. .

How is it possible for a person to forget something so important to their relationship? This seemingly counterintuitive type of forgetfulness has been called relational amnesia., a phenomenon that we will explore below.

    What is relational amnesia?

    Relational amnesia can be defined as the systematic forgetting of details and moments, both daily and special, which for one of the people who make up the couple are significant. One of the couple forgets shared experiences or subconsciously distorts them to the point that what they remember is greatly different from what their partner remembers. As a result of this dynamic of forgetting, disagreements, tensions and conflicts in the relationship arise.

    This amnesia goes beyond forgetting one partner’s birthday or the other’s birthday. It’s about forgetting very important moments for the other person, very special experiences that marked important moments in the relationship such as a reconciliation dinner, going to a concert together, or going on an excursion. How is it possible? Why is someone able to forget experiences they have had that are believed to be important?

    One of the first answers we could give to explain this phenomenon is quite simple: everyone treats their memories in their own way. What may be transcendent and extremely important for one, etched in their burning mind, for the other may seem to be more, whether everyday or unusual, but in the end something that risks being forgotten. That doesn’t mean we want the couple less. Everyone remembers magical moments in their memory, but everyone has their own, and most of them can correspond to the members of the relationship.

    However, while relationship amnesia is relatively common and not necessarily indicative of a problem, there are times when the one who remembers the best will blame the other who doesn’t remember the most important moments in the relationship. There is always a member of the couple who keeps in his memory every moment, while the other is more limited to living the present. This can lead to discussions and even disappointments which can lead to multiple dating issues.

      Characteristics of this psychological phenomenon

      As we were discussing, relational amnesia is nothing to worry about in principle. This type of amnesia does not constitute a clinical entity, but it is a normal phenomenon in which a person forgets certain details about their relationship, but important enough that the other person disturbs this forgetfulness. There is no such thing as a cognitive deficit, but the fact that one remembers differently what is important to the other can lead to disagreements and occasional discussions.

      What is striking about relational amnesia is that in the situations involved, there is always someone who remembers almost everything and remembers almost nothing. The person who remembers things, as we have already mentioned, blames those who forget for neglecting things that are important to the history of the relationship. On the other hand, the forgotten person can reprimand those who remember things best by telling them that they have an obsession with remembering every detail of their experience and that they use it to blame their bad memory.

      This situation, if not handled in a mature and thoughtful manner, can create an environment of constant blame and criticism that will be fertile ground for relationship problems. It’s common to feel disappointed and frustrated feeling that the person you love doesn’t seem to pay attention to the shared moments, nor seem to make an effort to remember important aspects of the relationship. However, it is important to think about what can cause a person to develop such a common type of amnesia.


        There are many reasons why a person often falls into relationship amnesia. Since this type of amnesia can have negative consequences on the relationship, especially if it occurs very frequently and extremely, it is important to be aware of them. When dating someone who looks like a born oblivion, there may be cognitive impairment, but also this person may pay little attention to their emotional connection.

        But there can also be a problem on the part of the person who remembers everything. This member of the couple may still need to be right and act like the truth is the only one, the only reliable story in the history of the two lovers and shared experiences. This type of behavior could be the tip of the iceberg of an overly neurotic and obsessive personality, a factor that can help increase levels of dissatisfaction in the relationship.

        But in addition to these two possible causes that we have just mentioned, there are several reasons that could explain the appearance of relational amnesia.

        1. Two people, two different points of view

        Living as a couple does not mean stopping being an individual. Couples are what they are, two people who share a common life, but who may have different accounts of the events they have experienced. Being in a relationship doesn’t mean seeing, feeling, processing, and remembering the same things with the same details and the same degree of intensity.

        This is not an indication that the couple are less loved. Nothing is necessarily bad. Each member of the relationship remembers things in their own way, has their own story of what happened, their own way of understanding and seeing things. One pays more attention to some things and the other to others.

