But the surprising thing about resentment is that when approached correctly, it can actually be an unexpected gift.
In fact, knowing how to overcome resentment in our marriage has helped us to address important relationship issues and create an even stronger marriage – and a better sex life.
- What causes resentment in a marriage, and the toxic signs to watch out for
- What to do when you feel resentment towards your spouse
- What to do when your spouse resents you
- A proven action plan for how to overcome resentment in your marriage
- And how to turn resentment into a force for growth and fulfilment
Whether you’re the one feeling resentment towards your partner, or you think that your partner holds resentment towards you, this is the complete guide for healing resentment in your marriage.
What Is Resentment In Marriage?
Resentment in marriage is the buildup of negative feelings towards your partner when you feel wronged, betrayed, neglected, poorly treated, or taken for granted. Resentment is toxic to a relationship and over time will erode the safety, connection, and good will necessary for a successful marriage.
Resentment towards your spouse basically comes down to this:
Your partner has knowingly or unknowingly broken the agreements of your relationship. And that hurts.
Whether it’s how you want to be treated, what you thought your marriage would look like, or the life you thought you were building together, the disappointment, anger, and frustration of these unmet expectations can be devastating.
What Causes Resentment In Marriage?
The causes of resentment in marriage are many and varied, but common causes include:
- Feeling like you contribute more to the relationship than your partner
- A long-term lack of emotional intimacy and connection
- Feeling unimportant or that you’re not a priority to your partner
- An unfulfilling sex life
- Toxic communication or unresolved arguments
- Feeling unappreciated or like your partner doesn’t really ‘see’ you
- Selfish or controlling behaviour
- Intense criticism or demeaning comments from your partner
Resentments often start small:
A careless remark, a forgotten commitment, a lack of appreciation.
But if these small hurts are not resolved effectively, they intensify over time. One minor incident builds upon another until you’re carrying around a heart full of past grievances.
What Are The Signs Of Resentment In Marriage?
Resentment in marriage can look like:
- Obsessive thoughts about past hurts
- Criticism, negative judgements, and ‘thinking the worst’ of your partner
- A constant feeling of tension or walking on eggshells
- Stonewalling, defensiveness, and emotional withholding
- Not feeling safe and finding it difficult to trust
- Fantasizing about leaving the relationship
- Actively attempting to hurt your partner’s feelings
- A sense of feeling let down or betrayed by your partner
- Chronic arguments and an inability to collaborate effectively
- Consistent fault finding
- Fearing vulnerability and not feeling safe to open up to each other
- A lack of plutonic touch and everyday affection
- Experiencing sexual rejection and feeling unwanted
Does Resentment Lead To Divorce?
If left unaddressed, resentment can erode a marriage to the point where divorce seems like the only option. Resentment undermines the positives making it difficult to deal with problems in a constructive way. It can make staying together feel hopeless and often pushes one partner – or both – towards leaving.
But a marriage can recover from resentment:
It takes shared responsibility, a willingness to talk openly, and a dedication to doing the healing work. You have to understand the hurts in your relationship, be able to talk them through together, and then commit to meeting each other’s needs.
Think of it like this:
Imagine that in your relationship there’s a glass window between you and your partner.
For connection to flow easily, the window needs to be clean and clear.
But when some small hurt happens between you, it’s like a dark stain on the window. One or two aren’t a problem as you can still see each other clearly. But a build up of unresolved issues creates a wall so that you no longer feel close or connected.
How To Overcome Anger And Resentment In Your Marriage
The next section guides you through a process to understand the hurts you’re feeling, uncover the valid needs underneath them, and help you communicate those needs in a way that will help you get them met.
And, parts of this process will be difficult.
Resentment can be challenging as it colors your perception and creates harmful narratives about your relationship and your partner that aren’t always accurate. (We call them ‘poo goggles’ – the opposite of rose-colored glasses).
Keep an open mind, and trust that this process has the power to transform even the toughest of resentments – if you’re willing to try.
What Do You Do When Your Spouse Resents You?
If your partner holds resentment towards you then you’ll want to open up a conversation where the two of you can go through these steps together.
If you’re not sure how to do that, try initiating a relationship check in.
Or you could send them this article and let them know that you want to work through the resentments in your marriage, whether that’s by yourselves or with the guidance of a relationship coach or a marriage therapist.
1. Look For The Positives
Ready to put that open mind into practice? List all of the things that are awesome about your partner and your relationship.
Let’s be clear that this is not an attempt to gaslight or be all ‘toxic positivity’*.
These positive attributes aren’t going to magic away the negatives or instantly fix your resentment.
Challenge yourself to write down at least 20 things. This is your ‘why?’ for getting over resentment in your marriage.
2. Understanding Hurts & Complaints
Now list the ‘negatives’ and the things you’re feeling resentful about:
- What are some of the complaints you have about your partner?
- What have they done that’s hard to let go of?
- Where do you feel disrespected, unloved, or wronged?
Then pick one resentment you want to focus on healing:
- How do you feel when you think about this? (Hint – go beyond anger and frustration, and feel what other emotions are there)
- What really hurts about this?
