Anger is a secondary emotion. This means that we shield ourselves with anger in order to keep out the real emotions we are feeling (sadness, loneliness, anxiety, etc.). This is true in all areas of our lives but holds a primary yet unhealthy place in our marriages. It is easy to get angry at your spouse and hold on to the anger like a suit of armor, protecting you from more pain. However, the ability to let go of past hurts is probably the single most important relationship skill we can develop.
You might be thinking somewhere in your mind (but be reluctant to admit it) that holding a grudge can be satisfying. It brings an immediate sense of gratification and power. However, it always occurs at the expense of the relationship. By putting on the armor of anger, it is impossible to let your partner into a place of intimacy, trust, and closeness.
Before discussing how to let go of a grudge, it is important to note two things. First, letting go of a grudge is not synonymous with sweeping things under the rug or ignoring troubling behaviors. In fact, it means the very opposite. To let go, you must first confront the issues as they arise and speak thoughtfully with your partner about them until you have both come to a place of closure. If there are some issues that you have argued over and/or been hurt by, bring them up and discuss them until you feel that you are in a place to let them go. Instead of pushing the emotion down further inside yourself, bring it up to the top, face it, and send it on its way.
Second, there are some things that people find unforgivable. And that is okay. If letting go of a grudge feels impossible or even dangerous, it may be that you need to decide whether or not to continue the relationship. For example, some people find infidelity unforgivable. If you are unable to let go of a grudge on your own, try consulting with a couple’s counselor. You do not need to do it on your own.
If you feel as though you are able to let go on your own without the help of a professional, start by defining exactly what the grudge is. Ask yourself the following questions.
- What grudges do I hold against my partner?
- What feelings are they based on?
- Is there something my partner can do to help restore my feelings of trust?
- Does having something to hold over my head make me feel more secure? If so, why?
- Are the grudges based solely on something my partner has done or does an experience from the past play a role?
- What is interfering more in the relationship: what my partner did or past experiences of pain?
Taking the time to answer these questions honestly is essential in finding your next step. If your grudges are based solely on your partner’s behavior, think about what your partner can do to help you dissolve the grudge. Have an open discussion about this. If the pain goes deeper into a place of the past, explore those issues and how they relate to your partner. If needed, seek the help of a therapist to work through past issues. Then, communicate with your partner on how to regain your trust. By taking the steps to free yourself from a grudge, you can once more allow yourself to feel the love, security, and intimacy of your relationship.
(Source: Passage to Intimacy by Lori H. Gordon, Ph.D)
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