Resentment: The Biggest Relationship Killer
It’s also crucial that you find ways to share how you feel with your partner without (and this is the tricky part) dumping your anger all over them. Blaming and shaming them because you feel resentment is not likely to help them be able to hear what you have to say. Learning how to communicate well can be tricky, but there are plenty of great resources for it. I’m a fan of Powerful Non-Defensive Communication, and some friends and colleagues also speak highly of Nonviolent Communication, Landmark,the Human Awareness Institute, and other models. The goal is to find ways to be able to share your feelings without pushing your partner away, while also being able to hear your partner’s feelings without feeling pushed away. Each person and each relationship will face different challenges around this, so there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution.
What works for me is saying something like “I’m feeling resentment because…” or “This thing happened and now I’m feeling some resentment.” Naming the emotion without venting it takes a lot of practice. It also takes practice to be able to hear it without taking it personally. Sometimes, resentments need some sort of action or change to resolve. Other times, they just need to be heard. But if you can share them without reinforcing a cycle of anger-trigger-freaking out, you can walk the line between building up resentment and making it seem like your partner is a pain in the ass.
If you resist reading a book or taking a workshop on communication, my best advice for you is get over it. Nobody is born knowing how to communicate and very few of us learn how to do it well when we’re growing up. You’re not responsible for not having been taught how to communicate about your feelings. However, once you know that you need to do something and that there are resources and people who can help you, you are responsible for making it happen. Do yourself a favor and find the support you need. Read a book, take a workshop, or work with a therapist. The payoff is worth it.
Once you’ve got the ball rolling, there are two steps that I think can help. First, try to avoid letting things become resentments. When you feel anger towards your partner, let them know. Look for ways that you can collaboratively find solutions or, at the very least, things that can help you cope. Even if there isn’t a way to change the situation, such as when your partner’s job keeps them super busy, letting them know how it affects you can still help you both feel better. If you discover that a resentment has formed, talk about it. It doesn’t matter if the seed for it happened yesterday, last week, or ten years ago. Let them know. Your feelings don’t care how long ago something happened, so don’t let them fester.
Second, if you feel disconnected from your partner, take a moment to check in with yourself to see if you’re holding any resentments because you might not realize it until it has already formed. One of the most common experiences that therapists report is that individuals and couples come to them saying that they’re having sexual difficulties, and when they start digging, it turns out that the real issue is that they’re in disagreement over money, or the kids, or their jobs. Once the conflicts and resentments are sorted out, the sex often returns. So when you find yourself withdrawing from your partner or avoiding sex, take it as an opportunity to see if that’s what’s going on for you.
While I’m hardly suggesting that resentment is the only reason people have sexual challenges, I do think that it’s one of the least commonly recognized ones. It’s easy to see how being tired from taking care of the kids or being stressed out about work can create sexual tensions (and not the good kind). But resentment often gets left out of the picture and that can make it harder to deal with it. So whenever I get asked what I think the biggest relationship killer is, I make sure to include it on the list. If you want to open up your heart to your partner(s), if you want to be connected as your authentic self, don’t allow resentment to get in the way. It’s only when we can put it on the table that we can deal with it and create the sex lives that we want.