Have you ever held a grudge?
Who hasn’t? After all, it feels so good to wallow in righteous indignation, doesn’t it? Don’t you just love to revel in the glorious warmth of moral superiority?
But is it good for us? Of course not. And it isn’t good for anyone around us, either. But how do we let go of those hurtful memories that make us feel justified in our resentment?
Has anyone ever told you to just get over it? Not very helpful, was it? All the platitudes in the world won’t stop us from stewing in our own juices and nursing trespasses against us, real or imagined. Instead of moving on, we invite offenders to take up residence rent-free inside our heads, then keep replaying their offenses over and over again.
Worst of all is when those offenders are not passing strangers or casual acquaintances but family members or close companions. We don’t want to be angry, but we can’t help ourselves. We want to get past it, but we don’t know how.
Look back to move forward
On August 25th we will observe National Kiss and Make Up Day. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that the following evening marked the beginning of the Hebrew month of Elul. During this time, Jews around the world begin the process of self-reflection that culminates in the High Holiday season, also known as the Ten Days of Repentance.
The Hebrew word for repentance translates literally as return. We want to get back to a better time and a better place. We want to resurrect the love and grace that characterized our closest bonds before our human shortcomings short-circuited those relationships and turned us away from one another.
The good news is, it’s not as hard as we imagine. All we need to do is focus on two simple concepts: gratitude and humility.
Count your blessings, not your credits
There are two mindsets that give rise to most of our anger and resentment:
- Thinking too much of ourselves
- Expecting too much from others
Relationships struggle when spouses or partners perceive themselves as contributing more than one another, whether that contribution is measured in time, energy, thought, or money. We think we aren’t getting what we deserve, or we think we’re giving more than we should be — often both. The sad irony is that each party is demanding that the other meet them in the middle.
The first line of response is gratitude. Make a list of your significant other’s positive qualities, character traits, and talents. Then make a list of everything they do or give that benefits you. Cast the net wide and deep. Don’t leave little things out, and don’t take big things for granted. The more comprehensive the list, the more clearly you can look back on the reasons you have to be grateful for the people you care about. Once you do, it’s much easier to move forward.
The next step is articulation. Tell the person you care about how much you appreciate them, and be specific about why.
“Thanks for making coffee every morning.”
“Thanks for your hard work at the office.”
“That was a really great idea you had.”
“I love your corny jokes.”
“I love taking walks with you in the park.”
Make a video, write a letter, leave sticky notes on the bathroom mirror and in the cupboards — any or all of the above. Letting them know they are on your mind daily is worth exponentially more than once-a-year roses, chocolate, or whiskey.
It’s not all about you
The second element is humility. Pastor Rick Warren says it so well:
Humility does not mean thinking less of yourself; it means thinking of yourself less.
Remember that neither of you can be happy or successful individually if you aren’t both happy and successful together. Rather than calculating what you think you have the right to expect, reflect on what you have the duty to provide. If I’m looking out for you and you’re looking out for me, we’re both going to end up in a far better place than if we’re each looking out for ourselves.
Finally, find the courage to have those difficult conversations. It’s important to admit when you’re wrong. It’s just as important to speak up when you’ve been hurt, so long as you choose the appropriate time, place, tone, and choice of words when you do so. Express hurt without counterattacking or shaming. Admit the extent to which you contributed to the conflict. Making yourself vulnerable throws open the door to mutual forgiveness and reconciliation.
It takes effort, but it’s not nearly as complicated as we make it out to be. Show appreciation. Be humble. Communicate. Be brave. Forgive.
Keep it Simple, Sweetheart, and start making up right now.