Resentment: The Biggest Relationship Killer
The other day, I was interviewed by a reporter who asked me what I think the biggest challenge to sex in a long-term relationship is. I suspect that she was expecting me to say something like keeping the passion alive, or finding new things to try, or even that old standby, communication. But I think that there’s one that is rarely talked about, even though pretty much everyone experiences it : resentment.
In my experience, both as a sex educator and in my personal life, resentment is one of the most common and difficult strains on a relationship, especially a sexual relationship. It’s pretty difficult (if not actually impossible) to treat someone well when you feel resentment, even if it’s not directed at them. Resentment makes it hard to ask for what you want, to hear what your partner requests, to give them what they desire, to be kind to them, and to create a sexual relationship that touches your hearts as well as your sex organs. When we try to hide our resentments from our partners, we often close off our true feelings and create a mask, which is not the sort of thing that fosters passion, romance, or sexual satisfaction. And while that mask may look like it’s helping, the resentment underneath is probably getting bigger.
In his book Passionate Marriage, David Schnarch discusses the ways in which codependency and enmeshment hinder sexual passion. Since sexual connection has a way of creating closeness and connection, we often resist it when we’re already feeling smothered. After all, if we feel suffocated, why would we want to do something that would bring us into even closer contact? Similarly, when we’re hiding (or trying to hide) resentments from our partners, how can we open up our hearts to them? A friend of mine once said that you can’t relax during a massage if you’re holding in a fart. I think that something similar could be said of resentment. It’s hard to open up and be honest when you’re hiding something that you’re feeling.