7 Ways To Help Your Partner If They're Prone To Holding Grudges, According To Experts
Some people let incidents roll off of their backs without as much as a second thought, but for others, it can be much harder to let go of resentment when they feel like someone has wronged them. Understanding why your partner holds grudges might help you to guide them past incidents that upset them, instead of letting this tendency create deeper problems in your relationship.
"The person who is most likely to hold a grudge is someone who is highly sensitive," Dr. Diane Strachowski, a licensed psychologist and relationship therapist with training in cognitive behavioral therapy, tells Bustle. "It is a highly sensitive person who is easily hurt and cares deeply about what others think of them," she says. "The memory or the grudge leaves an indelible mark on your brain; it feels as if the upsetting event is happening in real time despite the fact it happened long ago."
Though you aren't responsible for your partner's choices, there are plenty of ways that you can support them in their journey to let go of hard feelings. Even something small like validating their emotions or acknowledging that you hurt them can make a big difference.
Here's how to help your partner stop holding grudges, according to experts.
1. Let Them Lead The Conversation
In any conversation, especially one that's about something sensitive like your partner's grudge, it can be hard to know what to expect. If your partner is opening up about their grudge toward another person, it's helpful to know why they are sharing this information, Strachowski says. Try something called a "slow start," she says, which means asking a clarifying question at the beginning of the conversation. "As soon as your partner starts talking about a grudge, ask, 'OK, clarification, do you just want to vent, or do you want my advice?'" Strachowski says. This will help guide you to figure out what kind of role they need you to play in the moment.
2. Paraphrase To Make Sure You Understand
If your partner is holding a grudge — whether it's toward you or someone else — one useful tool can be repeating what they say back to them in a calm way. "Once you’ve heard your partners complaints or grudge, repeat or paraphrase exactly what they said," Strachowski says. Do your best not to analyze what they are saying or interpret their emotions at this stage, but rather rephrase it so that you can be sure you're correctly understanding what they're thinking and feeling. "By paraphrasing what your partner said and making sure you got it correct you are validating your partner and making them feel heard," she says. "You are showing that you care and want to understand them."
3. Empathize With Them
"Reflecting your partner’s emotions is the next way to show that not only you heard what happened, but you imagine how it made them feel," Strachowski says. "You are reflecting their emotions back to them." This is not a time to downplay what your partner is feeling by saying something like, "It probably wasn't that bad." Instead, do your best to correctly identify and validate how your partner felt by saying something like, "I can imagine that made you very angry." Approaching things in this way will help them feel closer to you, she says. "You are in a better position to now move towards problem-solving."
4. Remain Calm
If you're confronting your partner about their tendency to hold grudges, it can be easy to use an accusatory tone. But this is exactly what you want to avoid in order to have a productive conversation. "Name their behavior in a neutral tone and use neutral language," Christine Scott-Hudson, MA, LMFT, ATR, a licensed psychotherapist, marriage and family therapist, certified somatic therapist, and owner of Create Your Life Studio, tells Bustle. For example, say, "I noticed that you have brought up the joke I made last night twice now. Can you take a moment and check in with yourself, and then let me know if it is still bothering you?" This initiates a dialogue without putting them on the spot too much.
5. Acknowledge How You Participated
Even if you don't feel like it's appropriate that your partner is holding a grudge about a situation involving you, take some time alone to seriously reflect on how you might have done things differently. While you'd like them to learn not to hold grudges, it's also useful for you to use this experience to learn about how to avoid hurting your partner's feelings whenever possible. "Own your part in the matter," Scott-Hudson says. While you aren't responsible for someone else's emotions, being a good partner means doing what you can to consider how your actions affect them. "Validate your partner's feelings," she says. "And remember, the most sincere apology is changed behavior."
6. Apologize For Your Part
If your partner is holding a grudge against you, you might be tempted to get defensive. No matter what they're hurt about, try not to make this a question of who's wrong and who's right. Instead, apologize. Even if you don't feel like you did something that hurtful, express the fact that you're sorry for hurting their feelings, Scott-Hudson says. Say something like, "I did not intend to hurt your feelings, and I sincerely will be more careful joking about this sensitive topic in the future," she says, "because I love you and you matter to me, and I don't want to hurt you. You are too important to me."
7. Emphasize Your Commitment
After a candid conversation about your partner's grudges, it's important to emphasize your support and love for them. "Make sure that you give them your undivided attention," Strachouski says. Make direct eye contact with them, she says. "This will help them calm down and let them know that you care and you are listening." Reinforce the idea that both of you are a team, and that you're committed to be there for them as they grow and work on resolving their grudges.
Something as simple as saying, "I'm here for you" and "I love you" can be very meaningful. If you partner truly feels secure and supported, then they can begin to let go of old wounds.