“Rob never wants to have friends come over to our house, and I am really hurt that he forgot my birthday this year. I know he doesn’t care about his birthday, but I care about mine. But most of all, I resent that he didn’t want to buy a house 20 years ago when the real estate prices were reasonable. I am angry that we are still renting today.”
These are some of Susan’s grievances with her husband. However, her list goes on beyond these three complaints. Her resentful feelings are the root of her distant, dismissive, and sometimes even disrespectful behaviour with Rob. She feels trapped and unappreciated.
Resentment towards our partner is the accumulation of lingering feelings we have from previous unresolved conflicts and unfulfilled needs. If resentment is being ignored and suppressed, it tends to grow over time. It creates a toxic atmosphere in our interactions.
Resentment can grow into contempt. According to Dr. John Gottman’s research, contempt is one of the “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.” The four indicators that tend to negatively predict the longevity of a couple’s marriage are criticism, defensiveness, stonewalling, and, worst of all, contempt.
Resentment frequently shows up in our relationships, but we have a choice. We can let the resentments fester and poison our most precious relationships, or we can learn how to work through them.
It is easy to work through resentments and let go of them if your partner takes responsibility for their words and actions. However, what can you do if your partner does not own their part in your interactions and their impact on you? You can and should still work through your resentments as this hugely improves your relationship.
Relationship coach Jayson Gaddis, the founder of the Relationship School in Boulder, Colorado, and author of the book “Getting to Zero,” suggests an interesting Resentment Exercise. The first step is to replace “I resent” with “I expect.” Then Gaddis invites us to check how clear we have been with our partner about our expectations. Have we expressed how important something is to us?
Here is Gaddis three-step process:
- Take 100% responsibility and own your resentment as such “I resent that my partner…”
- Replace the word “resent” with “expect” and notice what happens “I expect that my partner…”
- “The expectation was mine, and I was ____ % transparent with my partner about my expectation of them.”
Let’s take Susan” example. For her, the resentment exercise sounds like this:
- “I resent that Rob does not want to host gatherings at our house.”
- “I expect Rob to be as social as I am and to enjoy interactions with friends and neighbours.”
- “I have been 15% transparent with him about it. I used to hint at how much fun it was to have guests over, but lately, I have just given up and sulked that he does not have the same needs for social interactions as I do.”
One problem can be that our partner is not fully aware of our expectations. In that case, we need to approach them. Various therapists and coaches use different vocabulary for what to do. Either share the impact their behaviour has on us, as Jayson Gaddis would put it. Or use the four steps of non-violent communication developed by Marshal Rosenberg to express your feelings and needs. Or as Drs. John and Julie Gottman would say, turn towards each other, use a gentle start-up and share your needs and dreams. No matter what approach you use, you want to end with making a reasonable request of your partner to take steps towards change.
Suppose you are still resentfully holding on to something another person did in the past. In that case, the ball is entirely in your court to release and forgive. For example, Rob and Susan cannot change their decision from 20 years ago, but Susan has the choice to let go of the past and release the blame. That Rob forgot her birthday is a good topic to bring up, so he knows how important it is to celebrate her. She might also want to forgive him for his past obliviousness.
Here is a Resentment Release Process that you can do in a relaxed state. Close your eyes, take some deep breaths, and go into a relaxed or meditative state. Imagine, see, or feel yourself at a beach and build a sandcastle in your imagination. Shovel every resentment you want to release into your bucket, fill it with sand. As you turn each bucket around to make another part of your sandcastle, build the resentments into that castle. Imagine yourself as a bird when you have finished the castle and look down on your tiny sandcastle from the bird’s eye view. And as you watch from that higher perspective, a wave takes away the sandcastle with all the resentments in it.
If you would like to be guided through this release process, please listen to the meditation below.
If you want to create close and loving relationships reach out for individual sessions or couples coaching.