Many of my clients struggle with resentment in their relationships. And, there is no reason why resentment should be a common emotion.
Frustration with your partner, sure. Anger? Yea. But resentment has nothing to do with your partner. It has everything to do with you.
Resentment builds up in three ways.
Resentment builds up in three ways.
Your boundaries are being crossed regularly
You feel you’re giving more into the relationship a lot more than you’re getting (ie needs not being met)
Multiple disagreements in your relationship have gone unresolved, and the both of you feel incomplete. In other words, neither of you feel heard or understood and there’s no resolution.
Why does resentment build up? For the first two reasons, more often than not, my question to clients is, “Have you told her clearly that when she does _____ it really bothers you and what about it that bothers you most?”
Or I’ll ask, “Have you ever clearly told her what it is that you need, and asked her for it?”
More often than not, the answer to these two questions is, “No. I don’t like confrontation or conflict, so I usually just stay quiet and say ‘yes dear.’ Happy wife, happy life. Right?”
Then, because they betray themselves by never communicating their needs, or setting healthy boundaries, they build up resentment and anger towards their partner. Not too long later, they end up getting into loud and explosive arguments with their partners, and they don’t know why.
Passive aggressive behaviour and emotionally (or sexually) checking out from their relationship is also quite common.
This attempt at “keeping the peace,” ends up creating a ton of turmoil in themselves. They become a toxic partner to be around. And obviously, that’s going to bring out the worst in their partner.
Not only that, but because they still haven’t asked for their needs or set boundaries in a healthy way, they continue to build resentment.
Avoidance of conflict does not help your relationship. I creates unnecessary conflict and puts a wedge between you and your loved one.
Another reason why resentment builds up, is because they’ll get into an argument, and then “take a break” from the argument, say they’ll come back to it later, but never do.
Tension builds up over a period of time, and then the argument(s) that have gone unresolved, all come bubbling up in a nuclear explosion of resentment, anger, blame and pain.
Resentment feels like anger directed at others.
But in all honesty, if you take a closer look, resentment is anger at oneself for not being strong enough to take a stand for what you need or want. It’s a feeling of weakness because you feel like you sacrificed your dignity and self-respect.
The real source of resentment, is our own inability, or lack of willingness to communicate our needs and our boundaries. And then having someone basically walk all over us.
That’s why it’s easy to blame others and throw it at your partner. Because no one wants to admit they’re the source of their own pain.
It’s funny to me that people think that their desire to avoid conflict is somehow a better option, under the guise of “keeping the peace.” Yet, at the same time, it ends up causing intense turmoil, and they indirectly end up treating their partner like crap.
By avoiding conflict in your relationship, you’re doing yourself, and your partner, a disservice. If you selected a stable partner who cares about you (I certainly hope you did), they want to take care of your needs, and they don’t want to cross your boundaries.
But they can’t read your mind.
So if you’re upset with how your partner is treating you, or how little your needs are being met, and you’ve never communicated this to your partner, then she’s not the problem. You’re causing the problem.
That doesn’t mean you’re a bad guy, or a loser. It just means that you have a desire to make her life easier. But by avoiding conflict, it’s actually creating more unhealthy and destructive tension in your relationship.
It’s important to know that conflict doesn’t mean destructive. It might be confronting, but it in a healthy relationship, conflict is rarely destructive.
So how do you prevent resentment? You embrace the uncomfortable conversations that come with conflict, and learn how to navigate them well.
Here are a few simple steps you can do to navigate these tough conversations:
Get clear on what’s bothering you. What is the specific thing that happens, that creates resentment in you. If you don’t have clarity, then communicating your needs will be nearly impossible. It helps to name the emotions that you experience during the situation that you want to talk about.
Invite a conversation with your partner about said topic. Example, “Hey babe, somethings been bugging me and I need to get this off my chest. I’m hoping you can help me out.”
Do not blame your partner.
Communicate specifically what bothers you. Focus on the topic, and avoid making comments about your partners character. Use non-violent communication styles to do this. You can find information on non-violent communication (NVC) for relationships.
Clearly and concisely ask for what it is that you need. Say please.
Schedule times to continue conversing if a break is needed. If things start to get heated, and you need time apart to cool down, set a specific time and date (whether that’s in 30min or a day or two) for when you will come back to talk about the specific topic.
Do this as many times as you need, but as quickly as you can, to find some kind of agreement. Don’t run away at the peak discomfort of these conversations. If you do that, then the very topic will anchor in your mind a feeling of helplessness, anger and frustration and you’ll want to avoid it. If, however, you see it through to the end, there will be a phase of resolution, where the tension has faded, you both feel heard and understood, and even if you agree to disagree, you feel respected. Also, you’ll build trust for one another, knowing that if you have a disagreement, you can handle it and everything will work out.
Don't shy away from counselling
If you need to, get counselling or guidance on how to navigate these conversations. They are definitely a skill-set, but a necessary skill-set for long term, healthy relationships. You can find resources like non-violent communication workshops.
If you’re able to have these conversations, guaranteed resentment will not fester in your relationship. Your relationship may not last, and your partner may not want to meet your needs or respect your boundaries. But you’ll be free of resentment.
And if they don’t meet your needs, then you have clear information that this is not be the right relationship for you. Rather than being stuck in a grey area of uncertainty, full of anger.
If you avoid these conversations though, you could spend years together, angry, bitter, with a terrible or lack lustre sex life. And when things do come to an end, you’ll regret losing all the time you could have had in a happy, fulfilling relationship with someone who respects and appreciates you deeply.