Choose Forgiveness and Gratitude Over Gunny Sacking

Communication promotes healthy relationships.

Posted Aug 09, 2016

Despite my best efforts to read a book, write a letter, or just sit and meditate – I have become addicted to the political campaign – checking on updates all too often. As I pondered the effects of this election, and talked with colleagues about words, we acknowledged how what we say – or do not say – affects others. Communication is so vital to healthy relationships that lack of communication is one of the top triggers of divorce

Talking and trying to resolve those little irritations, in a gentle way, is important.  What happens when you do not voice your angry feelings?  Your old gunny sack filled with anger can burst at the seams. Metaphorically speaking, gunny sacking is a conflict resolution term associated with the notion of storing up resentments.

We all know that spilling a glass of milk can trigger an explosive argument.  But it isn’t the milk, per se. The spilled milk becomes the last straw. In talking about gunny sacking and resolutions to conflict, Susan Heitler, PhD – whom I encourage you to read – said:

       “You toss the memory of each hurt into a big gunny sack that you carry invisibly on your shoulders. The sack gets heavier as you fill it with recollections of ever more hurtful interactions.  One day suddenly you have had enough. You heave the heavy full gunny sack up, swing it around your shoulder, and “POW!”, you slam the whole bag onto the person you have been mad at, letting the full sack of hurts  explode, quite possibly ending with the punch line, “And I’m leaving!” Resolution Not Conflict

Whenever you think to yourself, “This is the last straw; now I’m really going to blow my stack,” take a minute to breathe.  The philosopher who once said “Silence is golden,” probably had overheard an exchange of angry words.  We talk so much about anger in our society that few of us realize how damaging it can be.

Anger is a reaction. We cannot really control our feelings. We feel what we feel.  However, we can control our actions and reactions. Oftentimes when we are angry, we simply lash out.  Sometimes we may not say what is on our minds to the person who made us angry, but the next person who comes along becomes the recipient of our unkind words.

       In writing "Why do even satisfied newlyweds eventually go on to divorce?" the Journal of Family Psychology, researchers determined the following:

“. . . communication style is more important than commitment levels, personality traits or stressful life events in predicting whether happily married couples will go on to divorce. In particular, negative communication patterns such as anger and contempt are linked to an increased likelihood of splitting up.”

Essentially what they suggest is calm discussion before a situation gets out of hand. Here are some thoughts on heading off conflicts. 

Create a serenity spot:  Find a place within your home for sharing thoughts, frustrations, and just checking in with each other. Buy some flowers to bring sunny feelings into this communication corner. Sometimes even sitting across the table from people and watching their faces, listening to their words and silences can be revealing.

Watch your words:  Voice just one problem and offer one possible solution.  Then listen, maybe he or she has another idea.  It may require some give and take, but eventually you may be able to work out your differences.

Forgive yourself and your partner:  If you are seething, let it go. Forgive.  One of my friends taught me the 10 to 1 rule, which I wrote about in A Serenity Journal: 52 Weeks of Prayer and Gratitude. Whenever she felt angry, hurt, jealous, or slighted, her mother always knew it.  Before leaving the house in the morning she had to:

  • Write down the name of problem person. 
  • Think of 10 blessings to cancel out the one negative feeling you have towards that person.
  • Say the forgiveness prayer:  “I forgive you and you forgive me.  What happened between us in over.  We are both blessed."

Now it is time to begin expressing gratitude and built a neural pathway in your brain. We know from research by Loretta Graziano Breuning, PhD, that it takes 45 days to accomplish this.  And so, if you are feeling the slightest bit irritated, perhaps start now. Gratitude in 3 Minutes a Day. 


Lavner, J.A. & Bradbury, T.N. (2012). "Why do even satisfied newlyweds eventually go on to divorce?" Journal of Family Psychology, 26 (1): 1-10. 

Copyright 2016 Rita Watson/ All Rights Reserved