Resentment is a stealth assassin. It tiptoes into a marriage almost without either partner realizing it and then takes up space there, spreading and growing until it either explodes in a cloudburst of rage or slowly suffocates the marriage until it dies out. In other words: Resentment needs to be acknowledged and interrogated or else they could spell doom.
“Resentments occur when there is a lack of communication and actions about things that are bothering one, if not both partners,” explains Chasity Chandler, a licensed mental health counselor and certified sex therapist. “They do not happen overnight and have oftentimes built up over many years as couples grow and that primary focus on the relationship dissipates or shifts to our careers and children.”
Chandler says that one of the first signs that resentment might be creeping into your relationship is when you find that you don’t enjoy being around your partner as much as you once did and, in fact, will look for other things to do rather than go home and face them or your responsibilities at home. The same holds true for intimacy, where the very thought of physical contact with your partner produces a negative response. Finally, Chandler says, if you find that you still love your partner, but no longer like them, that’s a major resentment red flag.
If you and your partner have fallen into the morass of resentment, is there anything you can do to pull yourself out? There is. Experts say to take heart. Here are some tips to consider to bring yourselves back on track.
Talk it Out
Open and honest discussions are vital to keeping a relationship humming. You and your partner should always be talking about what you want and need and what you both can be doing to make sure the relationship is functioning in a balanced and equitable way. When this doesn’t exist, a gulch forms in which resentment can take seed. “Don’t spend a lot of time yelling or talking at one another,” says Chandler. “Instead take the time to process your thoughts and come up with a more assertive way to get your point across.”
Learn the Difference Between Anger and Resentment
Anger is an emotion you feel in the moment and can be useful in letting us know what is missing or needs addressing When channeled correctly, it can be a pathway to highlighting and solving issues within a marriage. Resentment, however, is different. “Resentment is when anger, and the associated feelings, go unaddressed,” explains Melissa Coats, a licensed professional counselor in Georgia. “After a while, they become familiar and resentment flourishes in unattended emotions.”
Create a Game Plan. Consult it Often
One of the most fertile breeding grounds for resentment is the feeling that it’s all about the relationship and parenthood, with no “me time” left over. “Autonomy is a very important part of a relationship and aids in creating balance,” says Chandler. “Each partner has time to devote to their likes, hobbies, friends, etc and then time is also set aside for them as a couple.” Additionally, says Coates, don’t always assume that a 50/50 division of labor is realistic and try to find a balance instead. “Accept this as a part of the process and know that most likely it will all balance out,” she adds. “Don’t be afraid to ask your partner for help when you feel overwhelmed. And allow them to ask the same of you.”
Don’t Assume Your Partner Can Read Minds
Remember that old joke about what happens when you assume? It can be even worse in a marriage, where couples tend to fall back on the notion that their respective partners “should just know” how the other person is feeling or what they want. To keep resentment at bay, you have to know your own needs and be able to communicate them clearly to your partner. And your partner should be able to do the same. “It is often hard enough to know what our own needs are and how to meet them,” stresses Coats, “let alone someone else’s with an entirely different personality and emotional being.”
Keep Dating Each Other
As we’ve seen, a lack of communication and connection can sow the seed of resentment. And if you and your partner neglect to feed the relationship, those seeds will blossom into a full-on garden of discontent. Finding time to connect and enjoy each other’s company is important as it keeps the lines of communication open and the positive feelings flowing. “I’m often asked what my biggest piece of advice is to couples and I always say ‘Date night is cheaper than marriage counseling,’” says Chandler. “Spending time together would definitely prevent resentment from setting in because your partner will feel appreciated and valued outside of the parent or partner title, truly loved as a human being.”
Don’t Be Afraid of Therapy
If you’ve tried everything, and you find that you’re still not connecting, there is no shame is seeking help. Sometimes a third party is what you both need to help gain some perspective. Make sure you find someone who has the proper license and credentials for working with couples, as that experience will ensure that you and your spouse are getting full value on your time and money. “Asking for help is a coping skill,” says Chandler. “Don’t wait until your relationship is on it’s last leg. Get help today.”