Has the love you once felt for your partner been eroded by the destructive presence of resentment in your relationship?
You’re not alone.
Resentment is one of the most common challenges facing couples.
It often festers quietly in the background, making itself felt in snarky comments, emotional withdrawal, and general friction between partners.
If you resent your partner and they resent you (which, let’s face it, they probably will if your relationship is in a dark place), what can you do to heal the rifts between you before they turn into chasms?
That’s what we’ll explore in this article.
But, first, a definition.
What is resentment?
Resentment is the ill feeling you have toward someone when you deem them to have treated you unfairly.
It’s not quite the same as getting angry or upset when someone truly treats you poorly.
It is more a perceived wrong related to another person’s actions, words, or even their beliefs about something.
Resentment has layers of complexity that build up over time.
Something someone does may initially annoy you, but you don’t resent them for it straight away.
Yet, over time, repeated instances of the same thing, along with annoyance from other things, compounds into the resentment you feel today.
What causes resentment in a relationship?
Sometimes, it’s just that your partner does something differently to you and doesn’t feel the need to change their ways – and so you resent them for it.
Sometimes it’s just that you don’t feel listened to or that your partner isn’t taking your problems or concerns seriously.
Resentment can even be due to a regret you have that you deem to have been caused by your partner – e.g. moving to a new city so that they could accept a new job, or NOT having another child because your partner doesn’t want to.
It can occur amongst parents where a stay-at-home mom/dad doesn’t feel valued or appreciated for all the things that she/he does.
It can grow in relationships where the man expects the woman to take on the gender-stereotypical roles of cook, cleaner, etc.
Often, resentment comes down to a lack balance, both practical and emotional. You feel as though duties and responsibilities are not being shared equally. Or you believe you provide more emotional support to your partner than they do to you.
What does resentment do to relationships?
Although resentment is a distinct emotion to anger, it often manifests itself as anger in your action toward and treatment of your partner.
When you perceive unfairness or believe that your partner has acted in a way that you deem unsatisfactory, you lash out at them.
Unfortunately, your partner is, in turn, likely to resent you for this. They will no doubt see things differently and your attack on them is a reason for them to then feel unfairly treated.
And so a tit-for-tat approach to conflict emerges as each of you feels aggrieved at the position the other is taking.
A common consequence of this is the emotional withdrawal of both partners in an act of stubbornness and relationship self-sabotage.
Neither is willing to be the first to show true loving tenderness toward the other or apologize for fear that it represents the acceptance of blame.
And the longer this goes on, the more intense the resentment becomes.
So how do you go about addressing the resentment you both feel in order to save your relationship?
Here are some steps you can both take.
1. Ask whether your expectations of your partner are realistic.
Nobody is perfect. Not your partner. Not you.
Certainly, there is no such thing as the perfect boyfriend, girlfriend, husband, or wife.
You may want them to be everything you had ever hoped and dreamed of, but they are only human.
Are you simply expecting too much of them?
Is your resentment of them based, in part, upon their failure to live up to the vision you have of what a great partner should be?
Perhaps they do not make the kinds of romantic gestures you need to feel loved.
Or they are unable to do all of the things you ask them to do because they don’t have time or don’t know how.
Maybe their sex drive is not as high as yours.
Sometimes you just have to accept that your partner isn’t going to think or act in the most ideal ways all of the time.
They will do things that irritate you or confuse the hell out of you. That’s just an inevitable pain point that comes when two people share their lives together.
2. Ask whether you need to let go of control.
As was mentioned above, a common cause for resentment is those times when your partner does something in a completely different way to you.
You have a very particular way of doing things – a way that you believe is best.
But your partner thinks otherwise. Or, at least, they don’t see something as a big deal.
And even though you have asked them repeatedly, they struggle to conform to your wishes.
Perhaps it’s time to accept that your way of doing something is not the only way.
Sure, you may put your cereal bowl straight in the dishwasher after using it, but they leave it in the sink.
Or they may put the TV on for background noise even if they aren’t really watching it, whereas you prefer peace and quiet.
As hard as it may be, you have to acknowledge the fact that neither of you is right and neither of you is wrong.
They have their ways, you have your ways, and it’s almost inevitable that those will rub up against each other from time to time.
You can’t expect to always have things on your terms. Your partner has habits – many of which are so ingrained that they are hard to break.
