In my book, Making Love Last, I talk about 8 things couples need to learn to let go of if they are to have a vitally intimate relationship. One of those is resentment.
Oftentimes couples find it hard to move toward a more intimate relationship because one or both of them are harboring old wounds. If your mate wasn’t there for you when you needed them or if your mate betrayed you or disrespected you in some way earlier in your relationship, you may be holding onto some resentment that is interfering with the intimacy you had hoped to enjoy.
We can be holding resentment toward our mate for anything from annoying habits to painful offenses. You might be resenting your partner because:
- Feel alone in parenting. You are more the disciplinarian and you resent that they have left the heavy lifting of parenting to you.
- For forgetting special occasions that are important to you
- Feel neglected- spouse working long hours and seems you and the family less important- married to job
- Feel rejected sexually or pushed away emotionally
- Feel unappreciated, taken for granted
- Favoring their own family of origin above yours
- Consistently selfish behaviors
You can be resentful for a one-time incident that has never been resolved or a long-standing pattern that over time has worn its tread over your heart. Most couples are unaware how injuries from childhood feed into their resentment.
- Perhaps your resentment is due to your mate’s lack of thoughtfulness about your anniversary or birthday or other special days. If, growing up, birthdays were highly celebrated events you may feel deeply slighted if your mate overlooks it. Or, if you have a painful memory of having it be minimized, your mates lack of attention may trigger a familiar pain.
- Perhaps your spouse’s job has them working long hours leaving you home to handle the kids and all the daily responsibilities. If growing up, your dad was unavailable because his priority was his work, that could tap into a wound you may not even know was there.
Considering how these childhood experiences impact the lens through which you see your mate’s behavior is important for two reasons:
- They allow you to see your wound and have some compassion for yourself and what you experienced as a child
- Doing so, will allow you to step back, notice how your resentment might be super charged by these earlier experiences, calm yourself inside so your conversation with your mate can be more productive.
Steps you can take if you are holding onto resentment toward your mate:
- Take some time to reflect on your resentment. Write down your feelings and thoughts. What happened? What has contributed? How did the incidences make you feel at the time? Writing it down can help you gather your thoughts and clarify what’s going on inside you.
- Ask yourself if the hurt underlying your resentment relates to anything from your childhood. Connecting your current feelings to your childhood doesn’t minimize the validity of what you’re feeling today, but gives it a context that can be helpful in helping your mate understand its importance to you.
- Ask yourself if your resentment is being fed by unrealistic expectations you can either lower or let go of. If you’re resentful that your husband doesn’t pitch in with the kids, ask yourself what his positive contributions have been. This is not to absolve him of all responsibility but to give you perspective.
- Notice how you have been guarding your heart when you feel resentful. We all have ways of protecting ourselves and our protective parts jump in when we feel resentful in an attempt to keep us from further injury. Your attempts to protect yourself from further pain are understandable and valid. However, standing guard over your heart will not help you move toward a more intimate relationship with your spouse.
- Perhaps you have pulled back from your mate emotionally or sexually
- Perhaps you have invested yourself in your kids or work or a hobby to avoid connection with your mate
- Perhaps you get angry as a way of expressing your resentment
- Go to your spouse. Nothing’s going to change unless you let your mate know how you feel.
- Share what you notice about how you are protecting your heart from being hurt
- Tell them what they did that has led to your resentment and the feeling you had as a result. “When you forgot my birthday again, I felt so unimportant and unloved.”
- If you are aware of a related wound from childhood share with them how their behavior triggered that old wound. “I remember when I was five and none of my friends came to my birthday party.”
- Ask your mate to help you take down the wall of resentment so the two of you can become close again.
- Share what you need to feel safe. “I need you to remember my birthday and our anniversary and make it special by taking me out to dinner or buying me a gift.” “I need you to not answer your phone during dinner or date nights.” “I need you to intervene if your mother criticizes me.”
- If your mate continues a pattern that is hurtful, communicate the boundaries you need to set in order to protect yourself.
Sometimes that resentful part of us does not want to stand down.
- You may feel your mate has not paid sufficiently for their offense
- Don’t want to let our mate off the hook
- Hold on because we feel our resentment validates our experience- if we don’t hold on it will be minimized
- Guard our heart from further injury
If your mate resents you, you may start to notice their withdrawal or negativity. Try to think about what you may have done to cause their reaction. With a soft heart, go to them and ask if there’s something you’ve done that is bothering them or has been hurtful and listen non-defensively. Let them know you’ve heard them well by acknowledging their feeling and ask them what they need from you.
Letting go of resentment is risky business, yet being truly intimate requires that risk.