Resentment is often a complex emotion to unmask. Sometimes it manifests itself as boredom. Other times it manifests itself as mild persistent annoyance. And other times it appears as a snarky comment, withdrawal of affection, or a judgmental comment.
Resentment is an emotion that builds and festers in the background. It usually isn’t a feeling that just spontaneously appears in your relationship one day: resentment is often an accumulation of months, sometimes even several years of repressed anger, hurt and disappointment. Then, at some point you become conscious of it when it becomes too much to handle.
If you’re struggling with resentment in relationships, you’ll be able to identify with many of the following signs:
- You speak sarcastically to the person
- You use fake/phony friendliness to hide your true feelings
- You express lots of agitation and anger around the person for no apparent reason
- You find it hard to appreciate the person without cynicism or hostility
- You give the cold shoulder to the person and withdraw your emotions from them
3 Steps For Dealing With Resentment in Relationships
Resentment in relationships is an issue that stems from three core problems: rigid expectations, lack of empathy and poor communication skills.
At some point, every long term relationship experiences contempt once the initial novelty and uncertainty wears off.
If you’d like to reduce the resentment you feel for your partner (and ideally put it to rest), these tips may help you out:
1. Explore the expectations you have of your partner.
Resentment occurs when we approach a person with the preconception of how they’re “supposed” to be, or turn out. When a person doesn’t meet our expectations, we become disappointed and disillusioned. If this happens enough, resentment is usually the result. Examples could include expecting your partner to be more responsible than they actually are – or expecting your partner to be emotionally receptive, when they’re actually cold and emotionally wounded.
Why not explore the expectations you have of your partner? Get a piece of paper or an online word document and explore the question, “(1) What unfair or unrealistic expectations do I have of my partner?” Divide the page in half and turn the question around again, “(2) What fair or realistic expectations do I have of my partner that aren’t being met?” Be honest. Also be prepared to use open communication skills to share your feelings about (2) with your partner. We’ll explore this below.
2. Listen to your needs and openly communicate.
Much resentment in relationships can be prevented simply through learning open communication skills. When we openly communicate, we share our thoughts and feelings in a non-judgmental, non-blaming way with others. Open communication is about learning to be assertive, listening to our needs, and owning our emotions in a mature way.
Unfortunately however, many intimate relationships lack such a vital skill. In fact, I’ve observed that many weak relationships tend to denigrate or deride the use of communication skills either out of embarrassment, fear, or social/religious conditioning. This, of course, spells d-i-s-a-s-t-e-r from the beginning.
If you’re struggling with resentment in relationships, I can almost assure you that you have poor open communication skills. Don’t worry, many of us share the same problem. But thankfully, such an issue can be resolved. I recommend the book, “Non-Violent Communication” by Marshall Rosenberg as a good starter book to improve your communication skills. Get your partner to read it as well. Also, take our Emotional IQ test to see how skilled you are at managing emotions. You will find recommendations at the end, in your results.
3. Be compassionate with yourself and empathetic towards your partner.
At its very root, resentment stems from unresolved sadness. When you are resentful towards your partner you are fundamentally upset that they haven’t fulfilled a need of yours (such as the need to be validated, appreciated, looked after, loved, etc.).
The good news is that when you begin to show compassion and concern towards yourself, you stop relying on your partner to give you what you crave for. Resentment is the result of neediness and often co-dependency. And what is the best cure for co-dependency? Self-love. Self-love is about honoring the nice and nasty parts within you, respecting your boundaries, listening to your dreams, and allowing yourself to reach your fullest potential. Check out my article “How to Love Yourself More (Even When Others DON’T)” for a more in-depth look at how to cultivate self-love.
Empathy on the other hand is a product of self-love. When we love ourselves, only then can we can genuinely love others. Empathy is the product of mental and emotional maturity. I want you to think about this very carefully. An immature person can only react with anger towards another person’s perceived incompetence or damaged nature. Also, an immature person can’t put themselves in the shoes of the other or understand that their behavior is the result of their core wounds, past traumas, beliefs, or upbringing. The immature person merely uses their own reactive feelings, biases, misconceptions and prejudices to create a picture of the other person.
Learning to be empathetic is not simply about masquerading under the title of “empath” – not all empaths are empathetic. Neither is empathy about being pity. Instead, it’s about a deep understanding of the other person, and the type of pain that motivates their behavior.
I recommend reading “Why are People Abusive, Unkind and Malicious?” to continue with this discussion.
To me, resentment is like carrying 20 extra kilos of weight: you don’t even realize how much you’ve been holding on to until you let it go! You’ll feel so much lighter and healthier when you learn to let go of resentment. Surrender feels so much better than the false sense of self-righteousness resentment gives you.
How has resentment impacted your life? Any tips to share?