Marriage: The Impact of Resentment on Relationships

Man sits in kitchen plugging his ears while his angry wife glaresAs a marriage counselor, I often hear people say they are no longer in love with their partner. They really believe that they have fallen out of love. However, quite often, what has happened is that they weren’t attending to both big and small issues in their relationship, and then they were unable to resolve the issues. This is where resentment begins to pile up. And resentment is completely toxic to our relationships.

We need to be able to bring up the relationship issues that are getting in the way of feeling not only loved and cared about, but also concerns that may be stopping us from living with personal integrity. It’s up to us to be able to address issues, not ignore them and hope they will magically go away. We need a partner who is willing to hear us out and work through issues with us. If you are in a relationship with someone who will not hear you and will not make agreements with you about what needs to be changed, forgiven, or negotiated, then you may need to rethink being in that relationship. It won’t be emotionally safe for you to bring up important concerns, and you will likely be piling up resentments, which will poison your relationship in the long run anyway.

Many of us don’t like to bring issues up because we don’t want conflict. However, while we may benefit in the short term from a lack of conflict, we are inadvertently doing our relationship a huge disservice, because not only will our partner feel like a stranger because we are not openly sharing our thoughts and feelings; we will also accumulate resentment because we will feel taken advantage of and not cared about.

So the bottom line is to really get the fact that if you neglect to bring up your relationship concerns to your partner and pretend that you have a conflict-free relationship, the issues won’t go away. Instead they go underground and begin to pollute the very foundation that your relationship is built on. Soon, a gap of resentment will come between you and your partner. At that point, an issue that may have been easily resolved had it been brought up, talked about, agreed on, and dealt with, is now something that is poisoning your relationship and the feelings of love and care you have for your partner. Your relationship with yourself and your personal integrity will also suffer, because you don’t trust yourself to address things that are important to you. You may not even feel entitled to bring issues up, and that is something that you are going to need to be able to do if you want your relationships to really work.

Yes, bringing issues up can be scary. Letting your partner in on what you are struggling with can provoke anxiety, especially when it’s their behavior that is concerning you. But if we are to have healthy, mature relationships, we need to bring up concerns when they are mild issues that can be worked through, instead of waiting until you wake up one day and realize you don’t even like your partner anymore. It’s not about falling out of love, it’s about letting resentment grow and take over.

If you feel that you can’t bring up issues on your own, or you try and your partner isn’t hearing you, seek out a licensed marriage and family therapist who can provide marriage counseling to help you:

  1. Bring up your relationship concerns in a productive way
  2. Work through them with your partner
  3. Negotiate solutions that work for both of you

Again, if your partner won’t participate in this important work, the marriage counselor may also help you realize that living according to your personal integrity is crucial and that it may be time to leave the relationship.

The next time you think, “I’m not in love with my partner anymore,” ask yourself if you have let any resentment poison your relationship. If you aren’t carrying any resentment toward your partner, then perhaps you truly have fallen out of love and you can move on–but those are two very different things.

© Copyright 2009 by Barbi Pecenco, LMFT, therapist in Newport Beach, California. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • douglas rilke

    August 18th, 2009 at 8:05 AM

    your article was hard for me to read..it hurt….I could see clearly how i’ve let my resentment build and overflow. trying to communicate my needs just hasn;t worked.. i guess i need some help. going to a therapist just seems so serious..like I;d have to acknowlege how bad things are…it just so much easier to avoid it.

  • Jeff Moore

    August 18th, 2009 at 8:07 AM

    Marriage is f—ing hard work!

  • Stacy

    August 18th, 2009 at 1:41 PM

    Right now I have a lot of built up resentment toward my husband and like this article says it has completely poisoned my relationship with him. There was a time in our lives when I could never have imagined living without him but now I have no way of even knowing how to live in the same house with him anymore. He lost his job and has become a totally different person than I once knew. I have tried to be supportive but when the bill collectors are calling on a daily basis and he acts like it does not even bother him at all, yeah, there is a lot of resentment that creeps in. Now I do not even know how to start settling these issues because there have been so many hurtful things that he has done that even when he does find work again it is not going to make all of the other go away.

