“I don’t understand why you’re getting so upset,” my wife was taken off guard by my response to what seemed a fairly innocuous disagreement. She thought we were talking about paint colors, but I was still arguing about that time I felt like she was telling me what to do five years ago. I didn’t realize it either, but I’d been nursing that grudge for so long that it became the underlying narrative for every disagreement.
Whenever you have a long history with someone, you will have disagreements. It’s critical that when you do, you deal honestly with the hurt you’ve experienced, address the real cause, and both give and receive forgiveness. If any of these steps don’t happen (and they often don’t), the result can be a lingering grudge. Here are 5 ways nursing that grudge is destroying your marriage.
1. It builds a wall between you and your wife.
Grudges are like skilled masons. They get to work before you and have half a wall built before you finish your morning coffee. It’s subtle. But nursing a grudge is antithetical to intimacy. It slowly and often silently pushes you away from your wife. Before you know it, you don’t feel all that interested in cultivating your relationship. When you look at her, you think about what she did or said and how it made you feel. Holding grudges in marriage is a recipe for turning your spouse into your enemy.Grudges chain you to the past so that moving forward becomes impossible.
2. It takes away your sense of agency.
Having a sense of agency in any relationship is critical. You need to feel like you have something to contribute, like what you do matters. However, holding grudges in marriage takes away that sense of agency. Rather than seeing the opportunity in front of you to build something with your wife, you’re constantly ruminating on what she did and how that made you feel. Grudges chain you to the past so that moving forward becomes impossible.
3. It creates a narrative that distorts future interactions.
Just like in my argument with my wife above, when you hold a grudge, you’re telling yourself a story. My story was that “my wife wants to control me.” So every interaction was seen through that lens, whether or not it was true (and it often wasn’t). This makes it impossible to deal with the real issue in front of us because you’re always shadowboxing with past events. It’s also crazy-making for your spouse because she doesn’t know the story you’re telling yourself. Some stories are just bad stories, and they need to end.
4. It steals the joy.
Because holding grudges in marriage builds walls and creates false narratives, it also steals your joy. You can’t celebrate the everyday remarkable things in your marriage when you can’t see past a past hurt. How amazing is it that you have a human being who cares about your mundane workday or is willing to hear your stories a hundredth time and will take walks with you just because? These are miraculous, joyful moments. But if you nurse a grudge, they all get drowned out by the story and blocked by the wall.
5. It hardens your heart.
Worst of all, nursing a grudge will eventually harden your heart. If you continue to tell yourself that negative story about her, allow the wall to be built, to feel helpless and acted upon, and to lose the joy of all the small miraculous moments, you will eventually find yourself simply disinterested in or even resenting your wife. You’ll no longer want intimacy. You won’t desire to see the marriage improve. This can be the point of no return. It can lead you to a lifetime of misery, resentment, and disappointment. Or, as you can imagine, it can lead to the end of the relationship.
Sound off: What has helped you shift the narrative or tear down the wall when holding grudges in marriage has been an issue for you?
Huddle Up Question
Huddle up with your wife and ask, “Are there any issues in our relationship that you think I hang on to from the past?”