Carl Sandburg once 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. Resentment is a silent killer in a marriage, taking root slowly and over time. 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 that, when tallied, can often spell doom for the relationship. 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 11 to keep in mind.
Holding Back Affection
It’s easy to let intimacy slide in a marriage, because both partners are often bogged down in the day-to-day responsibilities of work and family. 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 the author of Love Strong, “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.” Paying attention to such small gestures is crucial.
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. This sends a clear message. It’s important to keep in mind that you’re a team and you need to 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.”
Not Aligning in Parental Beliefs
No matter how in sync you are, there are going to be times when you disagree, even 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.”
Not Being Upfront About Money
Money is a major source of stress in many marriages, even the ones that have money. However, the 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.
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. This is even worse when you choose to shame or demean them 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.”
Not Validating Your Partner
Validation is crucial to every relationship. And it doesn’t just apply to actions. It also applies to validating their emotions, their fears, their excitement. 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 will 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.”
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, 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.”
Going to Bed Angry
Every couple gets into fights and has disagreements. A natural give and take is part of any relationship. The key is how quick you can come to a resolution. Unresolved disagreements can disrupt a marriage and create issues that can extend even outside the house. Don’t let arguments marinate overnight. “Trying to come to a resolution before bed stops your partner from ruminating negative thoughts and scenarios before bed,” says Babul, “leading to a lack of sound sleep.”
Any Kind of Verbal Abuse
This should go without saying, but abuse of any kind has no place in a healthy marriage. But many couples will let verbal abuse, insults and hurtful words slide. However, they never should. “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.”
Not Following Through
Empty promises can erode a marriage. If you intend to do something, from a household chore to keeping an appointment to showing up at a child’s event, make sure you do it. The more times you fail to come through on something, the more the marriage will start to come apart. “Be honest about what you are capable of or willing to do,” Babul says, “and don’t make promises you never intend to keep.”
Breaking Their Trust
There are a number of ways that trust can be broken in a marriage, an infidelity is only one of them. 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 will 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.”