  • Faye

    August 19th, 2009 at 9:00 AM

    Jeff I hear ya loud and clear! There is no harder job than being a good spouse! That does not mean in terms of keeping the house clean and other things like this, but being able to invest the time that marriages need to thrive and to continue to build on that over the years. Without that work and foundation resentment is bound to come into play and then you have nothing to fall back on.

  • Gloria

    August 21st, 2009 at 3:58 AM

    There is no doubt about it. The longer we let emotions and unresolved issues simmer beneath the surface the more of a hit that our marriages are going to take. I know that when I am mad I keep things inside and then sometimes it feels like the longer I stew about something the bigger and worse the stuation becomes.

  • Sean

    August 21st, 2009 at 4:09 AM

    How does one work things out when all you hear is you will never change? Trying to make things work out is more difficult than leaving things the way it is. People never want to accept that the other person is trying to change. Change doesnt happen in an instant or everytime. It is a slow, gradual, conscious process. Sometimes old habits die hard but reminding oneself of wanting to change helps with that. Still convincing people is an awful job. Especially if that person happens to be your spouse.

  • ramona covrig,

    August 22nd, 2009 at 10:53 AM

    Adler said one time that there is no behavior without a purpose conscience or unconscience and I said that we always receive in life what we want/need even we don’t know that this is what we want or need. People leave things unfinished because can be a purpose there. Imagine 1 young couple starting a marriage. They both have under the bad (on there side) each, a big eampty box. And when they don’t want to argue or don’t feel safe and decided do not start to discuss, they put the complain under the bad in the box ( each in his box). when one partner will want to leave the house, he/she will show the box full of complaines and frustrations – this will be his explanation- thinking that he is entitle to leave the house because he/she is no longer in love. But she/he in fact was the one who start to sabotage his marriage keeping his frustrations ,,under the bad in the big box’. Probably the unconscious purpose is to always have an ,,open dor’ or a ,,window’ to leave the relationship telling/thinking your self that is not your fault but your partner fault. ,,-what can i do, i am no longer in love’. ramona covrig, psychotherapist

  • Crystal

    August 27th, 2009 at 12:20 PM

    What an excellent article. I recognize my own relationship here. Having worried for months I finally brought up an issue that was met only with defensiveness so I was never able to put it aside. Now I sometimes wonder if I’m still in love with my partner but really I think it’s just that I haven’t been able to leave this resentment behind because we haven’t been able to have an honest conversation about it.

  • Kristin

    September 22nd, 2009 at 2:35 PM

    This is a fantastic account of the impact of resentment on relationships. It is intuitive for us to avoid conflict, to try to “forgive and forget” and to “go with the flow” in order to dodge the discomfort of arguments and out of concern for our relationship. In some cases, there are issues that are not meant to be let go without a resolution, because rather than the problem going away, it just eats away at your relationship. You explained this fabulously!

  • Pumpkin

    May 13th, 2011 at 5:23 PM

    I have a lot of resentment towards my partner because of things he has done in the past that violated my trust or hurt me. Whenever I try to bring these hot topics up, he shuts down, gets irritated, and sighs loudly. Or if I send him a text message concerning something, he’ll huffy and tell me the issue is irrelevant at this point and talking about things like these does nothing–forgetting is the key.

    I disagree, but to no avail. I can’t stop thinking about the things that happened & at times, like right now, don’t even feel like talking to him or spending time with him. This article was accurate in that the resentment makes me feel in fact that I’ve “fallen out of love with him”.

    I don’t want to lose our relationship & yet I just wish he would talk to me & tell me the truth about what happened. It’s his evasiveness that is really causing my resentment.

