Resentful Compliance Versus Commitment

Angry woman looking at man

The definitions of resentful compliance and commitment can help you understand how the differences between them can alter the course of a relationship.

The Effects of Resentful Compliance

Resentful compliance is an agreement that is not an agreement, but sounds like one. Right away you may be able to see the potential problems resentful compliance might spawn. Resentful compliance—going along to get along, as it is sometimes called—means doing something somebody else wants you to do even though you do not want to do it. The problem is that you do not, or cannot, say “no” when you want to, and instead you agree to do something just to get the other one off your back.

Here’s the twist—there are the resentfully compliant who do what their partner wants but are resentful about doing it. There are also those who don’t do what their partner asks or demands; they say “yes” but passively fail to follow through. They, too, may resent their partner for a variety of reasons. They actively agree to do what their partner wants to appease him or her, then passive aggressively refuse to follow through.

When complying with a request or demand is accompanied by resentment and it develops into a pattern, the resentment toward your partner is palpable, and the disdain for repeatedly selling yourself out is significant. This type of conflict pattern is difficult to break without counseling and can drive a huge wedge between the two of you. The resentfully compliant one feels bossed around on the surface but underneath feels weak, powerless, and scared to express him or herself. The resentfully compliant one often feels unheard, misunderstood, unloved, and without a voice. This person is often conflict averse.

On the other hand, the partner of the resentfully compliant person resents the passive aggressive behavior and often meets with denial when confronting it. If confronting the resentfully compliant is done with intense emotional reactivity, the price of honesty is deemed too high, and the conversation shuts down as quickly as it began. Rinse, wash, and repeat—the gap between the two of you widening. This is a recipe for one of two typical outcomes: either constant bickering and fighting or painful distance and silence, like two ships passing in the night. By the way, neither of those typically lead to a good sex life.

It’s up to the resentfully compliant one to begin to voice his or her discontent with what’s going on. Your partner may be angry and resentful that “you never live up to your commitments,” or “you never do what you say.” Likewise, the one making the request must keep their reactivity low when they hear “no” if they want commitment in place of resentful compliance.

What neither understand is that there is never commitment when there is resentful compliance. Resentful compliance negates responsibility, undercuts integrity, and only gives the appearance of a commitment. That is why resentful compliance is often mistaken for a commitment.

Following Through with Commitment

Commitment follows a decision to accept responsibility for doing something based on mutual acceptance and/or agreement. A request is considered, discussed with your partner—perhaps with some negotiation—and then acted upon. When following through with a particular commitment, integrity remains intact, and the trust between the two of you is reinforced. Commitments are typically made consciously and together.

When you follow through with a commitment, you do so because you understand that following through, in general, keeps trust alive. There may be the occasional decision to be a good sport and “go along to get along,” but it is not done as part of a pattern that has a core of resentment running through it.

The Partners of the Resentfully Compliant

Are you the partner of someone who is resentfully compliant?  If you think you are, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Does my partner avoid conflict?
  • If so, what role, if any, do I play in that?
  • Do I make it difficult for my partner to say “no”?
  • Am I aware that my partner cannot say “no,” and do I take advantage of that to get what I want at my partner’s expense?

These questions begin to address the core of the patterns that resentfully compliant people and their partners engage in.

The Resentfully Compliant Partner

If you are the resentfully compliant one, ask yourself:

  • Do I avoid conflict regardless of how my partner responds to me?
  • Am I afraid to say “no” because of thoughts, beliefs, feelings, and patterns I developed in my family of origin?
  • Do I refuse to accept responsibility for my role in this pattern and instead blame my partner?

Answers to those questions begin to break the patterns resentfully compliant people and their partners repeat. Discuss them with each other. If necessary, explore them with a counselor who can facilitate a healthy process.

These patterns can be changed, but change requires persistence, effort, and commitment.  Resentful compliance will not work.

© Copyright 2011 by By John Smith, therapist in Bellingham, Washington. 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.

  • 4 comments
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  • sandra e

    sandra e

    June 27th, 2011 at 7:44 PM

    if you cannot be affirmative in your decision and find yourself not being able to say no,not only is it bad for you and your relationship with your partner or others but also leaves you open to being exploited and taken advantage of by other people. someone who just cannt say no is always going to be an easy target,don’t you think?!

  • Johnna

    Johnna

    June 28th, 2011 at 4:37 AM

    My first marriage was one FILLED with resentful compliance but I did not know that this was what I was doing. I thought that basically I was being a good wife and doing what I could not to rock the boat. What I did not realize was that eventually I was going to get really fed up with all of this and figured that it was time for my voice to be heard. No big surprise, but when I started speaking my true feelings he left me in a skinny minute for a newer and more agreeable version of me. I do not regret the end result, only that it took me so long to get there!

  • Jim Hutt, Ph.D.

    Jim Hutt, Ph.D.

    June 28th, 2011 at 8:39 AM

    Sandra and Johnna, your comments are well received! When one cannot say “no,” they can be an “easy target,” as you say, Sandra. Easy targets usually end up being fired at, and end up in pain.

    And good for you, Johnna, for evolving out of your conflict averse, “don’t rock the boat” position. Obviously, your happiness was at stake, you reclaimed it, and moved on. Thanks for sharing your story and your progress, not to mention your understanding of the painful pattern you and your ex participated in.

  • Summer

    Summer

    June 29th, 2011 at 4:53 AM

    I hate seeing those people in relationships who almost just seem to roll over and play dead. That seems so demeaning to me!

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