By Mary Jo Rapini
It’s difficult to maintain passion and a connection in a relationship over a long period of time when you’re confronted with the rigors of life. The challenges we face in our romantic relationships expose our strengths and our weaknesses. Occasionally our frailties are so significant that the impact they have on our spouse and our relationship leads us to spiral toward a state of resentment. Once resentment rears its ugly head it has the potential to wreak havoc on your relationship. Does that mean your relationship is then doomed to fail? The short answer: No. It’s not easy but it’s definitely do-able!
Sleeping with the enemy was a movie that came out in 1991. It was based on a couple’s violent, obsessed, and dangerous relationship. The couple appeared like the perfect couple in public, but behind closed doors the wife (played by Julia Roberts) was in fear of her life. When your relationship struggles with resentment, it can feel like you are sleeping with the enemy. The resentment is felt deeply by one of the partners and, although it is rarely discussed openly, the tension can be felt by anyone close to the couple.
Resentment is not caused by one thing, but many things that happen. Resentment forms when someone is hurt by someone they love intensely. Feeling unappreciated, ignored, controlled or misunderstood can turn into anger and, since it is not discussed, the anger is held in. You cannot hold anger in for long without it trying to break through. It breaks through by criticizing your partner, picking on your partner, being irritable with your partner, and threatening your partner with divorce or separation.
When you are resentful, you no longer look at your partner with respect or love. Making love becomes rarer or a mechanical, emotionless act. Resentment builds over years. I have some couples who have been resentful of their partner for over ten years. A divorce typically takes 7 years to create, and the majority of those 7 years are seething with resentment. Couples who come in for counseling when resentment has taken over have a long, bumpy road ahead of them. It is not insurmountable, but it does take constant attention and a shared commitment on both sides. Resentment is like a cancer in that sometimes by the time you identify what it is, you have run out of time for a cure.
Suggestions for dissolving resentment:
1. The quickest and surest way to dissolve resentment is to communicate. You need to get the issue out in the open and talk about it. Try to put yourself in your partner’s position and understand what they were thinking and feeling. Make sure they also put themselves in your shoes so you can explain how you felt and the thoughts you were thinking. This is not a time to fight to “win” anything; it is a time to understand.
2. You may feel that holding on to resentment is punishing your partner, but it is really hurting you too. People who are resentful become bitter, and most of their relationships are harmed by their anger.
3. Allow yourself to think of your resentment for a set amount of time each day. Limit it to ten or fifteen minutes a day. When you feel resentful, it is easy to forget all the wonderful aspects of the person you are resentful of. The resentment taints everything the person says or does. When you take control of how much you allow yourself to think about it, you also control how much impact it has on your life.
4. Journal your thoughts. Many times this prevents spewing angry, bitter words to your partner. It also makes it less likely the anger will affect your health.
5. Counseling is beneficial when resentment has taken over your relationship. Counseling will help unravel the anger and resentment, and it will also help you resolve the conflicts while supporting the relationship.
Resentment cannot exist where forgiveness is practiced.
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