Resentment, like cancer, begins as a small, often undetected, issue in one aspect of the relationship.
Perhaps you didn’t speak to your mom about the rude comment she made to your spouse about his always being late, or maybe you forgot to take the trash to the curb AGAIN. If feelings about such things are left unaddressed, ignored, or avoided by you and your partner, they grow and metastasize into other areas of your relationship, choking out the healthy connection that was once there. If you don’t deal with resentment early, when it can easily be addressed, it ultimately creates distance so vast, that most couples find it impossible to bridge. This is what makes resentment one of the most destructive forces marriages face.
Signs your partner may resent you:
- Tit for tat: When you find your partner measuring who has done what, and how many times, this is often a sign of resentment. “I took the dog out three times yesterday. I’m not doing it today!” If they feel taken advantage of, or that you don’t put in your fair share of work, or that you’re oblivious to doing what needs to be done, the seeds of resentment are likely sprouting.
- The silent treatment: Some people can’t handle confrontations, even healthy ones. If your partner is like that, she may go silent when she feels resentment, rather than expressing it. Even when that’s not the case, if you don’t respond well to your her airing grievances, your may leave her feeling that difficult or upsetting issues can’t be successfully discussed, leading to her going silent or withdrawing from you. This can be a sign of resentment or apathy toward the relationship. She may feel there’s no point, so she gives up and withdraws.
- Passive aggressive behavior: If your partner is procrastinating on doing something he said he would, acting sullen, or becoming unusually stubborn, the root cause may be that he resents something you’ve said or done, or something he expected you to say or do which you haven’t. When this happens, you may find yourself feeling that he’s behaving like an angry or petulant child.
- Withholding sex: “How can I have sex with him when he doesn’t care about what I need, or do anything about the things that bother me?” I often hear some version of this statement working with couples in therapy. Where resentment shows up, the emotional disconnection can make it hard for your partner to be vulnerable enough to share herself physically with you.
Relationships require sacrifice and compromise that come from it no longer being just “me,” but rather a combination of “me,” “you,” and “we.”
As mature adults, we recognize that the emotional and other benefits of our relationship far outweigh the drawbacks of having to consider the needs and desires of our partner, and his views of what our relationship should look like. When a couple struggles to negotiate and willingly make those sacrifices from a mature, adult perspective, they may also find it difficult to confront disagreements in a mature way, breeding resentment. This is especially true when one partner is naturally more assertive and confident than the other. In such cases, the less assertive partner often finds himself giving more and more ground, leading to ever-increasing resentment.
To combat resentment in your relationship, it’s essential that you look at your own behavior to see how you may be contributing to planting the seeds of resentment.
Are there things you’ve promised to do and not followed through? Do you avoid discussing difficult issues? It’s essential that you both be open to negotiation, follow through on agreements, and make amends when you mess up. It’s also crucial that each of you is willing to accept the amends offered by the other.