Resenting your husband or resenting your wife is an unfortunate reality of every relationship. Whether you think your partner is coasting by while you do all the work, not respecting you as an equal, or just driving you mad with their loud chewing, sources of resentment aren’t hard to come by. But, just because the emotion is unavoidable, doesn’t mean the negative repercussions have to be.
“I often see couples where one of the partners says, ‘I wish I would have understood your resentment better and earlier,” says Sharon Gilchrest O’Neill, Ed.S., a licensed marriage and family therapist and author. “Too many couples go for weeks, and months, and beyond letting things build up.”
Resentment, adds San Francisco-based licensed marriage and family therapist Andrea Dindinger, is the silent killer in relationships.
“When you don’t discuss resentment, which occurs in every relationship, it can eventually build up to the point of avoidance and disconnection,” she says. “You’ll start rolling your eyes, keeping score of who’s done what, and all kinds of unhealthy relationship behaviors.”
Causes of reactionary resentment can include everything from built up anger, injustice, jealousy, and insecurity. They can be incredibly powerful and, if ignored, will only get worse. So what can you do in the moment from resenting your spouse? We spoke to five therapists who all relayed their best advice for dealing with the slow boil before the blow up, so you don’t say something, do something, or act a certain way you might regret.
1. Regroup, and Fact Check Your Thoughts
“Techniques helpful in these situations include awareness, taking a break, and fact-checking. First, ask yourself: Do I feel this way because of what is happening now or because of something that happened in the past? Am I piling past stuff onto this current situation?
Then, tell your partner you need a break. Just a few minutes alone during which you can self-soothe however you choose. Deep breathing. Counting. Even watching a funny video on your phone.
Finally, now that you’ve regrouped, you need to check the facts. Examine your thoughts for ‘always’ and ‘never’ statements that are influencing your resentment, like: She always points out my shortcomings in front of friends. You’ll likely find those types of sentiments to be distortions, meaning you’ll probably be able to think of situations in which your partner did not mention a shortcoming in front of friends and probably has shared qualities that she likes about you instead. This approach will help you remember that your relationship is much bigger than whatever current stressor is causing your resentment.” — Ciara Jenkins, therapist and licensed clinical social worker
2. Figure Out Your Feelings
“First, stop whatever you’re doing and count to ten. If you need to, count to 100. Then, grab a pen and piece of paper and jot down your feelings of resentment. Do this quickly and as precisely as possible, and concentrate on how you feel you’re being treated unfairly.
Some examples: ‘When we have guests for dinner, you sit and chat and drink and never get up to help me, you seem oblivious to all the work I am doing.’ Or, ‘I thought we were both going to share doing the yard work. When was the last time you pitched in whole-heartedly?’
Once you have words to describe your feelings, you can go to your partner calmly and ask to find a mutual time to discuss the situation. Above all, emphasize that you do not want to fight. Instead, you want to determine how similar incidents can be better handled in the future.” — Sharon Gilchrest O’Neill
3. Vent Into a Friend’s Voicemail
“A strategy I recommend to clients expressing resentment toward their partners is to call a good friend and vent into their voicemail. Establish some guidelines with a dear friend that you are going to use their voicemail as a way to process through your big feelings. And invite them to do the same when they have big feelings.
The key is that the two of you need to make an agreement that each of you will only listen and not give advice or try to fix the friend’s emotional dump. It feels so soothing and brings a tremendous amount of clarity when you share your stories with a friend who’s always on both your and your partner’s side. And then after you have emptied out your uncomfortable feelings, investigated what was going on for you, then you can discuss the triggers that came up with your partner from a more calm and aware state.” — Andrea Dindinger
4. Make the Internal, External
“I recommend sitting down. In stressful situations, our brain goes into ‘fight or flight’ mode. Physically sitting down allows us to recognize that we don’t want to get in a fight. You may want to walk or pace around, but sitting will allow your body to slow down. Then, take long, deep breaths — inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth. This will stop the production of stress hormones, especially cortisol, which is responsible for getting you fired up in the moment.
Don’t text, email, or post anything on social media. Instead, talk out loud to yourself, or write your feelings down privately. Let out what’s going on in your head, but not in ways that can’t be deleted or come back to harm your relationship. And remember: Feelings are a part of what drives and connects us. They keep us safe and give us value. All emotions are valid, they just need to come out in the right way.” — Dee Johnson, addiction therapist, integrative counsellor, and CBT and Mindfulness Practitioner with Priory Group.
5. Observe Your Feelings — And Practice Gratitude
“Resenting a partner, especially during pandemic times where roles have shifted, is likely a normal part of any relationship. The key is having the tools to manage those unpleasant feelings and to prevent any significant damage occurring to cause lasting harm to the relationship.
Start with self-compassion. When those feelings of insight begin to manifest, adopt a stance of self love and nonjudgmental awareness. Recognize that the feeling is starting to bubble as if you were an objective observer of your own feelings. Taking a minute to practice gratitude can also do wonders for festering resentment.
Acknowledging all of the things in your life for which you are grateful — including everything your partner does — could go a long way in defusing a potentially toxic situation and help eliminate the resentment before it has a chance to build up.” — Dr. John Y. Lee, Director of Clinical Psychology at Executive Mental Health