5 ways to tackle resentment in your relationship
When there are unspoken, unresolved issues in our relationship, we can start to feel resentment. It’s destructive and it starts cracks that then drive a wedge into our relationship. If we don’t address the causes of resentment, the drip, drip effect of misunderstanding causes catastrophic damage. Yet, what do you do when you feel that your partner is treating you unfairly and you feel that sense of indignation rising? Here are some simple steps that everyone can take:
Break old habits
Think about your patterns of behaviour around each other. Do you spend time with each other? Do you talk to each other only when there is a problem, or to organise the running of the household? For many couples, they have not felt they have had the time to put time into their relationship with each other. Life, the children or their job got in the way over the years. Nevertheless, that can change. Learn to give and accept compliments from each other and notice the value you get from being in the relationship with your partner.
Focus on your communication
Often the way we communicate causes resentment. Think about using statements like “I think…” and “I feel” rather than “you should”. It helps to make your partner feel less attacked. For example: “You should pick up your clothes” and “I would be grateful if you could put your clothes in the laundry”. It can also be helpful to practise active listening. Check that you have understood your partner. Don’t be afraid to reflect their statement back to them or check your understanding before responding. For example: “So you felt anxious when I didn’t call to say I’d be home late?”. This lets your partner know you’ve heard and understood their feelings before responding.
Deal with small issues straight away
Don’t let small issues fester; talk about them as soon as you can and try to come to a resolution. It’s much easier to solve a problem while it's small. It prevents that feeling growing into one of indignation that your partner is ignoring you or your feelings. Big issues, on the other hand, tackle in a different way. You should set aside time when you both feel you can focus, deal with one issue at a time and, if it gets heated, take a break. It’s important to remember that you are not trying to defeat each other but to deal with the issue.
The key to preventing resentment is both partners having empathy for each other, yet we forget to share our feelings with our partner. Often we expect our partner to understand how we are feeling with very few external signs. Especially when our relationship is in trouble, relying on this almost telepathic communication is not a good way to go forward. Say how you are feeling; don’t feel you have to apologise or qualify for your feelings. The purpose is to help both of you feel better understood and heard.
Taking responsibility for ourselves
In every relationship, we make mistakes and do things wrong, so while we need not apologise for our feelings, it is important to know when to say sorry when we make a mistake and upset our partner. Similarly, if you find you or your partner’s resentment is being expressed as anger, or you feel it is getting out of control, you may want to consider getting help with anger management. Apart from being a valuable thing in its own right, it shows respect for partners who have to deal with the consequences.
Take time to connect physically with your partner
We’re not necessarily talking about sex here. The small gestures can make us feel valued and secure in our relationship. That can be holding hands, a back rub or snuggling on the sofa. All of them help build the sense of security within our relationship that tackles the root causes of resentment.
Resentment left unchecked has the power to damage and break any relationship. The easiest way to protect your relationship from its effects is to do little and often with your partner to renew and reconnect with each other. In getting closer to each other emotionally, you build the security that helps foster values of fairness and understanding.
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About Graeme Orr
Graeme is a counsellor and author, living and working on the south side of Glasgow. In his practice, he sees a number of clients with emotional, anxiety and self-esteem that have relevance to us all. His articles are based on that experience and are offered as an opportunity to identify with, or to challenge you to make changes in your life.