Dealing with Resentment in A Relationship

Resentment is a condition that usually builds over time. At first, it is imperceptible at first, but over time builds up as a layers disappointments and nothing changes. Individuals who are the main givers and rarely the receivers in relationships are likely to become resentful over time. The reason for this is because their basic needs in a relationship are being ignored. Reciprocity is the basis of healthy relationships.

Resentment is the unseen negativity that gradually but surely erodes the foundations of a relationship. It comes to color the nature of interactions so that positive behaviors are ignored or minimized while negative actions are used as further fuel for the fire, further proof that the underlying resentment is justified.

The fascinating psychological fact is that while the seeds of resentment may sprout in objectively hurtful words and actions, what causes this resentment to grow and thrive usually has to do with wanting to break free while feeling unable to do so, either out of fear of “going it alone” or a sense of obligation, or a combination of both.

Tolerance is an important task in any stage of a relationship. This is where couples learn how to live together and build up a rhythm together, which is essential in the course of living together. Everyone has certain little things they like or don’t like that they make known to their partner. When a spouse/partner ignores these little things as being “unreasonable,” “stupid” or “a pain in the butt” they are passing on a negative message to their partner that wounds a fundamental need within everyone. Over time, these little things become a big issue.

Letting go and forgiving an offense is a difficult thing to do for some individuals. Usually, these are people who operate with strict principles for themselves and others. They tend to demonstrate a form of rigidity and perfectionism. As a result, they become castigatory toward others who go against their rules and standards. There is little allowance for mistakes and these individuals struggle with forgiveness. Resentment grows on both sides of the relationship with time. The “holding on” individual is revengeful and resentful. On the other hand, the “forever guilty” person thinks they are never good enough and over time will develop resentment.

In the course of time together, couples experience things that interrupt the pursuit of their dreams. Various types of problems: job loss, bad investments, spending habits, death, chronic illness, and so on. Over the years, frustration and sadness turn into resentment. Individuals wonder if they should stay together or be better off on their own.

The primary aim of resentment in relationships is to create distance, which eventually creates a physical and emotional gap between people. It is a self-protective measure designed to avoid harm. It is also a punitive mechanism intended to “pay back”. Unfortunately, unchecked resentment hurts both parties and places the relationship at risk for further erosion.

A sense of belonging is a basic human need which we all are born with. Resentment deprives us of this basic need. Physical and emotional distance sets the stage for further conflicts, more damage, and deeper resentment. The resented person faces a difficult time resolving the problem with an adversarial partner and yet the resentful partner places the relationship in an adversarial position. The resented partner may want to solve the problems, though, if the individual with resentment refuses to let go, the partner is in a double-bind. They are willing to bridge the gap, but are pushed away when they do.

The consequence of resentment is self-inflicted punishment. Unfortunately, the most affected person by resentment is the person who holds it. Resentment is a negative sentiment, it deprives the individual of personal happiness and fulfillment in relationships. Over time, resentment can skew an individual’s view of relationships in general. They may find trusting others difficult and therefore may struggle to engage in close relationships. Resentment may create walls so insular that some people never allow themselves to experience real intimacy.

If you see resentment in yourself toward your partner, accept it. Don’t try to find an excuse or minimize or justify it. Nobody can make you resentful. You choose to be resentful. Admitting to exhibiting it is the first step in finding a way out.

Ask yourself who is being hurt by your resentment? Does it rob you of happiness? Does it make you have a sleepless night? Acknowledging the damage caused by resentment is a way of resolving this problem.

The reason why we enter relationships is to experience a meaningful bond with another. It is a connection that conveys the message that we matter to each other. You need to address this problem head on if this is not happening. If you are a person who holds on and does not let go of things easily, then you need to take a hard look at this. Perhaps there is an underlying fear or false belief that gets in the way, you need to address this in order to achieve happiness.

Do not let your resentment remain unchecked, do something about it. Perhaps you need to talk with a counselor to get at the cause. You may also need help processing what to do if you are in a one-sided relationship. If you are struggling with holding on and not letting go, think about getting some insight or help with this behavior. The best solution to your problem is not resentment; there are better options. Remember, it hurts you the most in the end.

Written by Kin Leung, MFT, providing couples therapy Burlingame