        So forgetting how not to remember a birthday or not know if it was last month when you went to a fancy restaurant isn’t really such a serious thing. What matters is the lived experience, deeds and good intentions. Here the affection is sincere.

          2. Lack of interest

          Other times, relationship amnesia is actually the product of a lack of interest. Here it happens that the person who forgets does it because he does not care, because he does not pay attention to his relationship with the person he is supposed to want and no longer shows interest in the couple.

          3. Passive-aggressive personality

          We cannot speak of relational amnesia without evoking one of the most toxic dynamics associated with this phenomenon. There are people whose personality could be characterized as passive-aggressive they often hide in oblivion to manipulate and hurt the person they claim to want.

          Behind this profile are hidden very narcissistic traits and also a diagnosis of borderline personality disorder. Such people can use denial, saying that they don’t remember something to invalidate the other person, avoid responsibility, or manipulate and hurt them. You can even resort to gas lighting strategies, trying to tamper with the memory of the person who best remembers what happened.

            4. Relationship not present

            In other cases, this amnesia appears as the result of a routine in the relationship, established especially in non-present relationships. The couple, although they share the same space at the same time in their lives, are emotionally distant from each other., both because they lost interest in each other and because monotony has dampened the flame of love.

            When two people have experiences together for the simple reason of having to spend time together, having their minds elsewhere, it is easy for them to end up forgetting. or their memories are distorted. After all, emotions are a key aspect of creating memories, and if you don’t experience a romantic dinner, birthday, or special event in an emotionally agreed upon way, you will likely end up forgetting.


              Relational amnesia is not a clinical problem. It is relatively common, however, that people who form a couple do not treat memories in the same way. Everyone is a world, and even being with the person you love most and who is supposed to understand you best can remember things with a different degree of emotional intensity and detail. It is, in principle, a simple phenomenon that highlights individual differences even between people in a sentimental relationship..

              However, other times it can indicate problems in the relationship, which will lead to other more serious issues. If the forgetting is systematic and is due to disinterest, lack of commitment, or even used as a strategy to manipulate the other, the relationship will deteriorate over time. And the person who remembers things best can make their best memory a sign of superiority, blaming the other for not remembering what happened as well as they did and leading to a toxic dynamic.

              We must understand that as long as two people come together, there will be two different perspectives and memories of the same experience. Being in a relationship does not mean living everything in the same way, but sharing moments that can arouse various desires, emotions and beliefs, but which should not collide directly with those of the other. What matters is that they are both willing to understand each other, share their perspectives on things and make a commitment to respect each other.

              Bibliographical references

              • Hopwood, CJ, Morey, LC, Markowitz, JC, Pinto, A., Skodol, AE, Gunderson, JG, Zanarini, MC, Shea, MT, Yen, S., McGlashan, TH, Ansell, EB, Grilo, CM, & Sanislow, California (2009). Construct validity of passive-aggressive personality disorder. Psychiatry, 72 (3), 256-267.
              • Johnson MD, Cohan CL, Davila J, Lawrence E, Rogge RD, Karney BR, Sullivan KT, Bradbury TN. Problem-solving skills and affective expressions as predictors of change in marital satisfaction. J Consult Clin Psychol. February 2005; 73 (1): 15-27. doi: 10.1037 / 0022-006X.73.1.15. PMID: 15709828.
              • Karney BR, Bradbury TN. Neuroticism, marital interaction and the trajectory of marital satisfaction. J Pers Soc Psychol. May 1997; 72 (5): 1075-92. doi: 10.1037 // 0022-3514.72.5.1075. PMID: 9150586.
              • Lavner, JA, Karney, BR and Bradbury, TN (2016). Does communication between couples predict marital satisfaction or does marital satisfaction predict communication? Marriage and Family Journal, 78 (3), 680-694.
              • Romanell, A. (2021) Relational Amnesia: The Forgotten Toll in Your Relationship. In: Psychology today.
              • Tyng, CM et al. At. (2017) The influences of emotion on learning and memory. Psychol before; 8: 1454.

              Leave a Comment