What is resentment?
Resentment is often defined as feelings of irritation and anger couples can experience when partners treat each other unfairly. Some partners who are absorbed in resentment may feel annoyance and shame while others may feel an extreme desire for revenge.
It is important to understand that resentment is not associated with any mental health problems or any other medical concerns, but it often results from a person’s inability to express their emotions after a painful event (such as personal attacks from their partner, infidelity, etc.). The person feeling resentment may feel victimized but may be too angry to communicate their emotions to their partner; instead, they allow their anger to build up inside to be expressed later in an unacceptable form (yelling, punishment, or abuse). It is also possible that poor communication led to their resentment, as the individual may misunderstand an injustice that took place.
What resentment looks like in an intimate relationship or marriage.
You might have asked yourself what causes resentment. Now, you may be asking yourself what resentment looks like in a relationship. We all expect that our partners will care for us and love us unconditionally. After all, no one likes to be taken for granted or to feel worthless and unappreciated. However, when we find that we are taken for granted or feel unappreciated and worthless, this can lead to many negative emotions. If your partner does something that causes you to feel these emotions, you may start feeling frustrated, disappointed, and hurt. Over time, these emotions can turn into anger and then to resentment. Most, if not all of the time, you will not communicate your feelings to your partner for fear that they will impact your relationship. This will lead to further resentment that can ultimately end your relationship. Be aware that resentment can take many forms in intimate relationships. The following are just some of the most common things to look for:
- Unable to stop thinking about the situation with your partner that triggered your emotions.
- Angry or the desire for revenge.
- Fear of conflict and misunderstanding within the relationship.
- Feeling like you are not enough.
- Feeling stressed about the relationship.
- Wanting to withdraw from the relationship to avoid interaction.
- Fighting that ends up feeling destructive.
- One partner withholds intimacy and sex and ends up using them as a tool to manipulate the other. This will create more resentment as well as emotional distance between the partners.
- Diminishing affection and withdrawal from emotions.
- Feeling helpless and hopeless.
How resentment affects your relationship and your well-being.
We have all experienced persistent feelings of anger at least once in our lives, but when this resentment persists in our daily life, it can create a lot of problems. When a person feels like a victim in their own life, they may become unable to perceive the reality of things. This habit will become toxic and dangerous and will affect all their relationships. Resentment in an intimate relationship can be caused by
Unfairness or uneven distribution of power within the relationship. When one partner feels that their spouse has all the power in the relationship, they can feel unheard, leading to feelings of resentment.
Keeping score. If one partner feels that they are constantly doing all the work in the relationship, they may start to feel resentment toward their spouse.
Hurtful words. When two people spend a lot of time together, especially during a situation like the current pandemic, they are more likely to say something hurtful to each other. Misunderstandings and intentionally hurtful words can both cause feelings of resentment.
Chronic health issues. When one person in a relationship takes on the role of the caregiver because of their spouse’s health problems, it can cause feelings of resentment, especially when their own needs are not being met.
Can your relationship survive resentment?
For your relationship to survive, you and your partner must find a way to talk about each other’s points of view while making each other feel listened to. Only then will changes you make in the relationship have an effect and make your relationship work. On the other hand, if you can’t find a way to get past your problems and discuss your feelings and issues, you should seek relationship coaching to find a solution. Depending on how early you detected the resentment in your relationship and how determined you both are to make it work, relationship coaching may help you heal from your hurt and anger and save your relationship. If you are someone who avoids talking about issues and has a hard time expressing how they feel, you are more likely to let resentment build up, and this can damage or even end your relationship. The most effective way to reverse the situation and start healing your relationship is to be aware of the problem, discuss it with your partner, and work together to fix it.
How to let go of resentment.
Letting go of resentment means being compassionate and forgiving. Some people find that coming to terms with something that happened and moving on works better for them. Others start to accept their partner’s flaws and weaknesses. Regardless of how someone chooses to let go of resentment, most of the time, it means changing the way they think and feel.
Consider what feelings come up when you think about moving on from your resentment. Do you fear losing your identity?
Be self-compassionate; it can allow you to recognize that resentment is just a coping mechanism that makes you feel better in the short term, but in the long term, it will harm you and your relationship.
Practice empathyby putting yourself in your partner’s shoes. Your partner may do something to hurt or upset you; sometimes this can be intentional while other times it can be unintentional. It is also a possibility that your partner didn’t understand what they were doing. Trying to see things from your partner’s point of view may help reduce feelings of resentment.
Be gratefulfor the things you have. When you start feeling resentful towards your partner, sit down and list the things you feel grateful for. Focus on the things you feel fortunate to have to help your feelings of resentment weaken.
How to stop feeling resentment.
As we discussed in this article, partners can stop having feelings of resentment when they begin to have open and safe communication about what is causing their resentment. It is important for both partners to state the reasons they feel resentful, discuss what caused those feelings, and give suggestions for how to fix those issues. It is not uncommon that when one partner has feelings of resentment, the other partner is feeling resentful, too.
Of course, if your partner does not want to change or denies the situation, you can still continue working on improving yourself. The first and most important step is for both of you to apologize and ask for each other’s forgiveness for what has happened in the relationship. Then, recognize and discuss all the situations that cause both of you to feel resentful. It is important not only to list the situations, but also to become truly aware of them and what feelings followed them. You and your partner can use a daily or weekly worksheet and list all the signs. Then you can compare if some signs are coming up often or are disappearing. If signs start to occur again, sit together and discuss what happened and make a plan for how to change it. Always be willing to apologize and be compassionate toward each other.
Finally, if you find yourselves unable to let go of resentment, you may choose to seek relationship coaching to learn how to communicate with each other. In this case, talking to a professional can help you explore the issues that caused your resentment, what is making it difficult to let go, and help both of you develop coping strategies that will reduce your feelings of resentment.
Relationship coaching for resentment.
If you and your partner find it difficult to forgive each other for wrongdoings, no matter how small, you may find that relationship coaching can be helpful. Relationship coaching will help you understand the reasons for the resentment in your relationship by revisiting the situation. The effective therapeutic techniques that relationship coaching offers may help you attain self-actualization and realization. Relationship coaching can also help you and your partner cultivate compassion and empathy within your intimate relationship or marriage and learn to accept each other more easily.
It is always important to keep in mind that there are solutions. Any relationship can thrive after resentment. Yes, in an intimate relationship when partners ignore their needs and they invite feelings of thoughtlessness, neglect, and unworthiness may develop into resentment, but when you recognize what causes resentment and start communicating your emotions, you can stop this bad habit and heal your relationship.
Fincham, F. D., Beach, S. R., & Davila, J. (2004). Forgiveness and conflict resolution in marriage. Journal of Family Psychology, 18(1), 72-81. https://doi.org/10.1037/0893-3184.108.40.206.
Fincham, F. D., Paleari, F. G., & Regalia, C. (2002). Forgiveness in marriage: The role of relationship quality, attributions, and empathy. Personal Relationships, 9(1), 27-37. https://doi.org/10.1111/1475-6811.00002.
Repressing resentment. Marriage, illness, and the disturbing experience of care. (n.d.). Dialnet. https://dialnet.unirioja.es/servlet/articulo?codigo=4112451.