Resentment in Marriage

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Today we're going to be talking about how to respond to resentment. But first, let me explain my resentment definition. 

What is resentment in marriage? 

Resentment in marriage is the culmination of negative feelings you have toward your partner from unresolved conflicts, offenses, and unmet needs. Left unattended, resentment usually gets worse with time instead of better and creates significant barriers to intimacy on all levels.  

Resentment can be a common part of marriage landscape, so you have a choice. You can either learn how to work through resentments or you can just let them fester. Obviously, if your partner is taking ownership for their behavior and recognizing what they've done, it's much easier to work through resentments. However, even if they're not, there are some things you can do to work through resentment on your own. I'm going to cover three steps on how to deal with resentment. 

Resentment in Marriage Tips

1-Expressing Your Resentment

The first one is discussing your feelings of resentment with your partner. It's amazing how many couples have resentment towards one another, but they never talk about it. They just stuff it down because they know if they bring it up it's going to turn into a fight. It's going to turn to a conflict. Their partner is going to get defensive. So they just avoid it. And unfortunately that makes the resentment just go deeper and deeper and deeper. So the first tip I would recommend is finding a method for being able to discuss your resentments with your partner. When I work with couples in my practice, for example, I teach them a conflict resolution method called the reunite tool. The reunite tool has certain rules of what you can and can't do to keep the conversation safe. When you're the complainer, there's a whole set of guidelines you can and can't do so you're not attacking. And when you're the listener, there's a set of guidelines you can and can't do to make sure you're empathetic. And that creates safety for the conversation to occur. And when there's safety people have freedom to express what they really feel. That in and of itself, just being able to get it out and talk about what you feel and why is cathartic. It creates a release for people and sometimes that's all they need. They just needed to get it out. And once it's out, it just kind of vaporizes away. It dissolves, especially if their spouse is doing a good job as the listener with empathizing for what they have done. So the first step is discussing your feelings using some type of conflict resolution method. You need a method to be able to express your resentment in a way that's not going to be attacking in order to optimize your spouse's reaction.

2-Compassion Chart

Step two is working through the compassion chart. Before I go through it, this chart is not designed to absolve your partner from any responsibility for what they've done. However, it is designed to explain and explore all the variables that were probably at play, that influenced their hurtful behavior to you. So as I explain this, go back to my original resentment definition and think about one area you've struggled with resentment towards your partner. I'm also going to share an area that I've had resentment towards my wife so you can see how it works. So in my marriage, several years ago, my wife got into a pattern where she was starting to spend a lot of time with some friends of hers, some girlfriends of hers. At first I was happy for her, but before long she was gone more and more and more. And I started feeling like a single parent with our four kids. And so my initial happiness for her led to frustration and then it led to anger, and then it led to bitterness because the more I would bring it up and discuss it with her, she felt like I was criticizing her so the more she was gone. So we got into a vicious cycle that was difficult for us to break through. And one of the things that helped us break through it was me working through this compassion chart I developed during that time in our marriage.

First. What about your spouse's upbringing may have influenced their hurtful behavior to you? So when I was thinking of my spouse, my wife, I had to think back to her upbringing. And I remember learning that she was very lonely growing up. She was raised by a single mom and was not around extended family. Her mom was a flight attendant so she was gone for long periods of time. So my wife was alone a lot. And that created a hole in her soul, this desire for community, this desire to feel connected, this desire to feel like she belongs. And for the first time in her adult life, she was developing this friend community that was satiating her and filling that hole in her soul. And she couldn't get enough of it. And that's one of the reasons she was gone so much because it was filling up this desire from her upbringing that had always been there. So what about you? What about your partner's upbringing may have influenced their behavior that hurt you?

Second. What about their situation may have been influencing their hurtful behavior? So for my wife, when I looked at this behavior where she was gone all the time with her friends, when I looked at her situation, she had been a stay at home mom at that point for around 12 years and she was itching to get out of the house, itching to start something of her own, itching to just get out and have fun with friends. And so her circumstances played a part of her behavior that was hurting me. So it was helpful for me to look at her circumstances. And what about you when your partner was hurting you? What was going on in their life in that moment and how much were those circumstances influencing their hurtful behavior to you? 

