Resentment can be a silent killer in a relationship. It’s a form of unspoken anger that can be toxic to even the strongest relationships. If not treated, resentment has the power to eat away at the love that once existed between two people.
Fortunately, there are practical steps you can take to fix resentment and come together.
Resentment is an attitude stemming from the belief that you were mistreated in some way. Resentment usually starts with something small. Then, if the offending actions or words aren’t dealt with, negative feelings snowball into resentment.
Resentment is built from the inability to communicate about something your partner did that bothered you. Resentment can be avoided by confronting your partner and discussing the actual problems head-on.
Resentment shows up as anger, often mixed with surprise, disgust, contempt, and shock, according to research.
Resentment can stem from many things. Betrayal, lack of empathy, and disrespectful words are possible reasons why resentment exists in your relationship. Your partner may not have meant to cause you harm, but what they did still affected you greatly. You might not even realize that you are harboring resentment towards them. Sometimes the mistreatment that leads to resentment is just perceived wrongdoing, and therefore not justifiable. Whatever the case, you’ll want to fix the resentment to prevent it from ruining your relationship.
Betrayal of any sort (sexual, emotional, or financial) is a painful blow. Resentment is sure to creep in if the betrayal isn’t dealt with appropriately. For example, If it was swept under the rug and feelings were not shared.
Disrespect erodes communication, fosters hostility, and ultimately leads relationships into unhealthy places. Name-calling, belittling, and taking advantage of the other person are all blatant signs of disrespect. But it can also be more passive or subtle like failing to acknowledge the other person’s feelings or opinions, not giving attention, or dismissing the other person in any way. All of this breeds resentment.
One of the biggest causes of resentment comes from one partner feeling as though they’re being treated unfairly. They may feel like they’re doing the bulk of the household tasks to maintain the home. They may feel burdened to provide financially. Or they may feel like parenting duties fall solely on them. In any case, anger and jealousy enter the scene and resentment can take over.
Do you wish your partner spent more time with you? Does it seem like everyone and everything else is sucking up all their time? This can make you feel like you are not a priority in their life. What started out as sadness and disappointment can lead to resentment.
When couples have differing personalities and preferences for how they want to be treated, conflict can spill over into resentment. This is often when the little things become a problem, simply because they are not properly addressed and dealt with.
A more general reason for resentment has to do with poor communication. All resentment is connected to problems with communication - not confronting and talking about the root cause. However, resentment can simply be the product of bad communication, and nothing more. This is often seen when a partner expects the other to anticipate their needs. Because their partner is not a mind reader, they fail to do so, causing the other person to become deeply disappointed and frustrated.
Failure to receive closure for a hurtful event or traumatic situation outside of your relationship can also lead you to be resentful toward your partner. Even though they did not wrong you, the unresolved conflict or trauma is a wound that can unintentionally be opened by your partner. A childhood wound can become triggered by an eye roll or certain words. In this case, the resentment is only being experienced by one person. However, the other person might feel blindsided by their reaction which can lead to a negative cycle.
Sometimes, whether unfairly or without realizing it, we blame our partners. We blame them for our unhappiness. We blame them for our stress and any other negative emotions we may be feeling. It could be that we just want someone to point a finger at when we feel like a situation is unfair or unbearable. We want our partner to make it better - take away our unhappiness, solve the stressful situation, and so on. They become a scapegoat and so we hold resentment for them even though the blame is misplaced.
Feeling insecure and having low self-esteem are other reasons why resentment might be present in your relationship. These feelings are internalized negative thoughts but can turn outward and be reflected in negative behaviors such as anger and jealousy.
Resentment is not something that will subside with time. Instead, resentment is bound to grow over time. If able to develop, it has the potential to spread and damage all aspects of the relationship. Some of the serious effects of resentment in a relationship include:
When resentment is present, it becomes difficult to have an intimate connection with your partner - physical or emotional. Feelings of resentment interrupt your ability to empathize and understand where their coming from. Resentment blocks oxytocin, the love hormone, and increases cortisol, the stress hormone.
“As smoking is to the lungs, so is resentment to the soul; even one puff is bad for you.” - Author, Elizabeth Gilbert
Of course, the partner being resented suffers, but so does the other partner. You could argue that the one holding resentment is harmed even more. Resentment is an ugly, unhealthy thing to carry. It does not feel good. When you harbor resentment, you are inflicting pain upon yourself.
Resentment causes you to have a less-than-favorable view of the other person. This negative perception makes you feel like you can’t rely on them. You turn away instead of towards them. Over time, resentment can skew your view about relationships in general.
Resentment is a heavy burden to carry. It’s exhausting and toxic, among other things. Resentment can have you feeling lonely despite having a partner. The bitterness you have inside can make it hard to see a positive future together. It may seem like the work to turn things around is too much. When the level of resentment is high enough, a breakup or divorce may be a reality. When you expect little from your partner, you put in less effort yourself.
The first and most important step is to take responsibility for the resentment. While your partner may have done something worth being upset about, no one makes you resentful. Holding on to resentment is a choice.
After acknowledging your resentment think about whether your feelings truly stem from your partner or if you were triggered by external factors unrelated to your partner. This will require you to turn inward and dig deep.
Part of the acknowledgment is admitting that your resentment has caused harm. Think about how you’ve treated your partner because of resentment. Maybe it’s trickled down to affect children or other people. Think about the unhappiness you have felt and how it’s affected your life. This should be motivation to fix your resentment.
Have an honest conversation with your partner about how you’ve been feeling. Be clear and specific. Remain calm and polite, while still addressing any wrongs you feel they have committed against you.
Sometimes resentment is the product of misunderstandings. If it turns out your partner’s intentions were good, admit your mistake and apologize. Empathize with your partner. Think about how you would feel as the recipient of your resentment.
As a team, come up with ways you could reconnect. Share what you think would make you feel more trusting, more forgiving. How can you see your partner as a human being who makes mistakes - as someone deserving of forgiveness?
Make time to be in each other’s company, and be vulnerable. Take turns communicating needs. Share what might be triggering for you and your partner to avoid future resentment. Resist playing the “blame game”. Instead, use “I” statements to express how you feel.
When your partner speaks, resist the urge to come up with a response. Simply be present and listen to what they are saying. Show your attentiveness by nodding your head, holding their hand, and making eye contact. This will build back trust. Validate your partner by saying things like “I hear what you’re saying” or “I understand why you would feel that way”. Ask them open-ended questions to confirm your interest and care.
Individual counseling can allow you to better understand yourself, including where your resentment comes from. A therapist can help you identify triggers and map out strategies to address uncomfortable feelings proactively in the future.
You may also benefit from couples counseling. Couples counseling can be especially helpful if your partner has betrayed you in some way or if you need help removing the negativity from your relationship.