Resentment can sneak up on even the most committed couples. Here’s how to banish bitterness before it rules your relationship.
Hovering somewhere between anger and disappointment, resentment is a nagging feeling that you’ve been treated unfairly in some way by another person.
In romantic relationships, this emotion can be challenging to identify yet highly destructive, eroding away at the very fibers that hold two people together.
But just because resentment is present doesn’t mean your relationship is ruined. It just means there’s work to do to uncover why it exists. Once you’ve identified the reasons behind resentful feelings, you and your partner can work toward rebuilding the love and respect you both deserve.
Resentment is the result of a perception that someone has treated you unfairly. Although the person you resent may not have intentionally meant to harm you, their actions or words may cause you to feel intense disappointment.
Some research suggests resentment is a combination of anger, surprise, disgust, contempt, and shock. However, other studies indicate that sometimes resentment can result from an individual’s perception of being mistreated when it may not be justified.
Reasons for resentment vary and may depend on your personal relationship expectations. For example, maybe your partner has made decisions that weren’t right for you, or you feel they aren’t doing their fair share of the household chores.
Differences in life goals can lead to resentment, as well. For instance, you may want to have a child and your partner doesn’t, or their job forces you to move to a location you don’t like.
People who are codependent or nonconfrontational may be especially prone to feelings of resentment. This is because they may have difficulty effectively communicating their wants and needs — allowing issues to fester and grow until eventually, resentment sets in.
How resentment impacts your relationship may have a lot to do with who feels resentful. If you harbor bitterness toward your partner, you may express anger unexpectedly, have less empathy for your loved one, or begin to emotionally withdraw from the relationship.
If your partner is resentful toward you, you may begin to feel anxious about the relationship or confused when your partner exhibits resentment-related behaviors. You might not understand why they’re acting this way and respond with defensiveness.
Although every person is different, and each relationship is unique, common signs that you may hold resentment toward your partner are:
- passive-aggressive words or actions, or an increase of sarcastic remarks
- increased agitation directed toward your partner
- feeling like you want to escape the relationship
- reduced feelings of empathy
- less interest in sex or intimacy
- feelings of disgust or disappointment
- frequently complaining to others about your mate
On the other hand, if your partner is the one feeling resentment, you might experience:
- a feeling of distance between you and your mate
- anxiety about the relationship
- an increase in arguments and confusion as to why they are occurring
- feeling ignored, or that your opinions no longer matter
If you think you or your partner are prone to feeling resentful, there are steps you can take to help prevent it in your relationship. Here are some things you can try:
Address relationship issues as they occur
Allowing arguments to remain unresolved is a recipe for resentment. Although you might not always see eye to eye with your partner, working on each issue as it pops up instead of ignoring it can help keep bitterness at bay.
Learn to effectively communicate and express your feelings
Resentment can build if you have difficulty expressing your true feelings about issues within your relationship. One step you can take toward better communication is figuring out exactly what’s bothering you.
Once you’ve identified the reason behind your feelings, you can approach the problem with clarity — reducing the risk of miscommunication and resentment.
Keep your expectations realistic
Often, two people enter a relationship with preset expectations. When they’re not met, it can cause disappointment. Although everyone has boundaries that their partner should respect, it’s helpful to remember that no two people are exactly alike. Therefore, your partner may not meet every requirement on your expectation list. And that’s OK.
If bitterness is present in your relationship, consider trying these strategies to overcome it.
Consciously acknowledge the resentment
Sometimes, you might not even be aware resentment exists. So, if you’re feeling bitter toward your partner and can’t understand why, consider taking time to dig deeper for the root cause. If resentment is present, the next step is figuring out the issues causing it and working on them one at a time.
Focus on the good things
Although bitter feelings might be dominating your relationship right now, it’s helpful to remember the reasons why you’re with your partner. Thinking about their good qualities can help put your feelings into perspective, lessening the power resentment has over you.
Investigate your role in resentment
Sometimes resentfulness stems from how you perceive a situation. For example, you may feel mistreated — but why? Do you have unaddressed emotional triggers playing a part?
On the other hand, if your partner is resentful toward you, is there something you’re doing that could be playing a role in how they feel?
Learn ways to compromise
Sometimes, all it takes is a genuine compromise to make the relationship feel a bit more balanced. For instance, maybe you’re resentful of your mate’s mishandling of finances. A compromise might be having separate bank accounts. With the source of the bitterness no longer present, resentment may have a hard time brewing.
Despite your best efforts, sometimes it’s challenging to move past feelings of resentment. If this is happening to you and you want to remain with your partner, marriage or relationship therapy may be an option to consider.
Realizing that your relationship is experiencing resentment can be disheartening. Still, if both partners are willing, it can be dealt with effectively.
It can help to understand that this complex emotion doesn’t occur overnight. Instead, it’s often the result of long-standing unresolved issues paired with communication difficulties.
Once you uncover why it’s occurring in your relationship, you and your partner can take actionable steps to successfully address it.