What Resentment Looks Like In A Marriage: 8 Subtle Signs To Recognize

Resentment is sneaky. The sooner you realize you might be feeling it, the sooner you can take action.

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Man and woman sitting on couch with arms crossed

Resentment is sneaky. It tiptoes into your mind and, if not immediately dealt with, grows into a rot that can consume. It starts out innocently enough. Your partner does something and you feel, rightfully or not, wronged, bothered, disappointed — something froths up. Instead of talking about whatever it is, you ignore it. Over weeks or months, the same thing happens. And because it was never communicated about in the first place, the resentment only grows and begins to manifest in troublesome ways.

In order to understand resentment, it helps to learn the definition which is “a feeling of anger, irritation, or bitterness when holding the belief that you have been wronged or betrayed by someone or treated unfairly,” says Elinor Bawnik, a Los Angeles-based licensed marriage and family therapist. Though all feelings are valid and deserve acknowledgement, resentment may not be justified. Because it’s unspoken, it mutates. “Unfortunately,” says Bawnik, “whether our resentment is based on fact or perception, acting on it can significantly impair relationships.”

Over time resentment can cause a lot of arguments. “It generally starts with small signs, where the partner who is feeling it, may not even realize that they are acting any differently,” says Michaela Decker, an Arizona-based licensed marriage and family therapist. “Resentment rarely looks like ‘I am feeling hurt because of…’ but instead manifests in many different, subtle ways.”

When you feel yourself resenting your wife or resenting your husband, the feeling needs to be acknowledged and interrogated. But before you can do that, you must recognize the signs of resentment and the little ways it infects your relationship.

The Signs of Resentment In Marriage

1. Clamming Up

As resentment grows, the desire for communication often shrinks. You may not want to talk, or be spoken to, so you retreat inwards.

“Since we have perceived emotional pain, we often make ourselves less emotionally available,” explains Decker. “We may not text or call as much throughout the day and share fewer details of our lives with our partner. Doing so doesn’t feel as emotionally safe as before.” The dangers here are the “What ifs?” that can enter your partner’s mind as he or she tries to figure out the reason behind your radio silence.

2. Being Passive Aggressive

“We tend to act out our feelings of resentment indirectly, at least at first,” says Decker. “We are often triggered by smaller things that normally wouldn’t bother us and our reactions can become more intense than usual. We deliver veiled messages and use sarcasm to express frustration instead of being explicit.”

In your mind, minor annoyances may become major issues, and a quick sigh, snide comment, or mocking gesture is easier to express than a deep emotional dive and conversation. According to Decker, though, if left unchecked, the behavior can fester and manifest as bitterness, anger, and disdain in the future.

3. Using Generalized Statements

The words “always” and “never” are rarely accurate. Using them when describing frustrations with your partner can indicate your fixation on what’s wrong, instead of what can be done to make it right.

“When we resent someone, our minds can become hyper-vigilant and look for themes related to why we feel resentment,” says Decker. If your husband or wife doesn’t follow through on, say, cleaning the kitchen before company comes, you may feel or say that you can ‘never’ rely on them. “Doing so results in our partner feeling like we only focus on their negative attributes and don’t acknowledge their positive ones,” says Decker.

4. Comparing Your Partner to Others

Jealousy preys on our insecurities. And when we’re feeling wronged by or resentful of our partner, we begin to wonder what’s keeping us from being happy like all of those ‘other couples’.

“When resenting a spouse or partner, we may longingly think of times where we felt like our needs were met in other relationships, whether romantic or platonic,” says Decker. The danger in doing so is that we create unrealistic expectations that neither we nor our partner may be able to live up to.

5. Feeling Hopeless About Conflicts

When you’re resentful, conflicts can start to seem unsalvageable and you may feel like you don’t have the willpower to get through them.

“If you leave an interaction thinking, It doesn’t matter what I do. The situation won’t change, you’re setting yourself up for catastrophe,” says Bawnik. “Trying to talk to someone or fix something may feel like it’s too much effort and not worth it, but not doing so only guarantees that the other person will continue their behavior and the situation will stay the same.”

In short, you’ve got nothing to gain and everything to lose by inadvertently harboring resentment after a disagreement.

6. Focusing only on “Fairness”

You may have heard already, but life isn’t fair. Relationships aren’t either. But resentment can leave you stewing about your spousal scorecard when it comes to everything from doing chores to raising children.

“Resentment raises focus on what is fair, what you are worth, and what you get out of a relationship, but not in an effective way,” adds Bawnik. “You may have thoughts that you are being taken advantage of or undervalued in an interaction or not getting your fair share. It may be true, but resentment may lead you to quantify the relationship by counting how many times you took out the dog or cleaned the house compared to your partner.” No matter the score, both players lose.

7. Complaining Excessively

As anger and frustration tend to stay with us, it’s common to seek validation through the opinions of others. But, according to Bawnik, we may not always get the empathy we want, which can lead to even more resentment.

“Resentment is very common after an unsuccessful interaction, when we feel our boundaries are disrespected or miscommunicated. We can’t shake the feelings of annoyance or bitterness immediately, so we may feel the need to complain to others. Often, the empathy or validation we get is not enough to justify the anger, and we’re still left with those feelings.”

Our resentment can grow — and show — through the feeling that no one understands why we’re so upset.

8. Saying Things You Can’t Take Back

“Resentment often goes hand-in-hand with feeling as if you are not being heard. This can result in arguments becoming more frequent and intense,” says Decker. “These types of arguments, built up from resentment, can include threats to the relationship which can have devastating repercussions. We say more hurtful things to our partner in the heat of the moment and then become filled with more regret and shame.”

So, even though acknowledging and admitting resentment may be difficult, the alternative is often eruption. And that does considerable damage.

What To Do If You Feel Resentful

If you find yourself resenting your partner, you’re already a step ahead. “Identifying the resentment is the first step,” says Bawnik.

To figure out a solution, Bawnik states the obvious: you need to talk about your needs and boundaries assertively, acknowledge what and how you can make changes that meet those needs. You must also acknowledge the needs of your partner. riting down these needs, including the things you can’t change, while also keeping listing what you’re grateful for in the relationship, is a helpful exercise.

Decker advises doing whatever you can to break the inevitable cycle of mutual resentment.

“Over time, your showings of resentment can create more hurt in the relationship, which will lead your partner to resent you,” she says. “This cycle can cause us to focus only on the negative aspects of our relationship when, instead, we can use the experience to cultivate healing with each other.”

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