5 Reasons People Hold Grudges In Relationships (& How To Move On)

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The 5 Reasons People Hold Grudges And Bring Up The Past

"Help! Why does she keep bringing up the past? Nothing I can do is ever good enough."

"It feels like he's going to hold onto this grudge for the rest of our relationship."

Do either of these sound familiar?

One reoccurring theme I hear from many of my clients is the issue with repairing past conflict. Oftentimes, there is a gendered aspect to this. Lots of men wonder why women hold grudges, but the truth is — this happens in all sorts of relationships, with men and women, heterosexual and not. 

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Some examples are:

  • "Why does he keep bringing up the past? It never stops."
  • "He never lets things go."
  • "She's so negative."
  • "She never sees my attempts at making things better."
  • "I am always wrong."
  • "She is always nagging at me for something."

Again, I do believe every couple regardless of gender struggles with this common issue, but for the sake of this article, let’s continue with the example of a heterosexual twosome.

So, I am sure you want an objective understanding to help you better understand her, right? Here are some common reasons why people hold grudges and keep bringing up the past, and how gendered misunderstandings can play into the confusion: 

1. You aren’t validating your partner in the way they need.

The biggest reason anyone holds on to the past is because they don’t feel heard or fully understood by the person they perceived hurt them. You can do this by naming the emotion you believe your partner is feeling, not putting yourself into the situation for a moment (i.e. don't make it about you!) and just hearing their experience.

Ask yourself," What is she saying?" And just reflect it back. It is that easy! 

For example, you say: "I can understand that I really upset you when I did X."

Nothing else is required in that exact moment! Once they feel validated, like you understand why they're upset, your partner can come back to the logical and that defensive or emotional state becomes more regulated and soothed.

When they are no longer stuck in the emotion, you can then explain the misunderstanding from more of the logical (i.e. your experience), "That wasn’t my intention at all and I can see how we misunderstood each other. I meant to do _________. I never intended to hurt you and I am sorry it felt that way."

The power of validation is tremendous!

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2. You keep trying to "fix" the problem.

If your partner keeps bringing up reoccurring issues, it may be because you are trying too hard to fix it, rather than just acknowledge it. Speaking in general terms, women tend to process while they emotionally express; men tend to process then choose to emotionally express. Totally opposite!

Not that one is right or wrong, but we typically go about working through issues completely different. No wonder you perceive her as incredibly negative! 

She’s not "negative", she is just working through her emotion in the innate way she knows how: to feel it then to think about. You may perceive her as negative because you don’t typically feel experiences first in order to process it.

Her "negativity" is actually just unprocessed emotions and all you need to do is try your hardest not to take it personally and allow her the space to have emotional reactions.

(For the record, she needs to do her best at not projecting them onto you! Just because she is more emotionally expressive does not give her the right to be aggressive toward you without taking accountability or considering how her emotional reaction impacts you).

Here’s an example. Let’s say she comes home and her energy is off. She storms in, throws her purse down and yells, "I hate my job! It’s awful! No one is nice to me in the office, and I hate it! I’m just so done!"

You may innately feel triggered, want to crawl into your shell and turn the TV up. You may think to yourself, "Ugh, here we go again! I wish she was just happy."

You may traditionally react by saying, "You need to look at the positive sides. Look how great your commute is, how much money you make, how early you get off! Who cares what your co-workers think about you?"

Unfortunately, you trying to "fix her issue" is actually you trying to "fix her mood" because it makes you feel uncomfortable. She internalizes that as feeling dismissed. She may potentially get angrier and then you both get into an argument.

You then feed your narrative: "See, she’s always so negative! Nothing will make her happy." And she feeds her narrative, "See, he never listens and he doesn’t care about me and how I feel.

Your dynamic may be the opposite, this is just how the gender roles tend to play out in our society. But there are no hard-and-fast rules and you may recognize this pattern in your partner who is a man, too!

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3. Your partner doesn’t feel the past was fully repaired.

The bulk of repairing conflict is mostly about validating each other’s perspectives without trying to win the argument. If your intention is to be right, then you have lost the ability to repair anything with your partner effectively.

Your intention should be to deepen your understanding of each other, so you can continue to respect each other and feel secure with one another in your relationship. If your partner feels hurt by you, try to understand why verses get defensive and tell them they are "wrong" just because you don’t agree or your intention was perceived differently.  

Clear up any and all misunderstandings by validating each other and work on creating consistency and awareness for future issues together.

4. You take your partner's moods personally.

Going back to the emotional processing piece, women tend to be more emotionally expressive by nature (or nurture). You may be making the assumption that every time she is emotional or having a reaction that it is personally targeted toward you or that they are holding a grudge from some past event.

I know these reactions may seem scary and you don’t want to make an even bigger issue by saying the wrong thing, but try to reassure yourself in those moments by thinking something like, "she (or he) may not even be upset with me."

Ask for clarity without being defensive. Ask if they're upset with you and if not, how you may support them. What does your partner really need in that moment?

Most likely, your partner is just experiencing the world around them and is processing it, emotionally.

It most likely has nothing to do with you, but could be incredibly helpful is if you didn’t take every emotional reaction they have personally. It isn’t always about you.

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5. They're feeling insecure and need something from you.

Most likely, when a partner keeps bringing up past issues defensively, they are feeling extremely insecure in the relationship and they aren’t getting something significant that they are needing.

Maybe your partner doesn’t know what is missing, but something may be causing them to feel insecure about your relationship or how you may be perceiving them.

Your partner may be hurt about an issue that happened 6 months ago but struggles with bringing it up and fears they will not be heard.

Unfortunately, he or she will likely then invalidate their own feelings, most likely thinking "I'm being ridiculous and need to get over it" until they no longer can hold it in.

Your partner probably also fears being a nag and tries their best to let it go.

(You’ve probably said to "Let it go," once before and now they fear bringing it up again. That may have created a situation where your partner, who isn't fully healed or resolved about it, is beating themselves up because they an't let it go.)

Unfortunately, ignoring emotions rarely makes them go away long-term.

Your partner may, then, explode at one little frustration that arises. This is most likely why you perceive the person you love as unpredictable and why you feel you are walking on eggshells.

This is incredibly unfair to you because it doesn’t help you understand what they need. You are just trying to defend yourself and fix whatever you "did" to upset them.  

This is why the two of you need to work together. They need to do their part and work on understanding their emotions as they come up, but they also needs to take the risk of expressing what they need in the moment instead of waiting until they snaps out of nowhere.

This is also why you work on the above tips to help you understand her behavior and needs more, so you aren’t feeling incredibly beat down.

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Alysha Jeney is a Therapist providing relationship counseling in Denver, CO. She owns Modern Love Counseling and is the founder and CEO of The Modern Love Box.

This article was originally published at Modern Love Counseling. Reprinted with permission from the author.