Let’s face it; marriage is really hard. While most of us enter marriage thinking it’s going to be all rainbows and unicorns, and that we will do it better than anyone else because we are so in love, the reality is that all marriages face challenges.
As the years go on and as our lives change with children, careers, illnesses, and more, it gets tougher and tougher to navigate the terrain of marriage. Problems and stressors and tough decisions will abound, and how the pair of you communicate, solve problems and express your love for one another will determine how successful your marriage is.
As life gets busier and more demanding, couples can feel stressed and even overwhelmed. They stop showing love and respect, doing kind gestures for one another, and frequently feel like they can’t agree on anything. A pattern of negativity and hostility replaces what once was positive and loving.
Soon enough, you each realize how unhappy you are and begin to question the relationship itself. You’ve allowed the #1 killer of your marriage to creep in and take hold. What is this marriage killer? It is resentment. Nothing will kill your marriage faster than allowing resentment to build.
To get an idea how serious resentment really is, here are several definitions from different sources:
- bitter indignation at having been treated unfairly (Apple Dictionary & Oxford Dictionary)
- the feeling of displeasure or indignation at some act, remark, person, etc., regarded as causing injury or insult
- a feeling of indignant displeasure or persistent ill will at something regarded as a wrong, insult, or injury (merriam-webster.com)
As you can see, the word is loaded with strong negative emotions and perceptions.
When a person feels they’ve been emotionally harmed and believes they’re being treated unjustly, resentment starts to build.
We all feel some resentment from time to time, but often, we are able to express our frustration, discuss what is happening, and work with our partner to clear the air and solve the problem. The real problem happens when you are unable to communicate and resolve problems respectfully. And once resentment starts to build, it can be extremely dangerous.
As more and more resentment builds, it gets harder and harder to chip away at it. Both partners show up with boxing gloves on, and become stubborn, argumentative, and negative. This only perpetuates the problem, leading to a vicious cycle of failed interactions and a lot of disappointment and pain. You can take control of this and prevent it from destroying your marriage.
7 tips to keep resentment away from your marriage
- Never, I repeat NEVER, bury important things that are bothering you under the rug. While you might be the type of person who avoids confrontation or conflict, you do yourself and your marriage a disservice by trying to pretend a problem that exists isn’t really there.
- Don’t be a control freak. Stop trying to micro-manage every single thing. You cannot and should not dictate every single thing your partner can say and do, or how he or she does everything. I have literally had clients criticize one another over using the wrong intonation in their voice, using the wrong size band-aid, or cutting with the wrong knife. Ask yourself why these trivial things bother you so much, and work on that. You will need to learn to pick your battles. Trivial things are hardly worth it.
- Never stop doing the loving gestures that your spouse loves so much. If you always bought your wife flowers every Friday, never ever stop doing that. If you always packed your husband’s lunch for work, keep on doing that. Sometimes it is these little things that make all the difference in the world. You never want to hear, “Remember when you used to do XYZ for me?”
- Show your spouse at least as much respect as you show your friends. Would you cuss at your friends or insult them by poking at their weaknesses? I think not. While it is okay to be upset with your spouse, you must always treat one another with respect. You cannot ever unsay words that are hurtful. Be careful what you say; words can do irreparable damage.
- Communicate honestly, frequently, and appropriately. Do yourself a favor and learn what appropriate communication looks like. Your feelings are legitimate and you are allowed to have them. This means that sometimes you are going to be really angry with your partner. Feeling angry is okay. Yelling at your partner and saying awful things or even intimidating them is never okay. Learn to calmly use your words to describe how you are feeling. Learn to take a break and cool off when you need to. If you can’t discuss an issue at the moment because your feelings are too strong, come back when you’re feeling calmer and more able to talk.
- Stop blaming your partner for everything. Rarely are the problems entirely caused by one person in a marriage. Describe the behavior or the event that you are unhappy about, but be careful to use words such as “always” or “never”. They are very accusatory and almost never accurate. Avoid the trap of saying or believing that,“If only he or she did XYZ differently, everything would be okay.” It’s hardly ever that simple.
- Don’t be so defensive. It doesn’t allow you to really listen. When you’re on the defensive and thinking about all the ways that what your partner is saying is wrong and how you are right, you aren’t hearing what the problem really is. Stop keeping score and actually listen. Repeat back what your partner is telling you to make sure you’ve heard right. For example, say, “So, you don’t like it when I come home from work and the get kids all hyped up because it makes bedtime difficult?” instead of, “Why are you always so controlling? I work hard all day and when I get home, it’s not my fault that the kids are excited to see me.” Only when you listen and stop being so defensive, can you actually solve problems. You could calmly explain that you enjoy your time with the kids, and ask how the two of you can come up with solutions to the problem that work better for both of you.
While marriages definitely have their ups and downs, you can safeguard your marriage from resentment by following these steps. Remember that you married this person because you loved each other. You made a commitment to spend your lives together. Make it the best it can be.
Lori Freson is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Southern California. She has been working in the mental health field since 1997, and has been a licensed therapist since 2002. Lori currently works in her own thriving private practice in Encino and Sherman Oaks, where she serves the San Fernando Valley and Los Angeles areas. Contact Lori at lorifresontherapy.com or call/text 818-514-LMFT