- Why is this important to you?
- What assumptions have you made about your partner and their actions? Why do you think they’re doing what they’re doing?
- What is it that you truly want?
- What is the need or vulnerable desire underneath the hurt?
- What would you like them to acknowledge, change, or take action on? (We call this the ‘yearning beneath the complaint’)
Hint: The need or desire will usually be something positive but vulnerable to articulate. Something like, “I want to feel like you truly love me.” “I want to know that you still care about me.” or “I want to have more play and fun in our relationship.”
If you keep getting a need that feels adversarial, dig a little deeper.
3. Communicate Your Needs
Now that you have a better understanding of your resentments, it’s time to talk to your partner. But be careful.
Because as relationship experts John & Julie Gottman discovered, “If a conversation starts with criticism or other destructive communication, it’s going to end as an argument 96% of the time.” *
So instead of making ‘you always’ or ‘you never’ accusations, try talking about your resentment from your own perspective.
This formula can be helpful:
Effective Communication Formula
When ___________ happened / happens, I feel / felt ___________. What I would like / need from you is ___________, / I want to feel ___________.
For example, instead of, “You never make time for me. Work is always more important to you than me.”
“When you work late nights and weekends, I feel unimportant and abandoned. What I would like is more quality time together. I want to feel like I matter to you, and that I’m your priority.”
- Choose just one resentment to focus on at a time
- Be mindful of not making assumptions or interpretations about their behaviour
- Avoid personal attacks
4. Be Sensitive To Their Triggers
When we turn to our partner with a complaint or request about our needs, one of the most common responses is defensiveness or turning away.
Is it because they’re an asshole?
Look, it’s certainly possible. But in the vast majority of relationships there’s a much more compassionate reason:
Something you’ve said has brought up their insecurities and unresolved emotional wounds.
If you make a request that you’d like to spend more time together, they hear:
“You’re not doing enough. You’re a failure.”
When you tell them you feel unhappy in your marriage, they hear:
“You don’t make me happy because you’re not good enough for me.”
It’s why resentment breeds resentment. When you try to communicate about your hurts, it hurts your partner. They react, which hurts you more. It’s a toxic cycle that can be difficult to break.
But if you can notice when your partner gets defensive and respond with empathy – reassuring their triggers and insecurities – you set yourself up for a much more productive conversation.
5. Get Curious About Their Perspective
Refer back to the interpretations and assumptions you were making about your resentments:
I’m not important to you.
You don’t respect me.
You don’t appreciate all of the things I do.
You’re not attracted to me anymore.
It’s time to practice curiosity and ask what else might be going on. To do this well you’ll need to summon all of the compassion and open-mindedness you can:
“I’m curious about why you’re working so late each evening? What’s going on for you at work? Is it actually possible for us to spend more time together now?”
“Why do you think we’re not having as much sex as we used to? Are you struggling with anything? How do you feel about our sex life? How do you feel about yourself sexually?”
“When that thing happened / when you said that thing – what was going on for you? What did you actually mean when you said that?”
This is a delicate step that can be difficult to master. Our communication course for couples equips you with proven tools to have more productive conversations.
6. Make An Action Plan
In as few words as possible, what actions would help you to get your needs met and resolve the situation? Is it:
- An apology?
- A commitment to a regular date night?
- A plan to re-distribute the chores?
- A request for more affectionate touch or words of appreciation?
- Or to have more sex dates?
The clearer you are on what you need, the more meaningful and effective this action plan becomes.
Don’t forget to also ask what your partner might need:
“How can I support you in making these changes?” can be a great question to ask.
Sometimes we don’t realise that there are very real obstacles standing in the way. So if you can help remove those obstacles you have a better chance of success.
And remember – needs aren’t demands. Expressing a real need will usually feel soft and vulnerable. Because the truth is, there’s no guarantee. And that can be scary.
7. Celebrate Success
Change doesn’t happen overnight. It happens step by step, moment to moment. And any positive momentum you make certainly won’t continue unless you take the time to actively appreciate and celebrate it.
Because when it comes to behaviour change, the science of positive reinforcement is clear: it works.*
So be on the lookout for all the ways your partner is trying. Tell them how much it means to you. Tell them how it makes you feel.
Yes, there’ll be mistakes along the way, and you might need to course correct many times. But never forget to appreciate what you’re each doing every step of the way.
And to help maintain the positive momentum, check out our complete guide to having a relationship check in. It’ll keep you on-track and help address any potential complaints before they turn into resentments.
Or if you want to take your relationship to the next level, our ultimate guide on how to build emotional intimacy will help get you there.
Sources & References
Cherry, K. (2021) https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-toxic-positivity-5093958
Gottman, J. (2014) https://www.gottman.com/blog/the-6-things-that-predict-divorce/
Nicholson, J. (2017) https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-attraction-doctor/201703/how-build-rewarding-romantic-relationship
Reece Stockhausen & Jodie Milton have made improving people’s lives and relationships both their passion, and their career. With over 25 years experience in the Personal Development industry, and 8 years coaching singles and couples, their no-BS advice has been featured in Cosmopolitan, Bustle, and HuffPost.
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