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Is This Sneaky Emotion Poisoning Your Relationship?

If you or your partner is feeling resentment towards the other, you can work to fix it.

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Love. When it’s good, it’s good. You know, the butterflies, wanting to be around each other 24/7. Sweet talk. Lots of passion. However, as the relationship churns along and life starts lifing, another emotion can seep in and cast a shadow over the bliss.

We’re talking about resentment. That feeling that causes you to have thoughts like, “Ugh, he makes me so sick!” or “Once again, I’m the one doing the dishes.” Or resentment could be the reason your significant other seems moody for no reason and their comments toward you feel like slugs.

Not to say love isn’t still there. It’s just that resentment makes it difficult to see (and express) it clearly.

Jordie Smith, a licensed marriage and family therapist at Love is Light in Detroit, Michigan, likens resentment to a stew of emotions. “There’s a lot of anger, sadness, bitterness and different things,” she says. As with a stew, those negative emotions simmer and build up over time.

Resentment can crop up in relationships for many reasons. “It’s kind of rooted in fairness,” says Smith. So maybe one partner feels they’re putting in more effort in some area (like finances or caring for the children), feel they’re being taken advantage of, or feel unheard or unappreciated.

Having unrealistic (or unexpressed) expectations can also lead to resentment. As do disappointments and betrayals.

When it comes to resentment, it could be you feeling it, your partner feeling it, or the resentment could bounce back and forth between the two of you.

“It's important to know if there’s resentment in your relationship because every problem that goes unaddressed just gets bigger,” Smith says. If you’re aware, you can work to let go of resentment and have a healthier relationship.

Signs of resentment

  • The communication is different. When resentment is brewing in a relationship, communication tends to break down, Smith says. Everything your spouse says may rub you the wrong way. Or they might seem to have a sarcastic tone anytime they address you, and you have no idea why. There’s more arguing. Or not much talking at all. The body language between you also speaks volumes. Think eye rolls, heavy sighs and nasty facial expressions.
  • Someone’s keeping score. You may notice comments from you or your partner about who does what or who did who wrong in the relationship.
  • Jealousy has reared its ugly head. Although neither of you may want to admit it, this happens. For example, you may feel some animosity towards your partner because they get to spend time with friends on the weekend while you’re at home with the kids. Or they may feel hostility towards you because they feel they’re footing more of the financial responsibilities.
  • There’s talk behind someone’s back. “If you’re feeling a way about somebody, it’s like you almost want an outlet, Smith says. So you may vent to your sister about how much of a jerk your spouse has been lately. Or your partner may talk to a friend about how much nagging you’ve been doing. And if the resentment is really high, it may seem like there’s nothing but criticism and blame.
  • Sex is on the back burner. Let’s be honest: It’s hard to be intimate with someone if they’re on your ish list for whatever reason.
  • Someone’s checked out. The emotional distance that occurs as a result of resentment can cause one or both of you to fall back in the relationship, says Smith. So it may seem like you or your spouse is just coasting along, not really putting in any effort.

Addressing resentment (whether it’s on your end, your partner’s, or both):

Be honest with yourself.
If you’re the one feeling resentment, first, acknowledge your feelings and get to the root of why you feel that way, says Smith. Then think about your role in it. Ask yourself, “‘Are there any boundaries that I could put up?’ ‘Is there anything I could be doing for my own self-care so I don’t feel jealous that he’s out playing golf this weekend while I’m cleaning the house?’ ‘Is there anything I can do to change this?’’ Smith says.

Talk about it.
Choose a time when neither of you is tired, angry or distracted. Use ‘I’ language to express what you’re feeling so it doesn’t feel like you’re blaming your partner, Smith says. Another tip: “Being clear and concise is your best friend when trying to get a point across,” Smith says.

The same tips will help if you feel your partner is showing signs of resentment. First, don’t jump to conclusions or accuse them. “It may have to do with your actions, but it may not,” says Smith. Your significant other could be going through something totally unrelated to you or they may not even realize how their behavior is coming across. Give them time and space to talk about it.

Focus on the good.
This can be difficult but try it. Think about the positives in your relationship and partner. Doing so can help you get a more balanced outlook (and know why you’re working to save the relationship). The two of you could even use this as a way to connect, taking turns sharing something you like about one another or your relationship.

Right the wrongs.
If your partner’s resentment towards you does have to do with your actions (and it’s something you’re willing to change), accept responsibility for your behavior, apologize and do better going forward.

Hopefully, after you talk about your resentment, your partner will be willing to make improvements too. If so, practice forgiveness. Both of you have to let go of grudges to repair the relationship. Everyone makes mistakes. Everyone has flaws. Although it may be difficult, you both have to show each other and yourselves grace.

Work together.
You know, compromise. Say, for instance, you’re ticked off that your partner gets to use their spare money however they like while you always use yours for household items. Or maybe your babe feels a little frosty because the family always visits your hometown for holidays. Have a discussion and find a happy medium.

Put in time and effort.
Resentment doesn’t happen overnight; neither will the healing journey, says Smith. “It’s not easy, but it’s definitely possible if both people are willing to work through it,” she says.

See a therapist.
“Sometimes you’re too close to the situation and it’s hard to communicate effectively without professional help,” Smith says. Whether you’re feeling resentful, it’s your spouse or it’s ping-ponging between the two of you, she recommends reaching out to someone sooner rather than letting the resentment fester and continue to grow.

Unfortunately, sometimes resentment can build up so much that the relationship can’t overcome it. If the two of you have tried your hardest and the resentment isn’t improving (or one or both are unwilling to even try), Smith says that may be a sign to reevaluate the relationship.

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