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Is Resentment Present In Your Relationship?

To answer this question, one must first ask, how does resentment find its way into your relationship? Resentment is defined as “a feeling of bitterness, animosity, or hostility elicited by something or someone perceived as insulting or injurious (APA, 2020).” An article from BetterHelp (2020) has broken down resentment into three components: persistent anger, unfair treatment, and dwelling on upsetting experiences. Persistent anger is pretty much what it sounds like. It’s a feeling of anger, or even bitterness, that one can simply not let go of. Unfair treatment refers to the idea that someone has done something to wrong you or has treated you unjustly. Lastly, dwelling on upsetting experiences occurs when you cannot stop thinking of a past fight or experience you had with your partner. When these three components occur and keep on occurring, resentment starts to enter the relationship and makes it very difficult to move forward or progress. 

Resentment can come in many shapes and forms, but what causes resentment? In my work with couples, I have often noticed that resentment builds when a partner feels their relationship needs are not being met by their partner. It can also come from feelings of being unappreciated or undervalued. A couple’s counselor, Lisa Rabinowtiz (2020), described twelve signs that you may feel resentful in your relationship. These signs from her article are listed below:

  1. You feel your partner is being dismissive or not listening to you.
  2. You think about the situation constantly throughout the day.
  3. Fighting becomes more frequent and intense and over smaller issues.
  4. You avoid being with your partner or talking about anything meaningful.
  5. You feel helpless, hopeless, indifferent and/or sad about the relationship.
  6. You refuse or withhold sex or intimacy as a bargaining tool.
  7. You are having difficulty letting go of what happened with your partner.
  8. You discuss only facts or logistics (take out the trash).
  9. Your sentences are brief and short (yes/no answers or I don’t know).
  10. You do not use romantic or loving language.
  11. No physical signs of affection, such as a hug, snuggle or handholding.
  12. You do not look at your partner or you avoid eye contact.

Do any of these signs resonate with you? It is important to be honest with ourselves when exploring the topic of resentment. Resentment is common and indicates that you and your partner may need to take action to address behaviors, actions, or experiences that are causing resentment. So, what can be done to heal resentment? 

A Positive Attitude: While it is important to acknowledge and validate feelings of frustration, anger, and bitterness, it is also important to remember your partners positive qualities as you navigate the process of healing resentment. Being resentful often leads us to a cycle of consistently and constantly focusing on the “negative” that occurs in our relationship. By focusing on the positive, we are hopefully shifting our perspectives to being more compassionate and loving towards our partner. This can be a hard cycle to break, so be patient, but remember, practice makes perfect. Set aside time each week to intentionally share with your partner things they have done that you appreciate or have made you feel loved. 

Use I Statements: Intentional communication is key. When we use blaming language with our partners, it not only plants the seeds of resentment, but allows it to flourish. I Statements help to effectively express our feelings while taking the heat off of our partner and can lead to a more open and effective conversation. When we use the term “I” it helps to decrease defensiveness that can often be experienced. The standard formula for an I Statement is “I feel (insert feeling word), when (gentle explanation), and I need (insert need).” For example, “I feel ignored when phones are present at the dinner table, and I need for us to have quality time by putting our phones away at dinner.” Try practicing these with your partner and see if you notice a difference!

Understand and Voice Your Relationship Needs: This can often be quite challenging for couples, as many are often not taught or given the language to understand or effectively express their needs. So, reflect on your needs in your relationship. Take time to explore your needs by engaging in activities, such as taking the Love Language quiz, to help you understand what you need from your partner. Once you have identified your needs, sit down in a calm comfortable place with your partner and take turns giving each other space to communicate these. Be as direct and clear as possible and maybe even take notes of things that make your partner feel loved and appreciated. 

Couples Therapy: Sometimes resentment can be deeply rooted, and the help of a professional may be beneficial. Couple’s counseling gives couples a space to explore issues within their relationship that may be contributing to resentment. An effective counselor will work with you to give you tools and skills to increase healthy communication and emotional expression that will in turn decrease resentment. 

If you would like to address issues with resentment, feel free to contact one of our many qualified and effective counselors at Symmetry Counseling to start your couples therapy journey and better your relationship. Contact (312) 578-9990 for more information.

References

American Psychological Association. (2020). Resentment. American Psychological Association. https://dictionary.apa.org/resentment. 

BetterHelp. (2020). How therapists define resentment and help you deal with it. Betterhelp. https://www.betterhelp.com/advice/general/how-therapists-define-resentment-and-help-you-deal-with-it/. 

Rabinowtiz, L. (2020). What causes resentment in a marriage (plus how to heal yours). Couples Counseling In Baltimore. https://baltimorecounselor.com/what-causes-resentment-in-a-marriage/.

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