What Causes Resentment In A Relationship And How To Deal With It

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“Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.” – Nelson Mandela

  • You had a bad day, and want your partner to listen to you talk about it. Instead, you end up fighting about who should do the dishes.
  • You are tired of reminding him to fix the basement lights for weeks, and he is unresponsive.
  • You both haven’t had sex in months, and you feel like your partner is more like a roommate.

Do these scenarios sound familiar? The chances are that you are experiencing resentment in your relationship. Like any other problem, resentment, if left unresolved, leads to more serious issues.

MomJunction tells you about the signs and causes of resentment and helps you cope with it.

What Is Resentment?

Resentment is the harboring of ill-will or anger against someone who you feel has wronged or hurt you, and you couldn’t stop it.

It often occurs in couples when one or both the partners feel hurt or offended by the other and think that their actions were deliberate.

The first step to solving any problem is the recognition of the problem. Resentment in a marriage has several red flags, which you can identify if you look for them.

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Signs Of Resentment In A Relationship

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Below are some of the most usual signs of resentment.

1. You feel your partner is not listening to you.

You perceive that your partner is repeating their mistakes in spite of you telling them or they are ignoring everything you say. You feel you are an invisible entity. That pool of hurt and anger keeps rising in you.

2. You quarrel on the same issue every time.

And the discussion diverts from the real question to other non-issues leading to the actual problem remaining unresolved. The more you fight about the same issue, the higher the tension between you. It turns into a vicious, nasty cycle.

3. You find faults with each other.

You want to mend fences with your partner, but end up fixating on their mistakes too often. The incidents might have been small or unintentional, but they continuously come up. Be it forgetting to switch off the geyser or standing you up on a scheduled date, you feel your partner can do nothing right. The dissatisfaction builds up into resentment over time.

4. One of you is passive–aggressive.

Resentment builds up when couples avoid confronting each other over the actual problems and avoid dealing with the issue. Instead of voicing out your concerns, you become passive-aggressive, sarcastic, and vengeful. Though this helps release your pent-up frustration, it only confuses and angers your partner and does nothing to resolve the actual problem.

5. You withhold intimacy or affection.

When resentment creeps in, your partner’s value in your eyes reduces drastically. The spark gets lost, the attraction dwindles, and you intentionally or unintentionally avoid your partner to put off a confrontation. This loss of physical contact is a big red flag.

6. You are hopeless about the situation.

Harboring resentment towards your partner can make you feel hopeless about the situation. You might think that there is no feasible solution and you would always be trapped in this situation no matter what you do. This situation can take a toll on the significant things to you. You might develop reluctance in celebrating milestones like anniversaries, promotions, etc.

7. You get detached from the relationship.

This happens over time. Hence it might be difficult to spot. To avoid conflicts with your partner, you start withdrawing from your relationship. Your availability for the relationship reduces drastically. Some psychologists say it is healthy to take a short break as it allows you time to introspect and reflect on what’s happening.

Once you have recognized that a certain amount of resentment has developed in your relationship, you might want to do a root-cause analysis.

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What Causes Resentment In Relationships?

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Why did the resentment build up in the first place? The following are the usual causes of resentment between couples.

  1. One-sided relationships: You might like to spontaneously take care of your partner and address their needs before they even ask for it. Naturally, you expect them to reciprocate, but you are disappointed. The chances are that you are in a one-sided relationship. The giving partners feel that their partners are ignoring their needs and expectations.
  1. Lack of adjustment: Adjustment is needed to co-exist with each other without hurting one’s sentiments. If your partner ignores or dismisses things that matter to you or starts complaining about them, then you might end up harboring resentment.
  1. Unfulfilled desires and expectations: Relationships start with rosy expectations from both sides but fade away over time. You might feel that your partner is not giving enough to the relationship as you expected. This would make you disgruntled.
  1. Inability to let go of grudges: Forgiving someone for their mistakes and letting go of the past is easier said than done. The “holder” of grudges resents the other person for the mistakes he/she committed while the “guilty” person resents their partner for not being supportive or forgiving enough.
  1. Not appreciating each other’s efforts: Most people tend to take their partners for granted. Hence, they do not notice the efforts their partner puts in every day to make the relationship work. This leads to an accumulation of negative emotions in the giving partner as they feel that the other is not grateful enough.

It is important to know where resentment can lead your relationship to.

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Consequences of resentment in marriage

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Often termed the “cancer” of relationships, resentment eats away at the core of any relationship; eroding its trust, reliability, affection, and commitment. If left unresolved, resentment over the course of time leads to the following consequences.

  1. A distance between partners: Growing resentment leads to increasing misunderstandings between partners. Instead of mutually agreeing on a compromise, the couple starts flinging insults and accusations at each other. Doing this breaks the emotional connection and increases the distance between them.
  1. Emotional pain and deeper resentment: Neglecting feelings of resentment is like inflicting pain on oneself. Deep negative feelings of dissatisfaction and resentment not only impact your confidence but also cause severe emotional and mental trauma. Over time, your energy levels, positivity, and productivity, all start getting drained. Unresolved resentment leads to higher levels of discontent that can be irreparable or become irreversible over time.
  1. Erosion of trust and commitment: When partners start resenting each other, the level of trust between them is affected drastically. You might feel they would be unavailable for you when you need them, and hence, you would be less likely to rely on them. This, in turn, affects your commitment towards your relationship because if you start expecting less, you will start giving less and less to the relationship.
  1. A possibility of breakup or estrangement: When you think nothing is working for you in the relationship anymore, you might wonder if it is worth staying in it. You feel lonely in spite of living under the same roof with your partner and nothing that once mattered to the both of you seems essential. Separation of estrangement happens when the levels of resentment are high and difficult to reduce.

