Resentment: The Number One Relationship Killer

Posted by on Aug 31, 2017 in Couples Counseling | Comments Off on Resentment: The Number One Relationship Killer

Dealing with the persistent feeling you are being treated unfairly by someone you love.

Resentment in relationships stems from the sense that you aren’t receiving the time, help, consideration, appreciation, admiration, reward or “whatever” that you feel you’re due.

Often, people have valid reasons for being resentful. Generally speaking, it’s an inevitable part of being in a relationship.

Perhaps your partner isn’t as affectionate or loving as she once was. Or maybe he promises to clean out the garage but never gets around to it. Occasional resentment happens.

It’s really not a problem if couples are able to address or manage it well.

However, if resentment becomes recurrent, relationships can decline quickly. If resentment is chronic, it is extremely difficult for couples to feel connected to each other. Left unchecked, it can cause a tremendous amount of damage in a relationship, perhaps even destroy it.

Resentment is arguably the number one killer of relationships.

Why is it So Hard to Get Rid of Resentment?

1. Resentment tends to be self-perpetuating.

Often resentments are not specific or limited to one situation. When it becomes chronic, resentment is about a number of different things, situations, and interactions. Frequently, people can actually recite the list of grievances that led to their resentment. Resentment is like a chain to which partners add one link at a time, thus growing a chain of resentment that stretches way back into a couple’s past.

When people mentally replay their list of resentments, sometimes something physiological happens. Resentfulness actually gives them a surge of energy that drives even more resentment. It almost seems to empower them, as though feeling wronged somehow fuels them (“By God, I deserve better than this!”).

It can be reinforcing, in other words, to hold on to these resentments. Unfortunately, that strength or energy doesn’t last long. Eventually, the resentful partner ends up feeling more drained.

Sometimes the chain of resentments extends into the future. Partners can start to project resentment-making behavior onto each other. They’ll start to look for future offenses, and things to present before they even occur. (“There’s no point in me even asking for help. he’s just going to let me down anyway.”)

2. We don’t know how to get rid of resentment.

People don’t know what to do to stop it, even though they may not like feeling resentful and no longer want to feel that way.

Resentment rarely goes away on its own. Anger flares, but is often doused quickly, whereas resentment is like a low simmer. And resentment can simmer indefinitely if you’re not careful.

Just telling yourself not to feel resentful or that you shouldn’t feel resentful is generally just a temporary solution at best.

3. Resentment can become a part of your identity.

People can sometimes transition from exhibiting resentful behavior to becoming resentful, or even bitter, human beings. It becomes a part of who they are. They essentially see themselves as victims.

If people excessively ruminate on their “righteous resentments,” they begin to internalize them. They incorporate resentment into their own identities.

Focusing on your resentment gets in the way of figuring out how to heal and how you want to move forward in the relationship. Sadly, resentment can become such a part of one’s identity a person might prefer to stay that way than risk failing in the effort to let their resentments go.

What to Do About Resentment

Cultivating compassion is the antidote to resentment. It is sympathy for the hurt or distress of others. Showing compassion is a way of connecting with them. It is an essential ingredient in the formation of emotional bonds. Though it’s necessary, showing compassion can still be difficult for some. 

1. Focus on your partner’s inner world.

We’re often so focused on our own concerns that we often forget to do this. We pay little attention to the concerns of our partners. We may even dismiss or minimize them. It’s important to ask yourself if your partner is being malicious and intending to harm you, or could something else be going on?

  • Might there be another context or reason behind their behavior?
  • Could they be too focused on their own needs to see yours?
  • Do their past wounds or challenges influence their behavior now?

Acknowledge your partner’s pain and consider it in another context. This goes a long way in cultivating compassion between you. Try not to read into, interpret, or personalize perceived slights. Consider kinder, gentler explanations for their behavior.

2. Make a commitment to act compassionately toward your partner.

When you do feel resentful, it’s important to take time to reflect. Consider how you want to respond. It’s important to slow down and respond in an intentional, compassionate way. This fuels a much more productive and positive sense of inner strength than the slow simmer of resentment.

Essentially, you don’t want those old resentments to continue to drive your actions.

3. Redefine the way you see yourself.

If you tend you to see yourself as a victim (with all of the implications of helplessness that go along with that) you will continue to perpetuate more resentment. This can be a huge problem for your relationship.

Therefore, remember too, that if you see yourself as a compassionate person then you’re much more likely to become a more compassionate person.

Most of all, you can’t control other people, but you can control yourself. You don’t want to end up bitter and emotionally stuck. Holding on to resentment ultimately just hurts you.

The upshot of all of this? You can’t hold on to resentment and still expect to heal.