Of course, they can’t expect to always get things their way, either. There needs to be a balance (we’ll talk about that later).
It’s important to realize that the sky will not fall if you relinquish your tight grip on life and how you want things to be done.
Let your partner do something their way sometimes and see that things tend to work out just fine.
3. Or, ask whether you need to be more assertive.
It is quite reasonable to expect some needs and wants to be fulfilled
But unless you make these very clear to your partner, chances are you’ll often end up disappointed – and resentful.
If you are the type of person who avoids conflict and isn’t great at expressing your wishes, it’s time you found your assertive voice.
If your partner cares about you, they’ll try their very best to accommodate the things that matter most to you.
Just be sure to only assert yourself with things that you genuinely believe to be important.
If you make too many requests for things that seem insignificant, your partner may feel you are nagging them.
That’s why the previous point and this one need to be looked at as one. You need to know what your priorities are in terms of how you would like your partner to act.
Know when to let go and when to speak up and be heard.
Of course, you also have to be equally aware of those needs and wants expressed by your partner that are just reasonable.
It has to be give and take.
4. Try to find a better balance in your relationship.
If your resentment toward your partner stems mainly from a perceived lack of fairness in day-to-day responsibilities, it’s probably time you addressed that.
You should not, however, expect massive change overnight – even if they agree that there is an imbalance (and they may not).
If it currently feels like the split is 70/30, try to take small steps at a time so that you reach 65/35, then 60/40, and so on.
You may never reach a clean 50/50 split and it’s up to you to decide whether you can live with that.
The same goes for emotions…
If you feel you give great support all of the time by actively listening and being present with your partner, it can be difficult when they don’t reciprocate.
But as much as they may be able to improve in this regards and be there for you more often (and they should strive to improve), some people just aren’t good at this sort of thing.
Similarly, if you find that you are always the one to say sorry first or begin the dialogue after a disagreement, you may have to accept this role rather than try to change your partner.
They may have underlying issues that prevent them from showing their vulnerability – at least until someone else has lowered their guard first.
So, yes, aim for a better balance in practical and emotional things, but don’t expect complete equality – that’s rare in even the healthiest of relationships.
Whatever you do, don’t keep score. After all, you’re a team, not opponents.
You may also like (article continues below):
- 7 Ways To Control And Deal With Anger In Relationships
- 12 Strategies To Use When You’re Feeling Irritable
- If You’re Married And Lonely, Here’s What You Need To Do
- 25 No Bullsh*t Signs Your Relationship Is Over Already
- 7 Ways To Stop Being Controlling In A Relationship
- How To Make Up After A Fight And Stop Arguing In Your Relationship
5. Try to accept their flaws.
As has already been mentioned, nobody is perfect.
We all have flaws – more than we’d like to admit.
Part of a having a healthy relationship is accepting someone for who they are; not who you want them to be.
You can’t choose to only love the best qualities of your partner. You have to love them wholly, warts and all.
Whether they are emotionally immature, irritable, forgetful, inconsiderate, or any one of countless less than desirable things, try to accept that these are a part of them.
Sure, you can encourage them to work on themselves to address some of their flaws, but you must accept those that they cannot (yet) improve upon.
At the same time, avoid taking up a position of moral superiority.
As easy as it can be to spot the flaws in others, it can be far more difficult to recognize the flaws in ourselves.
If you adopt a holier than thou mindset, you are more likely to alienate your partner and even cause them emotional harm by placing all the blame for your relationship problems on them.
Remember that you want to feel accepted for who you are. This is a huge part of being open and vulnerable with another person.
If you cannot accept others for who they are, how can you expect them to extend the same courtesy?
6. Consider all of your partner’s positives.
In making an effort to accept your partner’s flaws, it can be extremely helpful to think about all of their positive qualities instead.
Often, the general sentiment of the feeling you have toward your partner at any one time will depend on the thoughts going through your head.
When those thoughts are consumed by all of the things your partner hasn’t done right, you feel negatively toward them.
When those thoughts are of the nice things your partner has done, or the traits you like most about them, you feel positively toward them.
So at those times when resentment is filling your mind, try to eradicate it by focussing on your partner’s good points.
Recognize all of those things that you have to be grateful for in your relationship. All those things that you really appreciate.
Challenge any thoughts of “why bother?” and “they don’t really care about me,” by coming up with counter-evidence that gives you reason to bother and proves they do care.