Dealing with resentment in relationships and reducing it would take a lot of time, effort, and patience on your part. But remember that it is not impossible. Empathy is your primary key to removing the thorns of resentment from your relationship.

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How to deal with resentment?

Below are some ways to deal with the rising resentment in you and your partner.

  1. Introspect: Is your partner the real reason for your resentment or is it being triggered by some external factors totally unrelated to your partner? Dig deep into your reasons for resentment before making your partner the scapegoat.
  1. Acknowledge your feelings: Accepting that there is a problem is the first step towards solving it. Instead of letting your problem fester in the background, bring it up with them. Directly address the specific negative feeling you are going through like anger, dissatisfaction, distrust, disappointment, etc. You can say, “I am upset about the dishes being uncleaned. I want to discuss that with you before it becomes a major problem between us.”
  1. Be honest: Do not be rude or condescending but do not let off your partner easily if their actions have seriously hurt you. Be polite but frank. A confrontation may lead to a temporary conflict, but it is healthier for the both of you in the long run. Be clear why you are upset and how their actions or inaction have affected you. You can begin with, “I am not upset with you, but I am upset with what you have done.”
  1. Apologize when necessary: Resentment also builds up because of misunderstandings rather than actual mistakes. If it comes out that you have been wrongly resenting your partner, do not hesitate to apologize. It is a strength to admit when you are wrong. It is not healthy to know you are wrong and do nothing about it. You can apologize by saying, “I am sorry for misunderstanding your intentions”.
  1. Do not bring past conflicts into the present: There is a reason the past should be in the past. Bringing up the conflicts and misunderstandings that happened long ago will not only deviate you from the current issue but also make it difficult to discuss anything with a rational mindset. It might also lead to the flinging of accusations from both sides.
  1. Empathize with your partner: Put yourself in your partner’s shoes and think about how your negative emotions might have affected you if you were in their place. Empathize with them if they are feeling guilty. You might tell them, “I hear you saying you did not intend to hurt me. Can we put this behind us and start afresh?” Give them a chance to rectify their mistake.
  1. Set realistic expectations and boundaries: Resentment often crops up when you pile unnecessary expectations on your partners. Discuss your expectations with each other and arrive at sensible compromises. Distribute the responsibilities of the household eclectically instead of equally; take turns to do the chores you both do not like instead of a single person doing it all the time.
  1. Learn to forgive: It is very natural for humans to make mistakes. Therefore, forgive your partner instead of resenting. If the mistake is something that is genuine and does not affect you much, let it go. That doesn’t mean when they continue to make mistakes, you overlook them.
  1. Honor your commitments: Keep your promises and commitments you made to your partner. You might dismiss something that you promised to your partner, like a simple dinner date, as inconsequential, but know that it matters to them. Disappointment over little things can add up to resentment over time. If you could not keep your word for some reason, make it up with a genuine sorry, a hug, or a small gift.
  1. Keep the physical intimacy intact: Physical intimacy can tear down a wall of resentment. Having sex regularly, physical touches like holding hands and hugs can mend your relationship and bring you closer. Discussing your problems after having sex can be productive as you both tend to be agreeable and are much likely to arrive at a compromise. Taking time off from your problems and recreating your first date is an excellent idea to consider.
  1. Phrase your complaints better: When you bring up your reason for resentment, try to phrase your criticisms better so that your partner doesn’t feel cornered. Use only ‘I’ statements instead of ‘you’. For example, “I feel lonely and left out when you go out to party with your friends without me. Can we do something together the next time?” or “I feel flustered when the house is messy. I cannot function properly. Can you please help me clean it up regularly?”
  1. Be patient: Rome was not built in a day. When you have addressed the cause of resentment, it is important to give time to your partner to change. It is entirely possible and natural for relapses to happen, but the key is not to give up. A little patience and love will reassure them of your support.

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Resentment can creep into the best of relationships. There is nothing to worry about so long as you nip the creeper in the bud. Save some time off your regular schedule to have discussions with your partner. Hear them out and share your point of view. Empathy, effective communication and understanding will help keep resentment out of your relationship.

What do you think should be done in such situations? Let us know in the comments section below.

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Iten Elyassaki

Iten Elyassaki is a Licensed Professional Counselor experienced in serving clients with diverse needs. She works with children, adolescents, and adults needing support with stress management, relationship challenges, self-esteem, behavioral issues, trauma, marital discord, infidelity, parenting difficulties, grief, and addictions. Currently working with ENI, she uses a variety of therapeutic interventions to develop a holistic understanding of behaviors, emotions, patterns,... more

Kalpana M

Kalpana Nadimpalli graduated in English Literature and Psychology. Her fascination for the corporate world made her do a Masters in Business Administration. Being a mother of two boys, she could naturally fit into the shoes of a writer at MomJunction. She wrote articles on new parenting and relationships. Previously, Kalpana worked as a product information specialist and technical writer. During her... more