There are several strong building blocks of a relationship—but some of them get more airtime than others. While we hear a lot about communication, trust, and compromise, there’s another important facet of relationship that doesn’t get the attention it deserves: forgiveness. No matter what kind of relationships it is—a friend, a spouse, a family member—you’re going to have to learn to let things go from time to time.
Now, this isn’t the same as allowing someone to treat you badly; that’s never something you should do. This is about letting go of a grudge—of that twisted, angry, smug feeling you get when someone’s messed up, apologized, but you just can’t move past it. There’s something thrilling about holding a grudge, about venting about how you’ve been wronged and feeling firmly planted in the moral high ground—but it’s certainly not going to do your relationship any good. Slowly, but surely, it will erode that relationship foundation, hurt the other person, and drive you apart.
So how can you move past a grudge? Here’s what you need to keep in mind:
Understand Why You’re Holding Onto It in the First Place
If you’re someone who holds grudges, there’s a good chance you hold them in lots of different areas of your life—friendships, relationships, work, family. Understanding the power the grudge holds on you will help you move on. “To begin with, grudges come with an identity,” Nancy Colier LCSW told Psychology Today. “With our grudge intact, we know who we are—a person who was ‘wronged.’ As much as we don’t like it, there also exists a kind of rightness and strength in this identity. We have something that defines us—our anger and victimhood—which gives us a sense of solidness and purpose. We have definition and a grievance that carries weight.”
If you’re going to move past the grudge, it means accepting your identity as more than just the wronged person or the victim—and the person with the "moral high ground." But there’s something freeing in redefining yourself on your own terms, rather than in relation to how other people have treated you.
Put This Particular Grudge Into Perspective
Once you understand the nature of holding a grudge and the power that may be holding over your life—and your identity—it’s time to deal with the grudge at hand. Think about the roots of the grudge and how they apply to your life now. Maybe your mother favored one of your siblings—but does that mean anything when you’re in your 30s? Maybe you were overlooked for a job at work—but won't holding onto that resentment keep you from the next promotion? Maybe you and your partner had a disagreement early in your relationship—but haven’t they regained your trust in the past few years?
The truth is, besides that perverse feeling of satisfaction, holding onto grudges only serves to hold us back. They drain your resources, they’re preoccupying, and they create distances in relationships. Try to look at the grudge in question and see why it’s no longer useful. Maybe you need to have a conversation with that person to put the grudge to bed—maybe you even need to talk to a professional. That’s OK. Just decide what you need to let this grudge go and focus on that.
Compromise With Yourself
With grudges and forgiveness, we tend to think of things in black and white. We forgive someone or we don’t, we’re still angry or we’re not. If you’re someone who has a tendency to hold onto grudges, that can make it harder to let go—because you feel like you have to let go of everything, even your pain from being hurt. As you try to move on from this grudge, remember that emotions are far more complex and nuanced than that. You can still be in pain, you can still be hurt, you may not trust this person as much as you used to. That’s all totally understandable. The choice that you’re making is to not let that pain control or define this relationship—or your life—any longer. You’re making a compromise with yourself to move forward, but that doesn’t have to mean the past is erased. It’s just that you’re choosing to let go.
Letting go of a grudge can be tricky, especially if you—like many of us—hold onto the role of a victim or a martyr, someone who is put upon. But that role is holding you back, it’s limiting you. So take a look at the grudge you’re struggling with and decide what you need to move past it. Once you start letting go, you can repair your relationship and rediscover who you are, not as a victim, but as a person on your own terms. And that’s far more satisfying than any grudge.