There are many factors that lead to the demise of a marriage. When couples have hurt feelings, it can be a challenge to forgive and forget. Problems in a marriage such as emotional detachment and a lack of sexual intimacy seldom develop overnight. It’s often said that resentment is like drinking poison—and expecting the other person to die. Yet the one who suffers is the person who harbors resentment.
Resentment can be tricky because it often masquerades as other emotions—such as boredom and anger—and has the ability to erode the quality of a marriage over time if it’s not dealt with effectively. Resentment and anger often go hand in hand and are equally toxic emotions that may make people feel in control—yet they are actually giving up control to others.
According to Claire Hatch, LCSW, resentment is a sneaky emotion that takes more forms that you realize. On the surface it may cause you to feel bored, or to find flaws with your partner – picking on them for small things such as being somewhat messy or failing to return your text in a timely fashion.
Eight ways to prevent resentment from destroying your marriage:
- Acknowledge your feelings and practice being vulnerable in small steps so you can build confidence in being more open with your partner. Discussing minor issues (schedules, meals) is a great place to start before tackling bigger matters such as disciplining kids or finances.
- Be honest and communicate about key issues in your relationship. Be sure to be forthcoming about finances, your past, and concerns with a family member, co-workers, children, etc.
- Take responsibility for your part in the conflict or dispute. One person’s ability to do this can change the dynamic of the relationship. Julie and John Gottman write: “one person’s response will literally change the brain waves of the other person.”
- Apologize to your partner when appropriate. This will validate their feelings and promote forgiveness and allow you both to move on.
- Practice forgiveness. Forgiveness isn’t the same as condoning the hurt done to you but it will allow you to move on. Try to remember you are on the same team.
- Show empathy to your partner. Expressing empathy will go a long way to smooth things over—especially after a disagreement. After he or she has shared their perception of the problem, saying something like: “I get it. It makes sense that you’d feel that way.”
- Express thoughts, feelings, and wishes in a respectful way. Resentment can build when couples sweep things under the rug, so be vulnerable and don’t bury negative feelings.
- Make a commitment to practice endurance and patience. In time, many of the kinks inherent in married life will smooth out.
One of the biggest problems with ongoing resentment in an intimate relationship is that it often leads to withdrawal and a lack of vulnerability. And if you’re bottling up feelings of anger, sadness, or disappointment often, this can lead to feelings of resentment. Along with this comes less warmth, affection, and over time less fondness and admiration for your partner. Forgiveness can allow you to move on with your life and to embrace love, trust, and intimacy.
What does forgiveness really mean? When I hear the word “forgiveness” I think about someone who intentionally injures another person physically or emotionally. But what I’ve come to realize is that forgiveness is more of a perspective and a practice rather than about one act. Forgiving is one way of letting go of your old baggage so that you can heal and move on with your life. It’s about giving yourself, your children, and perhaps even your partner, the kind of future you and they deserve—unhampered by hurt and recycled anger. It’s about choosing to live a life wherein others don’t have power over you and you’re not dominated by unresolved anger, bitterness, and resentment.
Forgiveness is a conscious choice and doesn’t mean that we condone another person’s actions. It simply means that we are unwilling to give them power over us. We can spend our lives waiting for someone to apologize or ask for forgiveness, but in the end it is really a decision we make to move on with our lives and to let go of resentment.
Eight steps to forgiving your partner:
Healthy partnerships are within reach if you let go of fear and believe you are worthy of love and all of the gifts it has to offer. These steps are based on the work of Dr. Fred Luskin:
- Gain awareness of the emotions you experience about your past hurt. Talking to a close friend or therapist can help facilitate this process.
- Take steps to lessen the impact the grievance has on your relationship. Repair the damage by finding ways to soothe hurt feelings. This might include writing a letter or release to the person who injured you—even if you don’t mail it. Your release might read something like: “I forgive you for the pain you caused me when we used to argue.”
- Make a choice to feel hurt for a shorter period. Challenge your thinking and let go of “unenforceable rules”—Luskin’s term for unrealistic expectations and standards that people hold for themselves and others. This can ultimately lead to less disappointment or distress.
- Focus on those things that you can control. You can’t control the past but you can make better choices today—such as letting go of hurt feelings.
- Accept that people do the best they can and attempt to be more understanding. This does not mean that you condone the hurtful actions of others. You simply come to a more realistic view of your past. As you take stock, you will realize that all people operate out of the same basic drives, including self-interest.
- Visualize yourself in an honest and open relationship and work towards allowing yourself to be more vulnerable and open with your partner.
- Don’t allow wounds to fester. Challenge your beliefs and self-defeating thoughts about holding onto hurt feelings. When we listen to our partner’s side of the story, we no longer need to hold onto hurt feelings. Don’t allow wounds to fester. Processing it briefly will allow you to let resentments go so you can move on to a healthier relationship.
- The final step is learning to think like a forgiving person. Avoid holding a grudge and declare you are free to stop playing the role of victim. After all, we are all imperfect. For some people, genuine forgiveness is not possible, but acceptance is a worthy goal.
Practicing forgiveness signifies breaking the cycle of pain and giving up the belief that the other person should suffer as much as you do. Author Caroline Rushworth writes: “Holding onto resentment is considered a way of punishing yourself or the other person. However, by carrying around this negative feeling, you are hurting yourself, because it drains your resources.”
Originally published on The Huffington Post