Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Don't let your spouse drag you into an old, solved conflict
Let it go already! My husband cannot let things go — he holds grudges for way longer than the offense is worth. He still brings up things that happened months or years ago to illustrate my (presumed) faults. It's not just me; he gives his older sister grief for dropping him when he was 6 months old. She was 3. Besides pointing out that he's being ridiculous when he gets going on some old grudge, do you have any suggestions for dealing with this?
Carolyn: He sounds like a peach to live with.
Holding grudges is a form of control. It puts you in the you-owe-him seat, and gives him the last word on when to let you out. This is sometimes control with a sinister undertone, and sometimes just annoying and whiny, but either way it's unhealthy and standing between you and intimacy with your husband.
Fear of intimacy, in fact, might be driving his need for protective grudges, since they have a neat way of both preserving a self-image of pristine innocence, and also keeping everyone else — those barbarians who are out to injure him — at arm's length.
He would make an excellent candidate for excellent counseling, but I say this knowing that someone who thinks everyone else done 'im wrong is likely to be the last person to admit he needs help.
Still, it's worth mentioning, after he has cooled off from a grudge-drudging but while the memory of it is still fresh: "It seems like a lot of this stuff stays with you, and that can't feel good. Have you ever considered talking to a therapist?"
Then duck behind a sofa.
If (when) he refuses to get counseling, try this two-part strategy for not getting sucked into old arguments. First, make sure you always either apologize quickly and unequivocally when you're wrong, or make your case gently when you're right. E.g.: "I see how you might have perceived X, but what I did/said/meant was Y."
Second, when he drags up old stuff, say: "I believe we dealt with that when it happened, so unless you have something new to add, I'd prefer not to rehash it." Then don't.
Groveling gets you nowhere; an honest apology is your best shot
In the doghouse: I've come to my senses and want to be back in the relationship I just ditched for no good reason. But I'm afraid my ex, who is very concerned with self-respect, will not allow herself to be vulnerable with me again. How do I show that I'm prepared to prostrate myself till she feels comfortable taking me back?
Carolyn: Ack, don't. No groveling. Show up, say you made a mistake, ask for forgiveness, and hope it comes.
It might help if you go into this with the intention of making sense, versus winning her back. That way, you won't be saying what you think she wants to hear, but instead what you want her to know.
If she needs time to rebuild trust, then that's reasonable.
If she needs two pints of your blood to make a point, then stay broken up. It's a second chance only if she has gotten over what you did.