  • Solstice

    July 16th, 2011 at 9:02 AM

    Great article, reinforcing and encouraging. It’s really hard to do this, even when both spouses want the same thing — full acceptance, trust and love. And it does take TIME! OMG, I can’t count the hours invested (appointments missed, days and nights shot) in resolving and working through issues. But oh, so worth it! And it does gets easier and faster every time, but oh so slowly. I find that when we hit a conflict of a type and emotional value that used to consume (wreck) a whole day, we can now find our way to resolution in an hour or sometimes 45 minutes. Often, half that time is simply calming ourselves down in separate rooms, or agreeing to “sleep on it.” The science/fantasy author Julian May describes an evolutionary process called “self-redaction,” whereby a person evolves the ability to go inside their psyche and “redact,” or remove, the painful things, something like getting a splinter out. It takes some grit to self-redact. You have to set aside your self-pity and pain, and be willing to set aside your partner’s offense just long enough to see around or through it to who they really are (i.e., someone who loves you). When you can do that, you can see that their offense is probably not malicious, and hopefully you can go back and talk to them from a more secure and less angry or defensive place. Having the grit to take the splinter out yourself allows you to view your spouse with charity instead of with anger (and of course we know that anger is just a coverup for intense pain). Anyway, great forum, nice to know we’re not alone and — that it’s worth it. If you’ve ever helped heal an animal in pain and see how they bond to you — we’re not that much different!

  • Jim H

    April 16th, 2012 at 12:06 AM

    Great post! Often we don’t address issues head on with our spouse which means that resentment is bound to grow and at some point severely damage the relationship.Unfortunately addressing some conflicts are not easy but I guess we all know they have to be done anyway to heal a relationship

  • Susan

    June 21st, 2014 at 9:04 PM

    This is a great article. What I like is that it tells you that maybe you should leave the relationship. My resentment started 19 years ago. For 14 years I was ignored and I was never able to discuss it nor was my husband willing to see a marriage councillor. He gets angry when I try to talk about it. It’s amazing how long we can stay in a relationship and be so unhappy and sad. I’m angry every day but I don’t tell him because he does not want to talk about the problems. It’s toxic there’s no doubt. He does not want to leave. I hope that I will have the strength to walk out within the next year.

  • kristen

    July 7th, 2014 at 5:16 PM

    Susan, I feel like I could have written your post! But I have been married only 6 years and known/dated him for almost 15 years. My husband thinks therapy is a joke, but I go myself and am trying to work this out for myself. His resentment is almost pathological. I am sorry you are going through this! Thoughts and prayers to you.

  • Fish

    November 25th, 2015 at 1:34 AM

    Whish I knew this before, resentment ended my marriage.

    I didn’t even know about resentment before, I thought I was falling out of love but at the same time I felt that I love my life so I was confused, resentment is so toxic it clouds your judgment, adds negativity in every thought and action and yet we’re the one responsible for it.
    I’ve been carrying it around since I was a kid and I brought it in every relationship I had. Its sad that I had to learn this valuable lesson about resentment by going thru a divorce and losing someone really valuable.

  • Cal55

    November 26th, 2015 at 8:46 AM

    Today is thanksgiving. There are guests arriving starting at three, and I am watching a disaster in the making with my husbands refusal to leave until called home Just like Memorial day last year he said my house, my equipment my food I am staying. and the resentment of 33 years is again going to rear its ugly head When his father shows up and demands he leave. I talked to the police who have told me that my husband has the perfect right to stay.

  • Mary Ellen

    April 30th, 2016 at 3:58 PM

    I’ve been married 32 years. So much has happened in this relationship and I feel it’s all coming to a head now. The resentment I feel is overwhelming. My husband avoids talking about the relationship. I am not sure if we will make 33 years. He is a ship captain so he is gone 3-4 months at a time, so it gets pretty frustrating not having him here to talk to. I may have to email this article to him. It may open a conversation with him. Then again, it may not. We’ll see.

  • Callie

    May 1st, 2016 at 6:28 AM

    I know what its like to be married to a sailor. Mine was not on a ship however, He was one submarines. At the time the first three years of our marriage he was out of touch and under water 956 days. When he came home in 1985, He wanted his life to go his way, He expected the same as everyone else, and he was not willing to compromise.
    He blames me for the last 33 years and not his own defiance and resentment. He’s been vengeful, more than once deadly. Tells people that are in positions of respect that until the earn the respect he does not have to an inch to them, and I am the one in the middle.

