When resentment takes hold of a relationship

By • Jun 16th, 2009 • Category: For Couples

Often when I see troubled relationships, there really is no one true source of the problem. In other words, there isn’t one central issue that is undermining the relationship, but rather years and years of multiple troubles piled one on top of another. Trying to get at the root of the issue becomes almost untenable as mistrust, poor communication, and most importantly RESENTMENT cloud the picture and interfere with peeling away all those years of negative layers. Above and beyond all else, many couples’ most dire root problem is the resentment that they have built up for each other. This resentment prevents proper communication, undermines trust, prevents clarity and creates an environment of rage and despair.  Whenever I hear that a couple is on-again/off-again, or has a “love/hate” relationship or “love each other, but can’t live together” or any other ridiculous cliche that is being bandied about, I can already state with a high degree of certitude that resentment is eating away at the relationship.

But where does this resentment come from? How is it created? And what can be done about it?

Resentment forms when one or both parties feel that their needs or expectations are not being met. For example, if one partner feels that they are always doing what the other person wants to do, then they will start to feel resentful if this issue is not addressed. Likewise, lack of sex, lack of intimacy, lack of sharing, lack of understanding, perceived or real are all reasons for the formation of resentment.  The key for the formation of resentment is 1. Needs or expectations not being met, 2. A pattern of said behavior over repetition and time. In other words, true resentment can only form if the above feeling of unmet needs is a constant pattern that is never addressed.  The never addressed aspect could refer to the fact that the other partner doesn’t see it as a problem, doesn’t care to change, or makes an effort to change, only to revert back to old habits.

So what happens is a cycle where one or both partners starts to feel like their needs are not being met, (i.e. unappreciated, misunderstood, unloved, etc), they try to communicate this to their partner (either through positive or negative direct communication (i.e. shouting, blaming, etc) or indirectly through passive aggressive behavior (lying, promising to do something but purposefully “forgetting”, etc). This in turn leads to the other partner either ignoring or avoiding the issue or building up resentment of their own and lashing back if approached in one of the negative manners listed above. This in turn leads to acting out on the part of the first person, and so on and so forth. In this manner, nothing is ever solved, and since the root problem becomes completely obscure due to all of the negative communication surrounding it, it goes months or even years without being resolved, with all the while resentment growing and solidifying, making matters worse. Once couples finally realize that they have a problem that requires intervention such as therapy, the root cause of all the chaos is completely hidden from view and all that is apparent is the seething resentment that has grown into a monster, eating away at and destroying the relationship.

Resentment is like lava boiling underneath the surface. All could be well on the surface for a while, until something comes to jab at a sore spot and suddenly the lava comes spewing forth. That is why couples that have so much built-up resentment are so capable of seeming so loving and happy one day and then bitterly hating each other the next. No amount of happy vacations or sunny days in the park can dissolve that lava. Getting back to a truly happy state for the couple becomes a very complicated, almost impossible task since it involves peeling back layers of resentment that formed over years and years without creating new layers.  Obviously this is something that won’t happen overnight and requires a great deal of delicate care, discipline and vigilance. Most importantly, it requires deep, sincere dedication from both partners…. and unfortunately, due to the amount of pain and hard work required to get over the resentment most couples just won’t make it.

What’s the solution? Don’t get into a relationship full of resentment in the first place. Seems easier said than done, but here’s a few tips to avoid this miserable fate:

1. Don’t let anger stew. If your partner did something to upset you, communicate to them immediately in a positive, not negative manner of communication.

2. Practice your listening skills. As mentioned in a previous article, listening is the most important aspect of good communication. Learn to “hear between the lines” and get at what your partner is really trying to tell you.

3. Monitor the health of your relationship regularly. Take time to go on regular dates and take numerous small trips rather than one big vacation a year, for example.  Do things just for yourselves at least once weekly and take the time to be alone together without any distractions. This is where real communication takes place.

4. If you are starting to feel like things are starting to get out of control, nip in the bud immediately. A problem is far easier to fix at the beginning rather than once it has progressed. If you feel that your communication is starting to break down, don’t be shy to schedule an appointment with a couples or marriage counselor asap. You’ll be happy you did it sooner rather than later.


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16 Responses »

  1. Hi,
    I have lots of resentment towards my husband and I cannot seem to get past it. I have been married for 17 years and for at least 13 of those years I have had to communicate with a computer between him and I because he never saw it as a problem. I stopped wishing and wanting anything of a romantic nature because he did not like doing it. PDA was a no-no because it was not something he liked to do. He rarely slept in our bed because he “just fell asleep” on the couch. We rarely went to movies because he preferred to watch them at home. Eating out was rare because it was not practical. He never cooked and wouldnt even so much as take something out for ME to cook when I would get home from work.

