Grudge-holding is a natural response people have after they've been hurt.
Grudge-holding is a natural response people have after they've been hurt. They do it to protect themselves and create a sense of control over the situation, thinking the wall that they build will make it more difficult - or, hopefully - impossible to get hurt again. This is an understandable inclination but unfortunately, notes Dr. Bonnie Eaker Weil, doesn't work.
"A lot of times in a relationship, especially with issues of infidelity, the partner who's been hurt will refuse to forgive the other person, thinking that will keep the offending party on their toes. What it really does is leave the hurting person devoid of a zest or life, replacing it with anger, pessimism and even sickness," Dr. Bonnie explains. People actually lose power when they get mad - true power comes from getting heard, not from getting angry. Holding a grudge affects your immune system and can even cause the grudge-holder to get sick!
In one sense what makes a grudge so natural and appealing is that it keeps change from happening - on the one hand it protects the person that was hurt from further pain from their partner, but conversely it leads to self-inflicted pain. The person who's been hurt often believes (at least subconsciously) that if they forgive, their partner will see that as license to continue with bad behavior. In reality, it can keep the offending partner from being accountable for their actions. People
Instead of cultivating an illusion of power that leads to stagnation in a relationship, Dr. Bonnie suggests couples do a few exercises which she outlines in her book Make Up Don't Break Up.
* Compartmentalize - with a bullet-proof vest. Dr. Bonnie advises people who are holding a grudge to take an hour a day by yourself to deal with their grudge instead of letting it eat away at the rest of their lives. Practice letting go of the pain, so that it doesn't bombard the rest of the relationship. Additionally, set aside time as a couple to be honest about the feelings associated with the grudge. Dr. Bonnie calls this Smart Heart Dialogue - offending partners should put on an "emotional bullet proof vest" and allow the other person to be honest about what's bothering them. "Don't minimize their feelings," advises Dr. Bonnie, "instead work on solutions, validate your partner, and walk a mile in their shoes instead of forcing them to hold in their hurt and pain." Grudge-holders should keep in mind during these sessions that a grudge is a way of trying to maintain control, but it's preventing true healing and growth from taking place. Instead of using this hurt to push eachother apart, couples should seek ways to allow it to bring them together. Remember: forgiveness is a gift you give yourself.
* Announce your intentions. It usually takes a while to move past a grudge, but committing to cultivate the desire to do so can be a healthy first step. This doesn't mean that the work is done, or that the offending partner is off the hook. Rather, it creates the space for both people to work on what they need to do, and to prove that change is possible. Don't fall into the trap of tit-for-tat after something painful has happened with a mentality of "I'll get you, i'll fight me" - revenge that boomarangs back to you. A grudge can be an important crossroads in a relationship - it can determine whether a couple breaks up or stays together. Ignoring this pain will most certainly lead to discontentedness and an eventual breakup.
* Write letters. Those who have been hurt should write a letter to their partner expressing their feelings, but don't send it. Use it as an exercise to help articulate feelings and fears. Additionally, the person who was hurt can write a letter to themselves from their partner as a way to put down on paper the things they want from their partner.
* Have a play date. Spend time with your partner where the goal is simply to have fun. By changing the climate of a relationship, a couple can make it easier to compartmentalize a grudge and still work on growing and changing their relationship. It may take a while to get the "loving feeling" back, but that doesn't mean the relationship is over, it just means you're hurt. As the couple supports each other in resolving their conflict, the sooner the relationship can get back on track; it's difficult to put a relationship back on track when one or both people are holding grudges. Creating a time for fun without manipulation or guilt can make it easier for the partners to forgive eachother and themselves.