Marriage Advice From A Christian Perspective

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Letting Go of the Grudges We Hold in Marriage

  • Dr. David B. Hawkins Contributing Writer
  • 2006 11 Mar
Letting Go of the Grudges We Hold in Marriage

It can be such fun to be "one up" on another person. I recall the feeling of catching one of my friends in deception—one which I took personally. He told me he had taken care of a piece of business when he hadn’t. While on one hand I was righteously incensed, on the other I had a hint of smugness. Here I was, the "righteous" one, having my friend caught squarely in the crosswire of my critical sights. Would I confront and then quickly forgive? Or would I drag the whole thing out—confront, belittle, forgive, remind, confront, belittle and forgive again? You know-- "kick the dead horse".

The appropriate steps to take are obvious. We know, in our heads, that we are all human and capable of any array of wrongdoings. But that "eighteen inch drop" from the head to the heart is a mighty big chasm. Knowing that we need to "let go" of grudges can be a whole lot different than actually doing it.

Jean is a 35-year-old woman who came to see me about an irritating issue in her marriage. An attractive, petite woman, she enjoyed her job as a part-time clerk for a large tire company. Were it not for this one dilemma, her life would be perfect, she said.

"I have a wonderful marriage. Hal and I have been married for 15 years. Great years. I love my husband very much, and he loves me. He’s a teacher, so we have lots of time off together, especially since we don’t have children. We are active in our church, spend several weeks of the summer traveling, and are quite involved in our community."

"So what is this issue?" I asked.

"Well, for years we both smoked, so it wasn’t a big deal back then. But, he quit and I haven’t. We have both become health conscious, but he won’t get off my back about my smoking."

"How do you handle his criticism?" I wondered.

"We can’t really talk about it," she said, irritated. "When he talks about it he brings up all the ways it bothers him. He starts preaching at me, as if I hadn’t heard it all before. He belittles me, quotes statistics to me and tries to make me feel two feet tall. So, it has gotten to the point where I hide it from him now."

"Tell me more about that, Jean."

"I’m not proud of my smoking. No doubt about that. But, I resent him reminding me of it every day. I am respectful of his feelings. I don’t smoke in the house or car. But, I just can’t stand his preaching. I can’t take it anymore. It is effecting how I feel about him."

"Yes, I can see both sides," I said. "It can’t be easy for him to see you injure your health by smoking. But, to preach to you doesn’t help anything."

How can Jean and Hal emerge from their power struggle with their marriage intact? We shouldn’t look for any magic pills, but we can look for real answers. Consider what worked for them and how it might work for your marriage as well.

First, disengage from the power struggle. Simply put, Hal cannot make Jean quit smoking. No amount of lecturing, cajoling, guilt-tripping, or persuasive acumen can compel her to change her mind. If it could it would have done so by now. However, Hal is entitled to his feelings and they must be considered and respected by Jean.

Second, the power struggle actually reinforces the problem. Condemning someone for a problem never solves it. Jesus cautions us: "Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the same measure you use, it will be used to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye." (Matthew 7: 1-3) Judging others not only doesn’t work, it is sinful and a misuse of our energies.

Third, each person needs to truly understand the other’s limitations and weaknesses. While we stop short of saying Jean can control her habit, we dare not think that we can walk in her shoes. Jean was limited in her ability to quit smoking and Hal was limited in his ability to understand her problem. Each needed to understand and empathize with the other. Empathy would help them move out of trying to change the other and develop a cooperative relationship.

Fourth, "let go." Yes, simply let go. Hal needs to let go of trying to control Jean’s habit and thinking. He doesn’t have to like her habit—but if he wants to be in relationship with her he must stop his judgmental behavior. Jean needs to let go of rationalizing her habit and stop being deceptive about it. Both need to work on encouraging one another—negotiating a solution that works for both wherever possible. Learning these skills will help Jean and Hal work there way out of their thorny problem.

Are you "kicking a dead horse" with your mate? Maybe there is a grudge you have been holding for years, reminding your mate of where and how they failed you. Maybe there is a wound that needs healing once and for all. The most challenging thing many of us will ever do is accepting another’s limits and letting go of our desire to seek revenge.

Are you willing to practice humility, allowing your mate to be human just as you are human? Grab the hand of your mate, get out the shovel and bury the dead horse--together. You’ll be glad you did.

This article is eighth in a series on nine mistakes most couples make. Read part 7: Marital Mistake: Igniting Fires with an Untamed Tongue

This article was adapted from  Nine Critical Mistakes Most Couples Make (Harvest House Publishers, 2005).

Dr. David B. Hawkins is a Visiting Professor at International Christian University and specializes in interpersonal relationship counseling as well as domestic violence and emotional abuse in relationships. He has been a frequent guest on Moody Radio Mid-day Connection, Focus on the Family, and At Home Live. You can visit his website at

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