    I had so much resentment at one point that I could not stand to be in the same room as him. The thought of being near him made me irate and a hateful person. Then one day I realized I no longer loved him….. I told him so about a year ago.

    Since I told him, he has done everything he can to turn it all around. Faced with losing his family, he could not have changed more drastically. He learned to cook, he has eased back on the computer, and he will go out with me to restaurants. Here is the problem……. I think the changes he has made are incredible, I really do. He has changed so much that I barely recognize him at times. However, I see the changes as being good for him……good for my children……..but for me, I could care less. I am absolutely indifferent to it all. I don’t want to be this way, but I was once a person who craved this and had to learn to live without. I did that! and for each thing I had to learn to live without I resolved myself to it. I no longer need or want it. So when he comes home with flowers I actually dont want them. I know this seems awful and I don’t mean to be awful, but I just cannot bring myself to accept these gifts without thinking….”you didnt do it before, so dont do it now!”

    I need help on this :( It isn’t getting any better for me and it has been a year since I told him. I feel like my feet are cemented to the ground with all this resentment.

  2. Corinne,

    The only thing I can tell you is that he is doing his best to make it work for you. He obviously loves you because it is easier to walk away than to stay. It is not worth it to walk away. I did it and I regret it everyday. Don’t take life for granted. Your husband did it and he is trying to make things better. Please embrace it – do you best. It is all a mindset and just trying to let go. I promise you that the work on your relationship is worth it. You will live the rest of your life wondering if you could have made it work – don’t wonder, just try. I promise that working hard and hopefully being successful is much more worth than walking away. You will always wonder why things failed. I wish you the best. I know it is hard but a divorced family is a very unnatural and hurting family. I hope you can do it.

    Kelly

  3. WOW Corinne Stay strong and have hope and faith. You made me realize that your huband is trying to do what it takes but seems like its too late. A similar problem I am facing.

  4. Corrine
    Speaking from my own experiences, I think the reason you dont want it anymore is because you tried so hard and for so long that you figure, why bother? Every need that he did not fill, you probably filled it with other things…hobbies, kids, tv, shopping..ect…so you came to the conclusion that you had to look to yourself and others to fill voids that he didnt bother to fill. I think its great that he has changed but sometimes its just too late. I was married to someone who was emotionally unavailable, he wasnt very physical, and he really did not know what a marriage should be. I saw some warning signs ahead of time but overlooked them. Eventually when I kept asking him to simply be my husband, and telling him that we need to work on things, and he didnt respond…I slowly broke away from him. I didnt want it that way, and it was never meant to be that way, but it just happens. So in the end when he would not budge about any of my concerns, I told I was leaving. He changed so much…he NEVER EVER cooked…all of a sudden he was cooking sauce and meatballs…the flowers were coming, he bought us a new bedroom set….(even knocked a wall down to make our room bigger!) he was making more conversation, became more physical…and to me—I saw the effort—but for me, it was too late. It should have been fixed back when I was telling him and begging for our marriage. In the end I did leave. I am so glad that I did. He had no idea how to be in a relationship. He was a nice person but I believe he should just be alone. He HAS been alone for over 2 years now and seems happy that way. So my point is, dont beat yourself up for finally getting what you wanted, and then not really needing it. Your husband had many chances to help your relationship and he chose not to. I doubt his changed ways will remain, it goes against who he is. Im curious to know where you stand now, as your wrote this months ago…fill me in. And just so anyone knows who is reading this, my way isnt gospel obviously, its the way I had it, and the way I handled it. Everyone is different and if any marriage can work, we should all try. I tried like hell for years before coming to my decision. Good luck!

  5. I am at my wits end. Here I am reaching out to anyone and everyone for any advice to help my problem. Both my wife and I resent each other. My resentment is that my wife decided unilaterally to quit her job (it’s been almost 5 years now) because I make “enough” money to support us. This means just that. I make enough money to pay the bills, but we don’t save a penny. We can’t afford to go on vacations, etc. We have no kids. I’ve asked her to go back to work if only partime but she refuses.

    Her resentment towards me is that she blames me for us not having children. We went through IVF once at a cost of 20,000.00 when we were first married and it didn’t work. The doctor told us that it was a 5% chance for us using IVF. My wife says I had the money then to do it 2-3 more times. Based on the chance of success I was not willing to use my life savings on something that stood a 95% chance of failure. We then tried numerous IUI procedures that were very expensive too. Nothing worked for us. So, I am to blame. She blames me for us not adopting too. I have asked her to research the adoption process, to get the ball rolling, since she has the time. She says it is a joint process and blames me for not participating. I work 2 jobs.

