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Marriage: The Impact of Resentment on Relationships

Man sits in kitchen plugging his ears while his angry wife glares

As 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 Kolski, LMFT, therapist in San Diego, California. All Rights Reserved.

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  • douglas rilke August 18th, 2009 at 8:05 AM #1

    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 #2

    Marriage is f—ing hard work!

  • Stacy August 18th, 2009 at 1:41 PM #3

    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 #4

    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 #5

    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 #6

    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 #7

    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 #8

    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 #9

    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 #10

    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 #11

    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 #12

    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 #13

    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 #14

    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.

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