Learning To Forgive My Husband Saved Our Marriage

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man holding a rose
Forgiving your spouse isn't always easy, but holding onto a grudge can destroy your marriage.

Jack and I fall into the second category. Here's why: I don't want to "adapt" to the problem that triggered our fight in the first place. At the time of our blowup, he was in a job he hated; I was the primary caregiver to our son, managing the house and juggling my writing career. During this stressful stretch, whenever I needed to work on an assignment (after Jack arrived home from his job), he would balk at watching our son. He'd let out an exasperated sigh, slam my office door and begrudgingly take our child, who seemed nothing more than an inconvenience.

I'd sit in front of my computer, seething with anger, unable to focus on my work. Jack's reaction also made me feel weirdly guilty, as if I was somehow falling short, incapable of doing everything—making money, breastfeeding our son, paying the bills, oh and making sure we didn't run out of bread and milk while Jack, exhausted from his boring day job, had a few cocktails, scanned Craigslist and then zoned out to Miles Davis.

 

Since our battle, I've talked to Jack about how we're both working parents; we need to help each other juggle our careers and our child. Now, when I need him to watch our son—for more than, say, an hour—his response is better (no more door-slamming), but he still grits his teeth sometimes as if I'm asking a lot. This less-than-joyful response brings me back to our big fight and, soon, I'm living it all over again—and hating him. Again. Why I Celebrate My Divorce

It's like a never-ending cycle, I comment to Dr. Fincham during our phone interview. "Yes," he says, "and in the long run you'll pay for it." I know he's talking about my health. Holding onto resentment boosts levels of cortisol, the stress hormone linked to impaired immune function, depression and chronic disease. Studies have also found that it increases tension and raises blood pressure. No kidding: whenever I fume about Jack's past offense, my stomach curls up tight like a pin cushion and I become short-tempered, irritated and bitchy. (Fun for the whole family!)

Dr. Fincham notes, too, that rumination makes it more difficult to forgive. "The more you think about the past offense, the more it colors everything you see," he says. So true—I've found myself throwing imaginary butcher knives at Jack's face even after he's spent the whole day having fun with our son and then makes a wonderful dinner.

Strong evidence also shows that the person who was slighted and the person who did the slighting have very different memories of what took place. "The injured person remembers all of the hurtful things while the perpetrator remembers all the extenuating circumstances," says Dr. Fincham. For instance, when I reflect on the fight and turn it over in my mind, I think of the cruel words, the middle finger, the fact that Jack wasn't there for me (or our son) when we needed him to be. Jack, on the other hand, recalls how stressed and unhappy he was because of his job. He also remembers how stressed I was—I was on a crazy deadline that day and, as soon as Jack walked in the door from work, I frantically handed our son to him. He says that I told him to watch our boy rather than asking him. From there, the evening went down the toilet.

So is this it then? I just keep nursing my grudge, feeding it, watching it grow bigger than my son, my marriage, my life?