    We both are at our wits end. She throws the past in my face at every argument which is frequent. At every argument there is a threat of divorce. I know she loves me. I love her too. However, what do we do? I am at a loss.

  6. Nick,

    There are always two sides to every story, but taking what you said at face value it sounds like your wife does not know how to be in a relationship. How firm have you been with her about your wants and needs? You deserve to be with someone who cares about your wants and needs and listens to you. It sounds like you are a person who is easily taken advantage of. She does it because she can, and only you can change that. I would suggest counseling as an alternative to divorce so she can hear it from a neutral third party, or a trial separation so you can both think about what you want. If that doesn’t work, I would truly try to evaluate whether you want to be part of this for the rest of your life. I surely wouldn’t. I hope that helps.

  7. Hi,
    I have a lot of resentment toward my husband because I have always since the beginning of the relationship felt he was better than me… now, why I feel that way I have no Idea he has always been extremly succesful and smart. He always seemed to do the right things but I seem to always be struggling with grades, with descion with life in general… I have had a lot of my own success… in very different ways.. with people mostly and random projects and jobs.. but never like him things always seemed so clear and easy for him…. Well to make a long story short we both went to college and he did as usual very well.. while I.. seemed to be fighting for my life and grades.. although I had a fufilling college experiance and met amazing teachers… I still never did as well as him. I admire him and love him for all his succes but I cant help but be angry. I got over this… we are different people and seem to complete eachother where the other is lacking…
    We got engaged… he is in the army and an officer and graduated a year before me ( i needed the extra year) which he blames on me going to a junior college. I was hoping to actually have another semester of college to solidify everything but he got stationed in ga and wanted me with him.. well I decided that I could finish out all that I needed to graduate that may and leave with him that same may.. well my journey went awry and i ended up streching myself way to thin with 27 units 3 jobs and way more extra activities than I ever dreamed of. I ended up planning a wedding preparing for graduation all in 4 months span that span of my life… and leaving with him to GA. I did it all literally still in progress with a class I walked. well that last semester I received 2 D’s no I have never had anything under c My entire college career..
    Well as of now I still finishing that class and hoping to fix those grades. I cant help but feel anger toward him.. number one for asking me to do all that to be with him and number two for him telling me… I had no right to get two D’s or to tell me that My life that last semester was not that hard. I don’t know whether now it is coming to head or not, but I resent him.. idk for him thinking everything is so easy and should have been done or me knowing that if he was in my position he would have done everything great … I feel more that ever not good enough for him now that I am pretty much done with school and not having a job or in school.. or almost anything for that matter being we are in a new state and that when I mention to him how hellish the ordeal was that he says there was no reason to have D’s..what do I do? I cant even sleep we just had a fight and it has been 6 months since this happened.. I am still mad at myself can I get a break here!! is it me or him? He has never told him I am not worthy and I feel worthy but I sometimes feel like he did everything I wanted to do better.. and now I am just eating dirt behind him while he supports me.. ughhhh helppp

    -Jea

  8. Once resentment sets in it may take a lot of work and time to resolve the issues that have developed. Many of us are in relationships where both spouses have developed resentment towards each other. In most situation it takes both spouses to sit down and agree to work out differences and improve the areas that caused the resentment.

    In some cases one spouse may be more motivated than the other to solve the problems. When resentment is present putting forth the effort to show respect for your spouses feelings, and showing them definte behavior that you value their opinions are helpful. You may not necessarily want to wait for your partner to be the first to show evidence that they want to resolve the issues.

    Learning marital communication skills would be helpful. There are a number of online resources to help with showing couples how to effectively communicate with each other.

  9. I’m 23 years old, and Ive been with my current boyfriend for the past 4 years off and on. I have a 5 year old from a previous relationship right after high school. I am starting to feel resentment because I’ve tried everything to feel loved by him but it seems nothing can get to his heart. I’ve tried giving gifts, being more affectionate, doing more chores around the house, being a better friend to him. But I just dont feel it. Sometimes I tell him I love him before going to work and he pauses and say it, or wont say it at all. Now Im pregnant again and I really wanted to be married the next time I had a child. He isnt ready to be a husband. But I’m not prepared to be a single mother of 2. I’ve had previous terminations and a miscarriage so I didnt want to terminate this pregnancy and I dont want to have a child just to give them away. I’m scared, I’m angry, I’m confused, and most of all I resent him. He wants children before marriage and here I am back to giving him what he wants when I don’t recieve anything I want from the relationship. How long am I suppose to wait unhappily to be happy? We’ve been living together 3 years and I’m just fed up. Just looking at him makes me hate him. I feel like he wants me to be another statistic. An african american woman with 2 children, 2 different fathers, not married, and struggling to do it on my own. I feel that he wants to ruin me. He wants this child because he doesnt want me but doesnt want anyone to have me. There was a point when I loved this man to pieces, now the sight of him makes me want to set him on fire. I never really tell anyone how i feel especially on a random website in a blog. But I’m desperate. I know he loves me as his bestfriend, but Im not sure if eventually sees me as anything more.

