6 Min Read
- What A Marriage Suffering With Resentment Looks Like
- What Can Cause Resentment In A Marriage
- Can You Get Rid Of Resentment In Your Relationship Once It’s There?
- What To Take Away
Resentment is one of the most destructive feelings we can experience. It’s sneaky, easy to ignore, and very, very hard to acknowledge. While it can cause problems for any relationship, resentment in a marriage can have catastrophic repercussions.
When resentment builds in your marriage it can be difficult to combat for many reasons. The two most frustrating reasons are that,
- It can occur without either one of you knowingly doing anything wrong.
- It frequently goes undiscussed which allows it to grow.
It’s not uncommon for someone feeling resentment not to acknowledge their feelings, or to feel embarrassed that they’re feeling this way at all.
As a result, years can go by with resentment in your marriage growing and silently eating away at your happiness and the health of your relationship.
The solution when there’s resentment in a marriage is to deal with it directly and as quickly as possible. But it’s even better if you can prevent it from starting at all.
What A Marriage Suffering With Resentment Looks Like
Let’s first make sure we understand what resentment is, because it often gets confused with jealousy.
They’re associated emotions, but with some distinct differences.
Where jealousy and envy describe a feeling of wanting what someone else has, resentment refers more to a feeling of injustice or unfairness associated with someone else’s behaviors or circumstances.
In a marriage, for instance, you may be jealous of your spouse’s success at work wishing you also had such impressive achievements.
Or you may resent the fact your spouse isn’t spread as thin as you and has time to relax while you always seem to be working.
Resentment can manifest in several ways within a marriage.
One of the most common is by growing apart and a dissolution of the connection and closeness that makes a marriage satisfying and successful. There may be a wall of silence that grows between you and intimacy may decrease or disappear altogether. As you continue to withdraw from one another anger can begin to grow.
Left unresolved resentment in your marriage can lead to a simmering anger that takes over replacing the loving feelings you once had. Then one day you realize that the love seems to be gone and what you feel toward your spouse is a bitterness and anger that has hardened you and made you feel that perhaps you married the wrong person.
Sound like fun? No?
Sadly, this isn’t an uncommon picture of a couple combating resentment, which is why you need to deal with these feelings before they grow to this point.
What Can Cause Resentment In A Marriage
Dealing with resentment in marriage effectively means being prepared. Understanding when and where it can begin allows a couple to proactively work towards keeping things balanced.
In a marriage the four most common areas where resentment can grow are,
- Raising children
- Household duties
Not a big surprise, right?
These are also areas that bring on strong emotions and can create the most disagreements. The kicker is that all four of these often combine and cause frustration at the same time, leading to big problems.
Dr. Kurt works with couples all the time who are struggling with the effects of resentment. He has observed firsthand what that can do to a marriage if not addressed. According to him,
There are a couple of common causes of resentment I regularly see between spouses. First, one partner feels there's a double standard in their relationship. Like feeling there's one set of rules they must follow and another their spouse gets to follow. Second, resentment in marriages also frequently arises around sex, particularly for men. A lot of husbands resent their wives for restricting or controlling the frequency of sex in their marriage. It's easy and not uncommon for all of us to feel something is unfair. However, letting that feeling fester until it turns into resentment is unhealthy. While it can be hard to talk about how we feel, it's necessary to do so in order to have a happy and healthy marriage."
Resentment doesn’t generally start as a volatile emotion. Most people don’t even realize that it’s there until it creeps in and grows large enough to produce anger. And resentment doesn’t discriminate, both men and women are equally as prone to experiencing it.
In all four of the above areas, it’s usually a feeling of inequity that initiates things.
- A husband may feel like it’s unfair that his wife gets to spend so much time with the kids and create such a tight bond with them.
- His wife might feel like he gets to have stronger relationships outside the house and more fun in general.
- The partner making the most money may feel they have to shoulder the financial burden.
- The primary caretaker of the kids and home may feel they to do all the thankless, mundane things that keep their lives moving and is taken for granted.
Feeling unappreciated is big contributor to resentment in a marriage.
One person compares their own workload to that of their partner and feels like it’s skewed, and they’re doing more. It’s also very likely they feel undervalued and that their contribution goes unacknowledged.
At this point if these feelings aren’t addressed and resolved, resentment will begin to set in and cause problems in your marriage.
Resentment can occur at any stage of a relationship. It’s usually the result of unconsciously selfish behaviors and a lack of good communication.
In other words, partners don’t generally try to take each other for granted or deliberately create an inequitable workload in their marriage. But if you aren’t paying attention or are so wrapped up in yourself that you’re not communicating with your partner, it’s easy to end up in this situation.
Unfortunately, this tendency gets worse the longer a couple is together and can lead to affairs or even late life divorces.
Can You Get Rid Of Resentment In Your Relationship Once It’s There?
Once resentment sets in it can be tough to shake and it can become a toxic and vicious cycle.
If you feel hurt and angry you can have a very hard time feeing empathetic and loving toward your spouse. This can make it difficult to listen to what they tell you and to see their side of things. And even harder to admit that you may also be at fault for the state of your relationship.
When you each feel unheard and unloved bridging the divide that resentment causes can seem impossible. So, many couples continue on and allow these feelings to continue growing and becoming more and more destructive.
The good news is that it is possible to build that bridge and dismantle the resentment that has built up and taken over your marriage.
The hardest part of handling resentment in your marriage is the initial discussion that requires you each to,
- Name your feelings
- Listen to the other person’s feelings
- Acknowledge your own part in things
I say it’s the hardest part because it requires you to look beyond your own hurt and the laundry list of injustices that you likely now have and be open to feeling empathy for the person you believed caused your pain.
Getting to this point once resentment is a factor in your marriage is difficult at best and for some can feel impossible.
That’s not the end, however.
Once you have been able to start the process you are likely to find that there’s distrust and scars that make the moving forward a slow process.
One partner may be hesitant to make the positive moves they need to because they feel the other partner should “go first.” Or they may fear doing too much because it won’t be appreciated, and they’ll be vulnerable to being hurt again.
Because of this you will need to agree upon and establish a new way of communicating moving forward.
This is an area where many couples benefit from marriage counseling or couples counseling. A professional, impartial, and experienced third party can help you move forward by assisting in the development of effective communication tools.
You may also find that getting your marriage back to a healthy and happy state happens more quickly with the right intervention.
What To Take Away
Regardless as to whether you do it alone or through counseling, if resentment has entered your marriage you need to find a way to get rid of it. Doing so, however, will mean work and allowing yourself to become vulnerable.
If you’ve found that you, your spouse, or both of you are harboring resentment, keep the following things in mind.
- It’s easy to dismiss feelings of resentment initially, feeling like they’ll go away on their own or that you’ll eventually just get over it. Neither of these things are likely happen.
- Feeling embarrassed by your feelings of embarrassment isn’t unusual. This shouldn’t be an excuse for ignoring them, however.
- If you don’t address resentment, it will grow and can cause deep problems in your relationship.
- Communicating your feelings with your spouse is an important step in resolving resentment.
- Depending on how ingrained these feelings have become, you may need the help of a marriage counselor.
If you’re trying to get ahead of things before resentment becomes a problem, remember there are specific areas where feelings of resentment are prone to build:
- Raising children
- Household chores
Keeping communication strong in these areas in particular is a good idea.
Resentment in your marriage is toxic and will eventually lead to unhappiness or worse. No one wants to look forward and see just sadness and anger on the horizon. So, take the necessary steps to keep it at bay or resolve it.
Editor's Note: This post was originally published October 22, 2020. It has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.
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