Tell Me About It: Husband can hold a grudge endlessly

Posted: September 12, 2011

Question: My husband cannot let things go - he holds grudges for way longer than the offense is worth. He still brings up things that happened months/years ago to illustrate my (presumed) faults. It's not just me; he gives his older sister grief for dropping him when he was 6 months old and she was 3. Besides pointing out that he's being ridiculous when he gets going on some old grudge, do you have any suggestions for dealing with this?

Answer: Holding grudges is a form of control. It puts you in the you-owe-him seat, and gives him the last word on when to let you out. This is sometimes control with a sinister undertone, and sometimes just annoying and whiny, but either way it's unhealthy and standing between you and intimacy.

Fear of intimacy, in fact, might be driving his need for protective grudges, since they have a neat way of both preserving a self-image of pristine innocence, and also keeping everyone else at arm's length.

He would make an excellent candidate for excellent counseling, but someone who thinks everyone else done 'im wrong is likely to be the last person to admit he needs help.

Still, it's worth mentioning, after he has cooled off from a grudge-drudging but while the memory of it is still fresh: "It seems like a lot of this stuff stays with you, and that can't feel good. Have you ever considered talking to a therapist?"

After he refuses to get counseling, try this two-part strategy. First, make sure you apologize quickly and unequivocally when you're wrong or make your case gently when you're right. E.g.: "I see how you might have perceived X, but what I did/said/meant was Y."

Second, when he drags up old stuff, say: "I believe we dealt with that when it happened, so unless you have something new to add, I'd prefer not to rehash it." Then don't.


E-mail Carolyn Hax at tellme@washpost.com,.

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