Holding a grudge is bad for both your physical and psychological health. There is a huge body of scientific evidence showing that refusing to forgive hurts the person who will not forgive more than the person who is not forgiven. Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twersky observes: “Studies have shown that hanging on to anger is harmful to the body. It is a contributing factor in high blood pressure, heart disease, digestive disorders, migraine headaches and chronic back pain.” “There is an enormous physical burden to being hurt and disappointed,” says Karen Swartz, M.D., director of the Mood Disorders Adult Consultation Clinic at The Johns Hopkins Hospital. “Chronic anger puts you into a fight-or-flight mode, which results in numerous changes in heart rate, blood pressure and immune response. Those changes, then, increase the risk of depression, heart disease and diabetes, among other conditions…” 
Conversely, there is a huge benefit to you if you forgive. According to Johns Hopkins: “Studies have found that the act of forgiveness can reap huge rewards for your health, lowering the risk of heart attack; improving cholesterol levels and sleep; and reducing pain, blood pressure, and levels of anxiety, depression and stress. The Mayo Clinic agrees and finds that forgiveness also leads to improved self-esteem.
All these studies, while important, only tell us what we all know anyway-stubbornly refusing to forgive someone makes you, the person who refuses to forgive, less happy. Refusing to forgive requires you to replay in your head the horrible thing(s) your stupid, thoughtless, evil spouse did. But focusing on all that negativity is a guaranty that you will be unhappy. What upside is there for you in that?
Not surprisingly, the refusal to forgive creates a host of problems in a marriage. The refusal puts the wronged party in a position of extreme power. The wronged party gets to decide when the wrongdoer has done enough penance. Sadly, that time often never comes as the supposed wrong party does and says thing after thing hoping to make things better but nothing heals the supposed “years of pain.” There are couples where one spouse holds frequent sessions, requiring their spouse to apologize again and again, and then finds each apology somehow deficient. A husband subjected to this treatment threw up his hands and said to us in a bewildered voice “What else can I do?” Neither we, nor his wife, could tell him.
Further, as we have shown earlier, focusing on what a spouse did wrong is exactly the wrong thing to focus on when you want a good marriage. There is simply no way you can avoid being unhappy with your spouse and your life if you focus on the mistakes of the past.
Indeed, focusing on the mistakes of the past, regardless of whether the mistakes were made by you, your partner or both, creates a toxic environment, not just for you but for your entire family. A wife made a financial decision in which the husband concurred without reservation. It turned out to be a financial mistake. The wife not only found every opportunity to remind the husband of the mistake they made, she also repeatedly bemoaned the mistake to the children too. She would say things like “if only we had not done X, we could have afforded a nicer house” or “if only we had not done X, we would have had financial security.” Everything reminded her of the mistake they made. The husband and the children not only lost respect for the wife because of this obsession but they began to even loath being around her. A refusal to forgive, a refusal to move on, hurts everyone.
And yet, some spouses love to pick at the scab of the hurt they experienced and experience it all over again. Sounds strange doesn’t it? After all, we want to feel pleasure, not the pain of the past. Some people just seem to like to live in the painful past. It is not within the scope of this work to analyze such psychopathology. But it is easy to see that the harping on the past is a recipe for disaster in a marriage.
Some people feel that forgiving can be hard. The Rambam emphasizes the necessity to forgive at least three separate times in his codification of Jewish law (Laws of Teshuva 2:10; Laws of Moral Conduct, 6:6, Laws of Personal Injury 5:9-10). The Rambam is known for being terse. Why then does he repeat the requirement to forgive three times? Maybe because the Rambam knew that people felt forgiving could be hard and he felt it was necessary to remind them of its applicability and importance in different contexts.
Perhaps forgiving is hard because we do not grow up in an educational system that stresses that forgiving is the halacha (Jewish law). Many of us are used to keeping kosher. Yet, see keeping kosher through the eyes of someone who never kept kosher and decides to start keeping kosher. He has to buy new dishes. He may not be able to eat his favorite foods. He has wait between meat and milk. He can’t eat at their favorite restaurants. He has to look for symbols on all their food. The list of things he can and cannot do must seem endless at first. Yet, the person who wants to get close to G-d by following His laws will find a way to follow all these rules. In contrast, forgiving is easier. To forgive you only need to do one thing-forgive and, like the person who starts keeping kosher, you too are following G-d’s laws.
NEXT WEEK WE WILL GIVE YOU SOME TOOLS TO HELP FORGIVE.
2 Forgiveness: Your Health Depends on it. www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/healthy_aging/healthy_connections/forgiveness-your-health-depends-on-it.
3 Forgiveness: Letting Go of Grudges and Bitterness. www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/in-depth/forgiveness/art-20047692
4 For a different hypothesis as to why the Rambam mentions the need to forgive three times, see a piece based on the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe comparing and analyzing the language the Rambam uses in these three sections which can be found in the Guttnick Chumash on Bamidbar Parshas Chukkas and is reprinted at chabad.org/parshah/article_cdo/aid/680266/jewish/Learning-the-Art-of-Forgiveness-from-Moshe.htm