Tackling resentment in your relationship
Resentment can be a devastating barrier to good, healthy relationships. Resentment lets us hold onto feelings and events in our past that anger us, but that we have had no chance to satisfactorily resolve. We push the feelings down, out of the way.
Often these feelings can suddenly be ignited by a relatively small matter. Perhaps you are a few minutes late meeting your partner. But that is enough for the whole iceberg of feelings that have been hiding to emerge. That long history of events that have caused upset and that have been repressed and caused resentment suddenly appear and risk sinking the relationship.
It is important to recognise and address resentment in relationships as soon as it appears. Yet it can take courage to admit how you are feeling in the relationship. Often the biggest feeling is anger, but in reality the anger hides other feelings of fear, frustration, hurt and sadness and it takes bravery to be vulnerable when you feel like that.
A useful way of tackling resentment in relationships might be the following four step process.
Notice when resentment builds. You will typically notice that feeling of injustice, especially when it goes unnoticed and you cannot speak out. Something that is said that is unfair and your partner perhaps doesn’t challenge it, or perhaps there is an expectation on you that you feel is unfair.
Address the feeling
Check out the feelings that it gives you. While it’s likely that you feel anger and frustration, can you access the other feelings that these two feelings often mask. Perhaps you are disappointed or you are scared that your partner’s feelings have changed. Perhaps you are upset that they did not try to empathise with you.
Address the issue
Set aside a time to talk to your partner. Try to talk about how the actions made you feel. It’s important to talk about “I” and not criticise them (“You did…”). You are trying to have a discussion that avoids the anger of the resentment. Anger is likely to produce a defensive response. Anger is likely to cause more pain for both of you, so it is best avoided.
When addressing the issue, remember to be open to other points of view. You are hoping that your partner will be empathic and listen to your vulnerability and feelings, so return the compliment. The purpose is to strengthen the relationship. Even where you cannot agree, most people feel better if they feel that their point of view has been heard.
Monitor and nourish
Regularly talk about your relationship and how you feel about what is happening. Try to be as honest and as vulnerable as you can. The key is addressing the issues early so that the feelings don’t become resentment, then repressed resentment, then huge fights, then talk of splitting up. Dealing with conflict early is an important and necessary part of a relationship and much easier if tackled early.
Sometimes it can be difficult to get the process started. Typically, there never seems to be the right time to discuss it. While the fights are soon over and are quite trivial, they are happening more often. Many clients therefore choose to see a counsellor to get the process started and quickly feel the benefit so that they can improve their relationship going forward. In essence if you feel that your relationship could do with help to tackle resentment it is worth talking it through with a relationship counsellor.