  10. I have so much resentment towards my husband that it’s turning into hate.

    To make a long story short, I’m have been married to my husband for almost 3 years and dated for 3 1/2 years. The reason why we got married so quickly was because my visa in Canada was running out and he didn’t want me to leave. He suggested that we could get married and so we did.

    We started having problems 2 months into our marriage and the problems has gotten worse and worse. We fight constantly and our fights turns psychical sometimes where both of us attack each other. The problems started when I told him that I felt that he wasn’t treating me like a wife or a woman.
    He would rarely show me any affection, support me or listen to me. When I confronted him with this he just said:”That’s not true!” I was literately shot down and ignored! Since that day I have constantly tried desperately to get him to understand me and to show me affection, but all I get are promises that never have been kept.
    We have seen 3 marriage counselors and even though he told them that he would follow their advices and exercises, he never wouldn’t. When we went to marriage counseling he would described him self as an angel and me as the nagging wife.

    Our personalities are quite the opposite, he is an introvert while I’m an extrovert.
    I used to think that our age (I’m 31) and personality difference was our problem, but I 100% sure now that he has some sort of mental issue.

    This is who he is and how he treats me:
    He is 24, shy, cold, negative, quiet, struggles with anxiety, not goal oriented, irresponsible, struggles to communicate, lies to me all the time, cunning, emotionally manipulative, eat his boogers, he runs away for days without letting me know where he is, shows no remorse, he is never wrong if we have a discussion, if he apologizes he will apologize but add a point to justifies his actions, he is unappreciative, if I end up crying during a fight he will just sit there and stare at me without saying a word, he treats me like friend…
    I can keep on all night writing down a list of who he is and how he treats me.
    He has told me that he loves me and that he doesn’t want to lose me, but his words doesn’t reflect his actions what so ever. He manipulates me with his words, but the next day he just goes straight back to his old self.

    Now it has happen again, my husband has not returned home since Friday and I have no idea where he is. We had a discussion over the phone on Friday while he was at works, and I haven’t seen or heard from him since then. This is the ninth time he has taken off without a trace, and every time without a call or text or anything to let me know where he’s at or if he’s OK. When I finally have found him, he would give me an vague explanation like “I needed to think and get away from that environment”.
    Normally I would call or drive to his friends/family, his work or email to find him, but I didn’t do it this time. Every time I would go out of my way to find him, and I felt so low and like I had lost my dignity. So I decided that I wouldn’t chase after him this time, but is has been very hard to hold back.
    All I want is to find him and have him explain himself
    I thought he was going to come home today since he needs clean clothes etc, so I was looking out the window like a fool for 2 hours, but he never showed up.

    I’m wondering, how long should I wait for him to get in contact before I start making some drastic changes? Or should I wait at all? I just don’t know if I can believe him anymore. He has promised me every time that he wouldn’t disappear again, and then of course, he goes and does it again. I don’t trust him and I have pretty much lost all my feelings for him.

    I’ve nobody to talk to and I’m all alone in this country. I’m desperately trying to find answers on what to do because I don’t know what to do or who I’m anymore.
    I have so many emotions going through my head and I can’t control them.
    I feel like an idiot, betrayed, disappointed, sad, angry, worthless, and confused.

    I feel like this time it’s inexcusable and cowardly what he’s done and even if he calls and apologizes or whatever, why should I believe him AGAIN? I’m tired of the lies and tired of wondering every time he goes out, if he’s gonna come back, and then when he’s gone for 3+ days if I should move on or wait for him to come back.
    It’s a distressing cycle and he won’t talk, so I don’t even know what his problem is or why he keeps doing this.

    Does he have a personality disorder, is he immature or do I have too much resentment towards him?

    Thanks!

  11. I applaud all of you for willingly posting your experiences. It has helped me deal with what I am going through right now. Both Sara and Corrine… My story is… I’ve been married to an alcoholic for 13 years. He suddenly decided to give it up. I hold so much resentment and anger towards him that I know myself as well as I know him. I hope he continues, hope he builds the relationship with the kids.. but for me… it’s too late. I can’t do it anymore. I have supported him all these years and have let my own needs, wants, etc. emotional and everything.. put on the back burner. I just can’t do it anymore. I am happy he finally made that choice.. for him. Not us. Now it’s just a matter of the legal. Thank you.

