transactive memory

I often wonder why one person in a marriage tends to be responsible for certain things, while the other is responsible for other things.  I’ve rebelled against the idea “you do the bills, I’ll do the dishes.”  At first it was a gender thing, but when we tried to switch it, I realized that even that wasn’t enough – I wanted to know about the systems and information my husband used, and I wanted him to know about what I was doing.

Turns out that’s not how marriage works.  According to Daniel M. Wegner’s research on transactive memory, here’s how it does work:

“People in close relationships know many things about each other’s memories. One partner may not know where to find candles around the house, for instance, but may still be able to find them in a blackout by asking the other partner where the candles are. Each partner can enjoy the benefits of the pair’s memory by assuming responsibility for remembering just those items that fall clearly to him or to her and then by attending to the categories of knowledge encoded by the partner so that items within those categories can be retrieved from the partner when they are needed. Such knowledge of one another’s memory areas takes time and practice to develop, but the result is that close couples have an implicit structure for carrying out the pair’s memory tasks. With this structure in place, couples in close relationships have a transactive memory that is greater than either of their individual memories.”

Great.  Our joint memory is greater than either of our memories individually.  Here’s my challenge with that: by just relying on him to remember things in his “expertise”, I stop learning about those things and so essentially close my own world in.  I haven’t figured out how to make this work out for me instead of against, but knowing that there could be an upswing to it helps me swallow it better when MrH relies on me for technical information on the car, or when I rely on him for financials. 

In the meantime, I’ll keep reading articles like this one to keep me from getting complacent.

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