The great poet Carl Sandburg famously wrote that fog creeps in on little cat’s feet. Well, resentment moves into a marriage just as stealthily. It can be a startling revelation when one spouse suddenly realizes that they resent the other. The feeling takes root slowly. Over time it pulls in energy and attention. It is a “death by a thousand cuts” scenario, in which a marriage is undone not by one grandiose action, but by a series of small behaviors. Resentment can only be eliminated through self-awareness, acknowledgement, and healthy communication. Since it can be difficult to look outside yourself, it helps to understand some of the most common reasons why resentment builds. Here are 10 to keep in mind.
1. Holding Back Affection
It’s easy to let intimacy slide in a marriage. But holding back physical contact, even small gestures like hand holding or light touches, can start to sow seeds of doubt. In the absence of physical connection, a spouse may question whether or not their partner is still attracted to them or interested in them at all.
“Although a lack of sexual intimacy can be a red flag,” says Denna Babul, a relationship expert and author, “intimacy can be felt in other ways like a goodnight kiss or a wink from across the room to let the other person know they are still seen and desired.” It helps to pay mind to such small gestures — and know when you might need to increase your output.
2. Not Having Your Spouse’s Back
If you often take a family member’s or friend’s side in an argument over your partner’s, look out. Your spouse will eventually feel like you don’t value their opinions or that you don’t care enough about them to support them in public. It’s important to maintain a team mentality and present yourselves that way. “Take the differing opinions behind closed doors,” Babul says, “settle the score, and come back united as a team to ensure a wedge of resentment does not start to form.”
3. Not Aligning in Parental Beliefs
No matter how in sync you are, there are going to be times when you disagree, especially when it comes to how to raise your kids. Some parents might be stricter, others may take a looser approach. As long as you can stay aligned on the important issues, some differences in parenting style can work. However, when you blatantly defy or ignore your spouse’s parental beliefs in favor of your own, serious problems arise. “When one parent denies the other parents’ voice, resentment will begin, and divide will happen,” says Babul. “Children are smart enough to pick up on this, and before long, they too, will pick sides and build resentment.”
4. Not Being Upfront About Money
It shouldn’t be a surprise that money is a major source of stress in many marriages, even those that have a lot of it. One key is to be up front about everything. Make sure there are no secrets when it comes to your debt or your spending habits or trouble at work. Create a budget together, have regular discussions, and put all cards on the table. “When a spouse has to play catch up or detective, distrust will begin to overshadow even the smallest discrepancies leaving partners wondering what else their spouse is not upfront about,” says Babul.
5. Shaming Your Partner
It’s one thing to offer your spouse helpful suggestions, even constructive criticism. But when you demean them or embarrass them by calling them names, belittling them, or scolding them like a parent, you can create a rift between the two of you (even if it’s done in a joking manner). This is even worse when you do it in front of other people. “We marry to have a partner, not another parent,” says Babul. “Shaming or demeaning your spouse can cause a deep divide in intimacy. By demeaning your partner in privacy or public, you tell or show them that you don’t respect them.”
6. Not Validating Your Partner
Showing your partner that they are valued, that you understand them, that you are proud of who they are and the things they have done can go a long way. If you don’t speak positive encouragement to your spouse, he or she may start to fill in those blanks for themselves. “We all want to be seen and heard,” Babul explains. “Even though we all have different love languages and personality types, verbal validation transcends what we may think in our own heads — understanding what your partner values and verbalizing those things will lead to long term intimacy.”
7. Avoiding Emotional Intimacy
Physical connection is important, but it is also important for your spouse to know that he or she can trust you and open themselves up to you when they need it. You need to be able to face both the good and the bad together. If you’re turning to other people for that connection or if you don’t think your marriage is emotionally safe, it’s a sign of trouble.
“Make sure you are turning to your partner versus inward or someone else for emotional intimacy,” says Babul. “Life and love can be challenging to balance; having a personal connection can be the glue that holds a couple together in the most trying seasons.”
8. Any Kind of Verbal Abuse
This should go without saying, but abuse of any kind has no place in a healthy relationship. “Verbal abuse will start to break down your partner’s self-esteem,” says Babul. “In turn, they will hold back on sharing their real feelings with their partner, which will lead to an emotional breakdown in the marriage.”
9. Not Following Through
Empty promises can erode a marriage. If you intend to do something, whether it’s in regards to a household chore or showing up at a child’s event, make sure you do it. “Be honest about what you are capable of or willing to do,” Babul says, “and don’t make promises you never intend to keep.”
10. Breaking Trust
Infidelity. Lying about finances. Broken promises. There are a number of ways that trust can be broken in a marriage. If you aren’t honest with your partner, if you often go back on your word, if you frequently lie, you will leave your spouse not knowing where they stand and they may start to draw their own conclusions about you and about your marriage.
“It is imperative for each partner to feel free enough to be honest to allow their partner to make their own decisions based on their situation,” says Babul. “I find that most dishonesty is based on the selfishness of the partner who is not entirely truthful due to their selfish agendas.”
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