7. Practice forgiveness and empathy.
Remember that the definition of resentment involves a sense of unfairness. It is based on the feeling of being wronged.
It should, therefore, come as no surprise to discover that forgiveness is vital if you are to stop resenting your partner.
Forgiveness comes in two parts. The first is to decide not to seek revenge for the wrongdoing.
This helps to prevent the escalation of resentment between both parties and the withdrawal away from each other than often results.
The second is the emotional side which is more complicated and takes more time.
But it gets easier with practice.
Part of the process involves empathizing with your partner to try to understand why the acted (or continue to act) in a particular way that leads to the feeling of unfairness.
It can be a challenge to see things through your partner’s eyes when you resent them, but if you can simply consider the context of the situation and ask why they did (or do) what they did, it can bring you one step closer to true understanding and, eventually, forgiveness.
But try not to dwell on things too long. Replaying them in your mind over and over will only delay the emotional side of forgiveness.
8. Accept that everyone is struggling – including your partner.
Very few people are without some sort of nagging issue in their life.
And, truth be told, most of us juggle a whole host of issues at any one time.
It’s no wonder that we struggle. All of us.
When you accept that your partner is struggling, too, it can help you cut them some slack and get less emotionally triggered by the things they do or don’t do that give you the feeling of unfairness.
And while you’re at it, give yourself a break for feeling the way you do. It’s understandable, even if it’s not desirable.
If you and your partner can just have a little bit more patience and compassion with each other, you’d cut those feelings of resentment down considerably.
9. Work on yourself.
Your partner plays a huge role in your life, but this does not justify the emotional influence you allow them to have over you.
So if you resent them for whatever reason, perhaps you could try to work on your own mental and emotional well-being with the goal of being more emotionally independent.
This means that you can be your own source of happiness and love. And you won’t be so affected by what your partner does.
This is especially helpful if your partner is emotionally unavailable or immature.
You might not be able to rely on them to grow in the ways you’d like, but your self-work can mean you can rely on yourself instead.
10. Talk to your partner.
Whichever of the above tips you take, make sure you learn to communicate properly with your partner.
Too many people expect their partners to be able to read their minds. This is often futile because people are most likely to be wrapped up in their own thoughts and problems.
So you have to be open and honest when talking to your partner.
If you feel frustrated at something they have done or not done, tell them.
If you are making a big decision together, express any concerns you have over their particular preference. Don’t hide them away to keep the peace.
By addressing these sorts of things early, you can deal with them and prevent them from ever becoming resentments.
A handy tip is to use “I” statements when discussing your thoughts and feelings. Avoid using “you” statements which only serve to make the other person defensive.
For example, say, “I feel lonely and would like to spend more weekends together,” rather than, “You’re always out with your friends and this makes me feel unappreciated.”
The first expresses how you feel, but also offers a positive solution. Your partner should have little reason not to agree with your proposal.
The second also expresses how you feel, but it does so in a negative manner that pins the blame on your partner. They will not be as likely to respond in a constructive manner.
When you are discussing any frustrations you might have with them, it can help to diffuse the situation by asking them what resentments they might have toward you.
This way, you are framing the whole conversation as a joint effort to overcome the issues you face in your relationship.
You are showing willing to accept some responsibility and this can make them more open to taking their fair share too.
11. Speak to a relationship counselor.
If you and your partner are struggling to communicate calmly and positively when dealing with your issues, it might help to have a third party mediator.
Relationship counseling can, to some extent, take the pressure off because you have someone there who will listen to both parties.
And given their training and experience, a counselor might be able to offer tailored advice on how to approach a particular sticking point.
At the very least, the presence of a third person can provide a more agreeable environment in which to talk.
After all, you are less likely to fly into a full blown rage when there is someone else in the same room – someone who you will not know very well.
12. Don’t be a doormat.
It’s important to remember that good relationships involve a bit of give and take.
If you resent your partner because it seems like the scales are tipped firmly in their favor, you have to ask whether they are capable of changing enough for your feelings to subside.
Don’t allow yourself to be taken advantage of, and avoid getting into a codependent relationship where you take on the role of carer.
As much as you may love your partner, you cannot change them – only they can change themselves, if they should want to.
Know when it is in your best interests to end the relationship. Not all love can last, and that’s okay.