Working with countless couples over the years, I have seen time and again why marriages crumble and may even end in divorce. The factors contributing to divorce are numerous but, without fail, there is one consistent reason marriages end. Divorce is imminent when a couple refuses to address, cope and let go of their mutual resentments.
Resentment is long-standing and unchecked anger. It is the emotion that drives blame, criticism, defensiveness and feeling totally victimized by your partner. Signs you are experiencing resentment are:
- Thinking “Our marriage would be ok if only my partner would change”
- Thinking “I’m done trying because I never get what I need”
- Being unwilling to change until your partner changes first
- Being dissatisfied with any positive expression of love or affection by your partner because of past disappointments
- Feeling a sense that things are hopeless because of your partner’s faults
If you are noticing you are struggling with resentment, please read on to find ways to save your relationship.
Anger versus Resentment
Anger and resentment can feel like the same emotion but there is a key difference. Resentment originates with anger but it is anger that we chose to disregard. Anger, like all emotions, has a gift for us. The gift of anger is that it shows us our needs and limits. We only feel anger when we our needs, limits or values have been violated (even if this is unconscious). Therefore, anger is a wonderful teacher. It shows us what we need to assert and how to advocate for change in our relationships. Anger can absolutely guide kind and assertive conversations that facilitate positive change in our relationships. Sometimes, though, we ignore this call for change and stuff our anger.
If we deny our limits and needs over time, we eventually feel resentful. Unfortunately, resentment prevents us from being effective at solving our relationship problems. This is because it deceives us into believing our relationship failing is our partner’s fault completely. This intense criticism fuels conflict and a sense of being stuck. After all, when resentful, if you do bring up a concern you will likely do it in a way that leads your partner to feel attacked. They naturally will get defensive which will lead to you feeling dismissed which will lead your resentment to further fester. This is the downward spiral that leads to divorce.
When to leave
It is first important to personally explore why exactly you are resentful. Are there any non-negotiable ways your partner has violated you? For example, maybe your partner has a consistent theme of being verbally or emotionally abusive and is unwilling to change. This ongoing abuse may be a non-negotiable for you (and you absolutely deserve to live a life free of abuse). If this is the case, your resentment has been trying to show you for a long time that you need to protect yourself. Anger is an appropriate and healthy response to the sense of being deeply violated. However, once you identify this non-negotiable violation you are responsible to move forward in a self-protective manner. This may mean you need to separate or even end the relationship.
How to Save Your Relationship
If, after contemplation, you realize your partner has disappointed or angered you but not in any non-negotiable way, then you are responsible to communicate clearly and consistently with your partner about your needs. You are also responsible to accept that your partner – like all people – has flaws and cannot meet your desires perfectly. When they upset you in the future – which they will because they are human – you simply continue to be clear and consistent about your needs in a kind manner. This prevents future resentments from being harbored.
Furthermore, marriages are co-created so if there are negotiable concerns, then you are responsible to change as well by becoming a healthier partner too. In order to do this, you must learn to accept that past offenses happened and learn to let go of them. Otherwise, your relationship may not survive. As Marianne Williamson states, “We do not heal the past by dwelling there; we heal the past by living fully in the present.” You cannot heal your marriage by staying fixated on past disappointments. Instead, you heal your marriage by making the decision to accept the past already happened while advocating for current change. Finally, this work is not done at once and it may take time to learn to accept and forgive but it is worthwhile. When you learn to let go of past resentments, you can live in the present with your partner; negotiating for change when needed but also able to have peace and joy with them again!