Third. What were you doing, if anything, that may have influenced their hurtful behavior to you? So again, what were you doing, if anything, that may have influenced their hurtful behavior to you? So when I was looking at my wife being gone all the time, I had to take a hard look at myself and ask myself, what am I doing that may be encouraging her to want to be gone. I had to ask her for this feedback. And what I discovered is that somewhere along the lines I had stopped making her feel adored. And that's one of her top needs is adoration. Somewhere along the lines of our marriage and having kids and career and all of these things, I had stopped making her feel adored. However, when she was with this friend group, she felt adored. They were complimenting her, they were affirming her, they were pointing out her talents, all of these things that she was not getting at home. And so without realizing it, my lack of filling up her bucket was influencing her behavior that was hurting me. And so what was it for you? What, if anything, were you doing in your marriage that may have influenced your partner's hurtful behavior to you?

Fourth. What about your background may be getting activated and may be influencing how you're reacting to their hurtful behavior? So what about your background, your childhood, your wounds in your past might be influencing how you're responding to the hurtful behavior from your partner? So for me, I was having a very strong reaction with my wife being gone all the time. And I started checking in with some close friends of mine and I started asking them, do you think I'm overreacting? And several of my friends said back to me, you know, I think something's going on with your wife because she's gone too much. However, you seem to be getting too upset. And when you ever get that feedback from people that the intensity of your reaction seems stronger than what's warranted, most likely you're getting triggered.  A trigger is when something from your past is getting activated. Some type of wound, some type of hurt in your past is getting lit up. You're reacting louder and more emphatically than you would if you didn't have that wound in your past. So when I started getting that feedback that some of my friends were telling me I was reacting stronger than what seemed warranted I started looking back in my past and realized it was triggering some of my past wounds of feeling rejected growing up. I had pockets in my development growing up where I felt rejection and I was feeling the same thing from my wife. So her being gone so much was starting to make me feel rejected and it was stirring up those wounds from my past. So what about you when your partner was hurting you? Was that stirring up any type of wounds from your past? And if so, how is that influencing how you're reacting back to their behavior compared to if you didn't have those wounds? It's a great question to ask.

Fifth. How have you also been hurtful? A lot of times we get on our high horse and all we can see is how our partner has done wrong. But in reality, a lot of times we've also been hurtful. Maybe not in the same way or maybe not to the same degree and maybe not even in the same relationship. But think of a time when you have done something hurtful. When have you been neglectful? When have you been offensive? When have you done something you know you shouldn't have and you hurt somebody? So capture that because it can be very humbling and it can level the playing field. And I had to look at this in my own life as well and think about the times in my marriage when I've been hurtful to her and didn't make her feel very good. 

Usually when couples go through this compassion chart, they start out feeling like the hurtful behavior from their partner is 100% their partner's fault. But once they walk through this chart, usually that goes down to around 40 to 60% still their partner's fault. And that's the goal. The goal is not to go down to 0% where none of it's their fault. However, it's normally not 100% their fault either. It's usually somewhere in the middle. And this chart just helps to explain all the variables that were at play.  Research shows that it's more effective to cultivate compassion when you're trying to forgive somebody. Cultivating compassion for what caused their hurtful behavior increases forgiveness naturally.

3-Emotionally Corrective Experiences 

So far we've talked about discussing your feelings using the reunite tool so you can express it constructively. It's always better out than in as long as it's constructive and not destructive. And then we talked about the compassion chart and all the steps involved in it. The third piece to healing from resentment in your marriage is experiencing emotionally corrective experiences. Think back to my resentment definition in the beginning of the article. How could your partner right the wrong? Ideally your partner is taking ownership for what they've done and is starting to do the opposite. And the more they do the opposite of the behavior that hurt you, the more the pain from the past will start to disappear. That's called an emotionally corrective experience. So the more they do the right thing, the more you will eventually start forgetting all the times they did the wrong thing.

If you have resentment in marriage, it is going to divide and conquer you. If you're wondering what is resentment then you probably have it. Resentment will break apart your relationship and keep you separated. You have to be tracking your heart. What's your resentment definition? What's causing your resentment?  Use the three steps covered in this article to work through it.  

Further Reading:

Conflict Resolution in Marriage

Empathy in Marriage

Emotional Intimacy in Marriage

Relationship Goals

Dr. Wyatt Fisher

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Leave a comment below on what else you would suggest for healing resentment in marriage. 

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HI Kate, so glad to hear you feel the Compassion Chart could help your client address resentment in their marriage. Click on my Marriage Tools page to access it. Best! Wyatt

Dr. Wyatt Fisher

I was wondering if I could get a copy of your compassion chart. I think this could be very beneficial for a couple I am working with


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