  12. I’ve been married for 12 years and I’m at my wits end with the marriage. I don’t feel loved, supported, or wanted anymore. I’m a stay-at-home mother (this a mutual decision). My husband works 10-12 hour days in the office (because he has to or doesn’t want to come home, I’m not sure which). When he is home, I feel like he’s constantly putting me down. I feel like I can do anything right. He says that I don’t clean well enough, I don’t handle our money well enough, I don’t raise our kids well enough when they have attitudes, I don’t get out with the kids enough, and I don’t don’t cook good enough because I don’t make everything from scratch. I feel like he attacks everything that is included in my job, and he make me feel horrible about myself. We go on dates maybe once every 1-2 months, and even then he says that I don’t smile enough when I’m out with him. When I go out with my husband, I have to find the sitter and do all the planning. I’ve tried to get him to agree to plan 1 date a year…and he absolutely refuses. I feel trapped in this unloving marriage. When I tell him that I need a romantic relationship with him (not just a co-parent & roommate) he says that he doesn’t want to work on our relationship because he resents the way I run our household. He says that if I do a better job then the relationship will get better. I know this won’t be the case because he will always find something wrong with what I do. I’M NOT BAD PERSON!!!…my home is almost always spotless, I cook almost every night, I have great kids and my friends think I’m wonderful. However, my husband doesn’t see it that way. My self esteem has never been lower. I’m scared to leave because he has great career which provides well for our family and I’ve not worked in almost 10 years and if I do go to work it would be as a hairstylist, which wouldn’t be much of an income to raise my boys. And, I know my husband would fight me for custody and any payment(he told me this). He has the money to hire a great lawyer and I don’t. I’m not sure if we can even get back to a healthy marriage and I’m so beat down, that I’m not sure I have it in me to fight for it. How do I help my husband with all of this resentment towards me, and what can I do to fix things?

  13. I discovered this site and have read everyones experiences. Each and everyone of you have helped me realize that I am not the only one in a relationship that is being choked by the big mean relationship killer – resentment and hurt. So for that part – Thank you.

    I have been married to my beautiful wife for 17 years. We have 3 gorgeous kids, 2 dogs and a nice big house (we bought a year ago) with a pool. It was to be our dream home and a chance to reset our perspectives. But sadly, resentment in a relationship does not go away, no matter how many vacations you take, houses you buy or dates you go on. It’s up to both you to forgive each other. My wife has recently admitted to me that the reason she does not show any affection, be it intimate or what have you, was that years ago I was lying to her and doing things that were shady in our relationship. I don’t want to go into details about that but I had to go back in time and remember all the times that (being young, stupid and made a lot of bad choices) that I hurt her. She in turn has said some very very nasty things to me too but regardless – I forgive her and have moved on – it’s all under the bridge. I love her and for me, thats the power that drives me to let go of that potential resentment.

    For others, its just not enough and I think the answer to that is if you can’t get past it – try your best by seeking every possible route. Therapy, communication, research etc etc. If that does not work – move on. It’s just not worth it if you can’t forgive the other person and you are unhappy.

    Guide yourself in love, hard work, give in to change and forgive. People who have lost their kids to killers FORGAVE the killers while they were on death row. If they can do that, how hard can it be to forgive your mate for past indiscretions? Strength of character means the ability to overcome resentment against others, to hide hurt feelings, and to forgive quickly. Resentment is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die. We can’t go back – we can only move forward.

    “Love like rain, can nourish from above, drenching couples with a soaking joy. But sometimes under the angry heat of life, love dries on the surface and must nourish from below, tending to its roots keeping itself alive.”

  14. I have a problem my wife say she resents me because before we got married, I lost a few jobs within the first 5 years of our relationship. Most of them at no fault of my own. Years later she still married me me after being married for almost 2 years, she is unaffectionate, uncaring, and unconcearned about my needs of her. Since 95% of the things she resents happened before we were married, why say yes and marry me. She wont hardly touch me, we make love every 8 to 12 days. And she says she does not feel like it. She mostly sleeps on the couch. So I am left longing for her attention and affection. Maybe I’m out of line but does anyone think that she excepted me with my faults. And still said yes, isn’t it a little to late to hold out on affection for me for things done years before we got married. I feel all this will do is tear what we have apart and open the door to potentially. Worse issues. Can I get some advice from someone. I love my wife and our kids. I only want her happy even if its without me. Heeeeellllppp

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