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

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

Resentment in a relationship is like stabbing yourself and hoping your enemy will get wounded. And when resentment is left unresolved, the issues get escalated to the point that neither of you can find a way to fix it. So if you have had a bad day at work, and get home tired, talk to your partner about it rather than blaming each other for little things with envy and suspicions and creating an uncalled fight for it.

If your relationship is facing resentment from either side, we have listed some signs and causes for you to understand and analyze the situation better. Keep reading.

In This Article

What Is Resentment?

It often occurs in couples when one or both partners feel offended by the other.

Image: IStock

Resentment is the harboring of ill-will, displeasure, or anger against someone who you feel has wronged or hurt you in the past, and you couldn’t stop it (1).

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.

What Are The Signs Of Resentment In A Relationship?

Below are some of the most usual signs of resentment (2).

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 animosity keeps rising in you.

2. You quarrel on the same issue every time.

It turns into a vicious cycle.

Image: IStock

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 argument and resentment over time.

protip_icon Point to consider
Before accusing your partner of being resentful, be sure if it is short-term anger or if they have deep resentment. You could also be misreading their actions or emotions.

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 flagiXA symbol of danger .

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.

What Causes Resentment In Relationships?

Why did the resentment build up in the first place? The following are the usual causes of resentment between couples (3).

  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.
protip_icon Quick tip
When communicating with your partner about not meeting your expectations, be specific about where they are lacking. They may not even be aware of their shortcomings.
  1. Lack of adjustment: Adjustment is needed to coexist 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.

Lars B shares his experience of how resentment affected the relationship between him and his wife. He says, “Partly obscured by the commitment and teamwork that being a parent naturally entails, my wife started to feel unfulfilled in the marriage after the birth of our two children, and that she was putting in more to the relationship than she was getting out of it.

“Almost exactly one year ago, my wife left our family to take care of herself and a worsening substance abuse disorder. She laid the blame for her alcoholism on our relationship, which she saw as dysfunctional (an assessment not shared by me). She was also very angry with me, telling me that she never loved me and that I was a complete and utter failure as a father, a husband and as a person. I hadn’t seen the resentment that fueled her anger, but by the time she finally revealed it, after 24 years of what seemed like a normal, reasonably happy relationship, it was far too late (i).”

You may feel that your partner is not contributing as much to the relationship as you would like.

Image: IStock

  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.

What Are The Consequences Of Resentment In Marriage?

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, leads to constant disagreement, 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.
Resentment can cause emotional and mental trauma.

Image: IStock

  1. Erosion of trust and commitment: When partners start resenting each other due to jealousy and hatredness, 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.

How To Deal With Resentment?

Below are some ways to deal with the rising resentment in you and your partner (4).

  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 scapegoatiXA person blamed for someone else’s faults or actions .
Dig deep into your reasons for resentment before making your partner the scapegoat.

Image: IStock

  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 hostility, dissatisfaction, mistrust, and disappointment. 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 like betrayal, 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 apology, 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 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.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. How do I stop feeling resentful?

Some tips to help you overcome resentment include self-compassioni, expressing gratitude for the blessings of your life, accepting that nobody is perfect, and avoiding discussing the past bitterness as it can make you feel stuck in a downward spiral.

2. How do I move past the resentment?

Although feeling some resentment is normal, moving past it would be the best thing ever to do. You may try looking at that situation by talking about the experience with someone you trust, writing a journal, and, most importantly, seeking help from a therapist.

3. Can I love someone I resent?

You can love someone you resent if you share a deep emotional bond with them. You will face conflicting emotions because you dislike the way they treat you, but you cannot help the affection for them. If you really love them, try to communicate your feelings to them and find a way to resolve the resentment so you have a healthy relationship.

4. Does resentment lead to cheating?

Resentment may create differences between a couple, but it does not necessarily lead to infidelity. Cheating in a relationship is caused due to several factors, such as individual values, personal choices, and the kind of relationship between a couple. Resentment cannot be used to excuse or justify infidelity.

5. What are some common mistakes people make when trying to overcome resentment in a relationship?

Holding a grudge is a big mistake many people make when overcoming resentment. Instead of holding grudges, it is important to forgive and let go. Avoiding professional help or support can also prolong the healing process. Additionally, neglecting self-care and not addressing underlying issues can further delay the resolution of resentment.

6. Is it possible to have a healthy relationship after experiencing resentment?

Resentment can be resolved if both partners are prepared to communicate openly and are willing to understand each other’s perspectives. If the couple is determined to save the relationship, they need to practice forgiveness, help each other heal, and take serious measures to maintain a balanced and happy relationship.

7. When is it time to seek outside help for resentment in a relationship?

When resentment starts to take over your mind and negatively impacts your emotional well-being, communication patterns, or overall relationship dynamic, it is the right time to seek help from a therapist, counselor, or relationship coach. A good relationship counselor can help provide guidance and tools for healing and strengthening the relationship.

Resentment is one of the unpleasant emotions to live with. It is not uncommon for a person to experience resentment at some point in their relationship. So getting familiar with the signs of resentment can help you self-monitor your emotions and address the issue before it worsens and makes you feel miserable. Unaddressed issues related to resentment from a partner can rot the foundation of the relationship. So take a break and focus on solving the problem. Do not hesitate to talk about your feelings with your partner, a friend, or a mental health provider.

Infographic: How To Deal With Resentment In A Relationship?

If your relationship has been a journey of bickering and naggingiXConstantly harassing or complaining about someone or something each other with caustic remarksiXAn extremely rude and critical comment lately, resentment may be the issue. So, before the love completely vanishes and all that’s left is emotional detachment and irritation, save your relationship and learn how to tackle the strong feeling of resentment.

ways to overcome bitterness in a relationship (infographic)

Illustration: Momjunction Design Team

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Key Pointers

  • Resentment in couples is caused by feeling hurt or wronged, and is a damaging feeling of ill-will.
  • Signs of resentment include feeling unheard, repetitive quarrels, fault-finding, passive-aggressiveness, and withholding intimacy.
  • Causes of resentment can be one-sided relationships, unmet expectations, lack of communication, neglect, and disrespect.
  • Consequences of resentment in marriage include distance, detachment, hopelessness, decreased intimacy, and eventual breakdown.
  • To deal with resentment, it is important to recognize and communicate the problem, seek help, prioritize the relationship, and forgive and move forward.

Feelings of resentment in a relationship can be damaging. Learn how to identify the signs and address it before it takes over.

Personal Experience: Source

References

MomJunction's articles are written after analyzing the research works of expert authors and institutions. Our references consist of resources established by authorities in their respective fields. You can learn more about the authenticity of the information we present in our editorial policy.
  1. Resentment and forgiveness.
    https://www.unh.edu/pacs/resentment-forgiveness
  2. Why You Resent Your Partner.
    https://www.theschooloflife.com/article/why-you-resent-your-partner/
  3. 6 Reasons Resentment Creeps Into Your Relationship and What To Do about It.
    https://health.clevelandclinic.org/6-reasons-resentment-creeps-into-your-relationships-and-what-to-do-about-it/
  4. Communication and conflict resolution.
    https://deanofstudents.catholic.edu/wellness/healthy-relationships/communication.html
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