How Resentment Undermines Relationships


Three steps to resolving resentment with your partner

Randi was simply asking her boyfriend for more help around the house. He responded with a loud burst of emotion: “You just think I don’t do anything, but I do things that you don’t even notice.” You might say Randi got emotionally body slammed for making a simple and reasonable request. Randi tried stepping back, cooling down her approach, yet any further attempts at communicating were shut down as her boyfriend continued to get super worked up, let out an emotionally charged sigh of exasperation, and then launched into a lengthy lecture about how “It takes two people to run a household, you know.”

Randi retreated from the onslaught once again, with a sense of frustration. This same scenario seemed to play out any time she asked for help. The frustration finally boiled over into tears as she shared her story with us realizing just how strongly this mutual sense of resentment was taking hold in her relationship.

How Resentment Begins

When you feel wronged or misunderstood by another person it’s normal to feel a sense of frustration. If your ability to express feelings of frustration are restricted or limited, resentment can surely develop. Resentment gets worse when the initial feelings of frustration are magnified by the continual inability to express your feelings. Resentment can undermine a relationship when it creates a sense of bitterness with a spouse or romantic partner. Left unchecked, bitterness creates ….

How We Use Resentment

Resentment serves as a defense for us against feeling the real pain that underlies being let down by your partner. Instead of being forced to feel the authentic pain in that moment, we instead assign it to someone or something outside of us. This usually ends up being your partner. Projecting our painful feelings onto someone else, will temporarily allow us to avoid the real pain underneath the experience.

When a solution for the pain is not forthcoming, and we feel like there is no place for us to safely express our deeper feelings, we blame our partners. After all, it‘s much easier to be resentful towards someone else. Resolving resentment or preventing it from occurring in the first place is vital. Unresolved resentment will continue to build and ultimately becomes destructive to a relationship.

How to Resolve Resentment – Understanding the Cause

The first step in resolving resentment is to be willing to understand the initial cause. Resentment is happening because we let someone we love hurt us in a way that we are sensitive to. It’s as if our partner has found our emotional soft spot and just hit us right where it hurts.   When this happens, our instinct is to protect ourselves from more hurt and pain. One of the quickest ways to do so is to disguise the hurt by draping it in anger and offendedness. Doing so, gives the person hurting a temporary sense of relief.

The deeper underlying feeling is still there, but now it is hidden away inside us. We must be able to look under the surface of the resentment and find out what caused the initial pain or frustration.

Often there is a core feeling that is not being acknowledged and certainly not being shared. These core issues often are things like feeling abandoned, left alone, hurt, neglect, not good enough, unworthy of getting your needs met. Once the core issue has been identified, those feeling must be worked through and experienced fully. This step is painful and often involves tears. It is an important step and requires that you truly engage. Once you are willing to feel and process the underlying feelings of hurt you can then move on to the next phase. Resolving Resentment: Taking Back Your Power

Once you have identified the original painful feelings, you must then be willing to understand what part you have played in contributing to the pain of the situation. This does not mean that you take full responsibility. Accepting all the blame and making the situation entirely your fault is not a solution. Just as it may not be entirely your fault, it is also not entirely the fault of your partner.

Assigning fault is just another way of avoiding having to face something that doesn't feel good. The trick here is to understand that in the moment your survival at least emotionally felt threatened. As a result you buried away the painful feeling and now it is time to retake a look at what really happened.

When you acknowledge that your decision to defend yourself in that moment was your choice, now you are taking back your control.

You can only change your own feelings about something when you are able to “own” what that feeling is. Once you own you retake ownership of your feeling, , you are taking back your personal power to affect change.

If you believe the situation had nothing to do with you, then you are denying yourself the power to create change or alter circumstances. If you can recognize that you played a part in stuffing down your real and deeper feelings in that situation, then you will be better able to recognize your power to prevent it from reoccurring in the future.

Understanding Your Partners Unique Perspective

Your partner has a different and maybe an out of the box style of thinking that is easy to be critical of or quickly dismiss. The next step in resolving resentment is to resist the temptation to reject your partners particular state of mind and dig a little deeper and see if in fact your partners response does in fact have some merit.

It is always helpful to remember that we typically afford more leeway to investigate the thoughts of a stranger than we do to that of our partner. It can be very helpful to keep in mind that each of us has a unique perspective on life which influences our actions. Your partner’s actions are ultimately consistent with their unique perceptions, habits and relational skills.

There might even be a lack of relational skills that needs to be addressed.

Having “Room” To Share Your Deeper Feelings Minimizes Resentment

For a relationship to be successful there needs to be “room” to share deeper feelings without the fear of recrimination. Sometimes this is not possible in the heat of the moment. For many successful couples this means having the ability to revisit a situation once each partner has cooled off and has better perspective.

Is is easy to need to be right in the moment. It helps to acknowledge that your partner is doing the very best he or she can from their unique perspective. Perspectives can also create limitations that influence your partners actions at the same time your perceptions limit you.

Instead of simply letting your partner’s perspective create resentment in your relationship take the opportunity to create a shared understanding of your deeper disappointments with your partner, especially in situations where upsets or misunderstandings create the possibility of resentment.

Three Step Formula for a Shared Perspective!

Here is a quick and powerful formula for creating a shared perspective with your partner.

Find a time when the two of you can spend about 15 minutes in a calm and relaxed place. The location should be free of distractions like cell phones, interruptions or noise.

Explain to your partner that you would like to take a few moments to discuss an event that took place recently. Let them know that you will not be pointing fingers at them or placing blaming. Instead you simply want to share with them a plan that will create more harmony for both of you. Let them know all they have to do is listen and either agree or disagree once they hear your plan.

The Three Step Formula

Here is the 3 step formula of that will guide your conversation with your partner:

  1. When you

  2. I felt

  3. What I would like is

In an actual discussion it would go something like this:

  1. When you were late for my birthday dinner…

  2. I felt like I wasn’t special or valued on a day that’s important to me…

  3. What I would like is when we agree on a time for a special event like a birthday, you would do your very best to be there on time or let me know if you’re delayed..

If the formula is done gently, and with zero blame, it makes it easy for your partner to respond with “yes, I can do that!”

That’s it! At that point you have a shared perspective of a situation that would normally cause resentment caused from dramatically different perspectives. It’s a simple way to get your feelings heard while also increasing your partner’s knowledge and insight about your needs. The goal should be less frustration or the resulting resentment.

Are You Willing To Resolve Your Resentment?

Resolving resentment requires that you are willing to express your true and honest feelings with your partner. It also requires that you are willing to forgive them for what they have done in the past that may have simply been the result of their unique perspective on life. They were probably completely unaware of their actions causing you pain.

A partner with a a very unique perspective may seem “wrong” to the other partner. Wrong or not, it is what guides their actions and that may result in your resentment. You must be willing to forgive your partner for acting consistently with their perspective in the past. You must also be willing to resolve the situation by created a shared perspective that will support your relationship in the future. Resolving Resentment Releases You From Pain

Remember that forgiveness primarily benefits you. Forgiveness is a choice that you make to let go of your resentment. It is a choice to free you from recurring painful circumstance and allows you to make a plan to prevent those situations from occurring in the future.

Today, consider resolving your resentment so that you can move forward in your relationships as well as your life. You might be surprised by how much better you feel when you choose the Three Step Formula for resolving and preventing resentment.