Keeping Marriage Alive: Let go of grudges

Published 9:39 am Saturday, August 28, 2010

This is the fourth in a five-part series on keeping the life in our intimate relationships.

“When my wife’s upset with me, she sometimes doesn’t talk to me for a couple of weeks,” said one concerned client. “That’s a long time to be in the doghouse.”

David Larson, Power for Living

Yes, indeed! Moments shared with those we love are too precious to squander on prolonged bickering, cold shoulders and “the silent treatment.”

Email newsletter signup

As I mentioned in a previous section in this series, people often automatically perceive conflict as a problem in a relationship. Conflict itself can be valued because it is evidence that partners are bringing forth their uniqueness. We realize this may clash with our own. It is not the presence or absence of conflict that signals the health of a relationship, but rather how those moments of conflict are resolved.

If the disagreement leads to a deeper understanding of the other person’s perspective on life, an appreciation for that person’s uniqueness, stimulation for growth on the part of both parties, and is worked through in a spirit of respect, the conflict moves the relationship forward.

Conflict becomes a drain on a relationship if the disagreement is used as a mechanism to hurt the other person, tear someone down, see one’s self as “better than,” or does not get resolved promptly.

One of the practices that burdens a relationship is when the pain on either or both sides is not acknowledged, and the negative energy is held within. There is little that will stop a romance faster than holding a grudge. If we are to keep love alive in our marriage, we need to develop the skill of letting go of hurts and disappointments. This is much easier said than done, of course, so let me share a few hints that may help.

1. Let’s consider that our mate, no matter how great he or she is, will not always be able to understand our point of view. We need to have other relationships to reach out to for support that go beyond our mate. When we seek support from others, we can find release in expressing our frustration and receive support for hanging onto our own self-esteem while our concerns are being worked out. Since we all experience frustration in this area, we can know we are not alone in this struggle.

2. If no one is available to talk to, then we can do something with the pent-up energy so it does not depress or distract us from other important activities, such as attending to our children. We can write out our feelings, journal, walk, run, practice a tension-releasing breathing technique or yoga, take a hot bath, or use the energy to get something done, like the laundry, the dishes, the lawn, cleaning out the garage or a closet.

3. We can practice seeing the love behind the behavior. Often people have good intentions, but their choice of sharing their love does not fit with what we need. Correcting our spouse, giving advice, even yelling at them, for some people, can be a way they have learned to treat those they love. So don’t take anything personally and realize that behind that facade of temper, forgetfulness or insensitivity, is a special creation of God who is trying his or her best to get what they need too. Our partner needs our compassion and understanding as much as we need theirs.

4. Consider lightening up a bit. Sometimes we trap ourselves by taking life too seriously, by making “mountains out of molehills.” We can learn to laugh at ourselves and each other in an appreciative way. Forgive easily. Remind yourself “It is what it is.” Let the fun come through.

5. We can keep communicating with our mate. We can approach him/her frequently with statements like, “I want to clear up this little spat we’ve been having,” or “I want you to know how I need to be treated to warm up to you.” We can write a letter if talking doesn’t seem realistic at the moment. This will allow us to choose our words carefully and give the other person time to think about what we’ve said and to respond rather than react.

Note: The goal of understanding and loving our mate does not mean allowing ourselves to be mistreated. If you are in an emotionally, spiritually, mentally or physically abusive relationship, seek out help immediately to recover the positive life you were created to experience.

David Larson, a licensed psychologist, is a counselor and personal coach. He can be reached at the Institute For Wellness at 507-373-7913 or at his website,