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Forgiveness vs. Holding Grudges; How do I Move on After Fighting with my Boyfriend?

Art by Ariana Nouri

Dear Doctor Life Advice,

I am writing to you because I have problems with my boyfriend. Every time we have a strong argument, we act in two different ways: his reactions are ”explosive” but short-lasting. I am explosive too, but after the fight is solved I become ice-cold for weeks and weeks, even though I can forgive him and still love him. I can’t have sex and I become much more irritated by every little thing he does. He bears with me for a long time, and shows a lot of understanding, but of course he cannot stand this coldness for too long. He grows frustrated and I grow guilty. Sometimes, after months, we solve the problem but then the vicious cycle starts again. How can I manage my feelings in a more stable way, and how can I understand whether the issue is with me or with the relationship?

Dear Guilty Grudges,

First let me thank you for submitting this very interesting and very complicated question. The number one issue we need to address is the word “explosive”. Let’s make sure we are not talking about an abusive relationship. Define to yourself what the word “explosive” means. Does your boyfriend hit you or do you hit him? Do you two get into physical altercations? Do you ever throw objects at each other? Do either of you ever feel concerned for your safety during a fight? Have either of you ever been physically hurt as a result of one of your arguments? If you answered “yes” to any of these questions you are in a physically abusive relationship. You must seek the advice of a professional right away, and must take measures to ensure your safety as well as your boyfriend’s. In addition to obvious physical abuse, I recommend you read up on emotional and verbal abuse, and make sure that neither of you are being subjected to it.

Given the nature of the question that you have submitted, I am going to assume that you are in a loving and non-abusive relationship. If this is the case, let’s start by answering the easiest part of your question. You asked if there is a way for you to know if the problem is with you, or with your relationship. This is easy to find out. All you have to do is look at your prior relationships. Take each relationship you have had in the past, and examine it in your mind carefully. Of course, as always, I recommend writing down your thoughts.

Do you always have a tendency to hold grudges? Don’t just look at your romantic relationships; remember to look at your feelings towards friends and family. Have you held grudges against friends or is this phenomenon unique to romantic relationships? If you have a history of having a hard time forgiving other people, then this is an issue you need to work on personally. You can start by doing internet research, looking for self-help books, and reading up on the subject of forgiveness. I know you stated in your question that you forgive him; however, there is obviously something emotional that is still lingering. You need to find out what that is. Let your boyfriend know that you are working on this, and if he is the supportive type, ask him for his help.

If you have almost never held grudges against any friends, family members, or ex–partners, then this is probably an issue related to your current boyfriend. I find it interesting that you stated that he is “understanding,” and that he “bears with” you. I noted that you did not mention him apologizing. If someone says hurtful things to you during an episode of explosive anger, and then does not apologize, of course it is hard to forgive him. It is also hard to forgive someone who apologizes, but not sincerely. Consider the following statement:

“I’m so sorry I yelled at you and said all those mean things, but you are really annoying and obnoxious. You really know how to get on my last nerve!”

That is in no way, shape, or form, an apology. If anything, it is another stab at hurting you. In general, some people always follow their apology with an explanation that basically blames everyone else except themselves. I don’t know what your relationship dynamics are. However, if he is just apologizing by telling you everything you did wrong, then I don’t blame you for holding a grudge. Contrast the above statement with the following form of apology:

“I am so sorry for all the things I said. I can see how much you are hurting. It was not my intention to hurt you.”

Your boyfriend could even say the following as a means of communication:

“I am so sorry I got so angry. I felt like a trapped animal and I struck back. I said some really hurtful things. At the moment I guess I really wanted to hurt you, but now I regret it. I really do hope you can forgive me.”

Even if your boyfriend admits to wanting to hurt you at the height of his anger, he is being sincere and he is asking for forgiveness. It is easier to forgive when the apology is heartfelt and sincere.

My guess is that after a fight, somehow you do not feel emotionally validated, and the matter is not resolved for you. I am also going to guess further that you either don’t know how to, or are afraid of communicating how you really feel. Instead, you distance yourself from him both physically and emotionally. Obviously for you, when you are angry or you feel hurt and emotionally distant, you find it hard to be physically intimate with him. If your boyfriend really loves you, he would not just “bear with” you. He would be open to further discussions of how you are feeling.

The problem you are having with your boyfriend is probably a combination of all of the above. You hold grudges, he does not know how to apologize, and you do not know how to show him how you truly feel. The key to improving this relationship is open and honest communication from both sides, without making accusations towards each other.

Practice these two concrete methods of communication:

1- When you are communicating your feelings, use “I” statements rather than “you” statements. “I feel hurt and angry when I am put in this position” is a very different statement than “you make me so angry and hurt when you put me in this position.”

2- When talking to each other about a sensitive issue, each of you should allow time for the other to talk without interrupting. When it’s your turn to talk, repeat what you just heard in your own words. This is tedious, but it helps unveil the misunderstandings, and improves your communication skills.

I hope that this helps the two of you to get along, and move on to enjoying the fun parts of being in love.

Doctor Life Advice

Sayeh Beheshti, M.D.