Communicating Effectively: Letting Go of Grudges and Past Grievances

Dr. Clifford N. Lazarus


Harold and Maude were in the office for their weekly marriage counseling session. Maude said, rather bitterly, “We were at a dinner party with my sister and brother~in~law and Harold made some outrageous remarks and really insulted them. ” Maude was visibly upset when recounting this event, and gave the impression that it was a fresh wound. Harold said: “What would you say if I told you this happened over eight years ago?”


Maude was making a common but serious mistake, harping on a negative event from the past. It is never constructive to recite unpleasant things however trivial or important ~ that your partner did to you in history. The past is dead and has value only in two ways: we can learn from past mistakes, and we can gain pleasure from recalling pleasant experiences from the past.

Rehashing unpleasant incidents or events creates distance and causes resentments, often leading to destructive arguments. If a deed was bad enough for you to end the relationship, so be it. But if you choose to stay together,

• there’s nothing to be gained for either of you by continuing to punish your partner for events in the past.

If you want your partner to make up to you for the hurt, ask for what you want •~ firmly but pleasantly. To walk around feeling resentful will only eat away at you ~~ and the relationship.

• It’s best to express it, resolve it, and drop it.

Stop mentioning it. Neutralize your bad feelings. The first step is to downgrade the importance of the event.

Of course, you will want to consider what if any role you may have played in provoking an unpleasant incident. Ask yourself what you’re accomplishing by harboring resentment. By hanging on to grudges and refusing to let them go, you only end up harming yourself and others.

It’s worth noting that this discussion refers to grudges based on single isolated occurrences. Pattems are a very different matter.

• If the issue concerns a repetitive and ongoing habit, active steps need to be taken.

In cases of offensive or destructive patterns of behavior, you have every right to expect your partner to change this behavior. If not, you should seriously consider ending the partnership, particularly if any form of abuse is involved.


Dr. Clifford N. Lazarus is a licensed psychologist, Co-founder and Clinical Director of The Lazarus Institute. In addition to his general psychotherapy practice, Dr. Clifford Lazarus specializes in health and neuropsychology.

Dr. Clifford Lazarus received his B.A., M.S., and Ph.D. in psychology from Rutgers University where he was a Henry Rutgers Research Scholar.  Seen here are excerpts from one of his books, The 60-Second Shrink – 101 Strategies For Staying Sane In a Crazy World, a book, he co-authored with his father “One of the ten most influential psychotherapists in America”  Arnold A. Lazarus, Ph.D.  For more details on Dr. Clifford Lazarus visit this link to The Lazarus Institute.  Or visit his page here on

Books available at Amazon by Arnold and Clifford Lazarus

Direct links to two highly recommended books by Dr. Clifford Lazarus and Dr. Arnold A. Lazarus:

The 60-Second Shrink: 101 Strategies for Staying Sane in a Crazy World 

Don’t Believe It for a Minute!: Forty Toxic Ideas That Are Driving You Crazy

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