  • Clement L

    January 30th, 2017 at 1:49 PM

    Great post. I am facing a couple of these problems.

  • cally

    May 28th, 2017 at 3:33 AM

    My husbands resentments have boiled over several times in the last 34 years. many times leaving people badly hurt. In 2009 it was so bad over me and his father canceling another vacation to Europe for him to work through, he dislocated my shoulder and tried to strangle his father to death getting his passport back in the middle of the tsa office screaming at us we had no right to cancel another vacation on him. He was yelling at me that I was getting the double berth he had arranged for back, or I was also not going unless I figured out a way to pay my own way/ It was arranged to let the man that worked right next to my husband have a honey moon with his 4 month pregnant bride. that year we thought we had a fool prioof way to force my husband to take the vacation time that we had demanded he take for 27 years, We had set it up with his union that he starte his vacation on the 2nd of January 2010. I was going to give him the refund check of 6354 and his father kicked in the 10 percent cancelation fee to be fair about making him work another 210 days, for the first vacation since 1976. It was just seven months for a surprise4 five we4eks the entire vacation time he had built with 35 years seniority, nobody would loose out and we could at least try and heal 27 years of bad blood between us, Because of the fight and the threat of taking a direct flight to Europe and drive the whole rout of the orient express just to make our life hell, Tsa put him on a no fly for a month. We got home to no pickup from him, when we finaly arrived home the first greeting home I received was a set of cuffs. with the charge of acting as false agent in the canceling of his vacation. His father and I receive a criminal record for trying to do what was right. The younger man was marched out of the plant the day he went back in a termination for taking an unauthorized vacation. My husband had worked up other seniority pointing out since he did not get his time the rest of the higher seniority should have had a chance at the time. The company was forced to fire the younger man or have a wildcat on their hands.
    When I got out of county his father offered me a room in his home, since when I arrived at mine I was locked out my husband was no where to be found except work, when I finaly got him to give me an allowance and let me back in my home. It was a meeting at 4 am the day after labor day in the cafeteria on his job. By October 24the he was found on the floor of his job in intense pain. That sunday night it tookeverything five doctors had in their bag of tricks to keep him alive for 21 hours he was in a surgery. a MRSA abscess had formed in his spine. We felt it was his own fault for letting himself get depressed about no sex for decades or time off for even longer.
    We felt after talking to the imunologist that made the discovery of his compromised immune system it was his own fault for never finding any joy in just doing a good job, letting the people that needed the time he wanted for himself, and above all letting the rest of the community live without his disruptions. When he came home from rehab three years later I was seeing an old boy friend and he caught me coming home one morning. His intention wazs I was leaving with him that morning. he had my luggage packed and was going to send me off with the other man to never return.
    My old friend could not do it since he was also married. Hetried humiliating my husband as a joke by sweeping his cane. my husband in return fractured my friends scull and nearly beat him to death in our living room. Ywo weeks latter my husband walked through the patio door. My husband raped me that evening yelling I was nothing more than a whore he had paid far to much for’ for nothing in return so he was taking what I had stolen from him for three decades, He did not care we were planning to have a discussion three decades over due that weekend, there was no care I had made a promise to his father about a dinner event that everybody thought was going to be a four hour good time then home. It was far to late to add my husband to the invitation. He was yelling things after I said something about allowing him in baby steps into a social system he had not really been a part of for 31 years. That we did not allow him a dam thing. in his home he decided what he was or was not allowed, he was the only judge and arbiter in that respect. not a whore wife, not a dictator father and certainly not the community or my friends had better dare to open their traps concerning any of his rights. The dinner did not happen, the rift with his father was never healed before his death two months ago even after his mother begged on her death bed to try and make a peace with us.
    We spent decades trying to get him to take other avenues to time off rather than take the same as other people wanted.

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