Resentment is a sneaky feeling that creeps into relationships and makes you think you hate your partner. Tracy knows resentment well. Her story is like many others that sacrifice for love and then wonder if it’s worth it.
Meet Tracy aka “Mrs. Resentment”
“I can’t believe this is my life,” Tracy muttered. She dropped a plate smeared red from spaghetti sauce into the sink full of sudsy water.
“Everything okay?” Tracy’s husband called from the front room. His relaxed tone got under Tracy’s skin. Why is he so damn comfortable? He can’t even bother to get up and see about me.
Tracy walked into the dining room and collected the remaining dishes without responding to her husband.
“Tracy, did you hear me? What’s going on?”
Tracy kept walking to the kitchen and added the extra dishes to soapy water. She stared through the window at her neighbor getting home from work. The slender woman stepped out of a red sports car, wearing a tailored black dress and heels. After pulling a leather tote bag from the back seat, she let the car door slam shut. The woman turned and gave Tracy a finger wave with a wide, fake smile. Tracy waved back but didn’t bother smiling. Her shoes are hideous, and the bag is all wrong for that dress.
Water dabbed at Tracy’s fingertips. She reached for the faucet handle and turned until the flow disappeared. Tracy heard footsteps behind her and felt her husband wrap his arms around her waist. She instinctively pulled away, irritated by his presence.
“Why don’t you just use the dishwasher?” her husband asked. Tracy rolled her eyes.
“Because these are the dishes your mother made us keep. They have the little painted pictures on the back and the dishwasher will ruin that.”
“Oh, okay…um, are you mad about something?”
Tracy felt heat rising inside of her. She was most definitely angry. Ten years ago, all Tracy wanted to do was become a stylist. She finished school and was in the middle of the perfect internship. That’s when her husband decided to propose. He had a job offer across the country and wanted her to go with him. She was in love, foolishly in love. Now, Tracy had to work hard to remember that she loved her husband at all. She missed the life she could have had. And she blamed him for taking it away.
What’s going on with Tracy?
Tracy is feeling resentful. Resentment is a common topic during relationship coaching. The definition of resentment is anger or hatred caused by one partner feeling taken for granted or like they’ve contributed more than their fair share. Resentment in relationships creates hostility that can damage the bond between a couple. Like with Tracy, it can also put you in a bad mood that’s hard to shake. The good news is you have options for dealing with resentment if you’re ready to make some changes.
Below are three steps that can help you let go of resentment:
- Use Nonviolent Communication. Talking about resentment isn’t easy. You may feel guilty about the anger you have towards your spouse. Or, maybe you fear starting an argument. The resentment will not get better until you talk about it. Try using nonviolent communication to have this conversation. Nonviolent communication focuses on expressing needs and wants without assigning blame or attacking your partner. Nonviolent communication looks like this: neutral observation + feeling + need + clear request. Here’s an example of nonviolent communication using statements that Tracy could say to her husband:
Neutral observation: “Becoming a stylist was my dream and I’m not doing that now” instead of “You made me give up my dream.”
Feeling: “I feel frustrated about not going after my dream” instead of “I feel like you don’t care about my dream.”
Need: “I need to pursue my dream of becoming a stylist” instead of “I need you to stop holding me back.”
Request: “Can you make dinner and clean on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays so that I can work on becoming a stylist” instead of “You need to help more so I can become a stylist.”
These statements express Tracy’s feelings and needs and include a specific request that will help Tracy address the source of resentment. She also tells her husband exactly how he can help, which is a way to emphasize that her needs matter. Keep in mind that requesting what you need means being really clear with yourself on what you’re missing.
- Create an Action Plan and Follow It. Resentment feels like having little control over your life. Shifting that mindset from a lack of control, to one of empowerment, will change the course of resentment. Tracy’s power lies in her ability to go after a dream she’s had most of her life. Each time she takes a step towards her goal, she’s empowering herself by changing her circumstances. As you increase power, you decrease resentment. So, how do you start finding your power? With an action plan outlining the changes you want to make and how you will make them. Tracy’s action plan could include setting up a website, reaching out to old contacts she made during her internship, and creating looks to market her skills. An action can be as simple as dedicating one evening a week for “me” time while your partner watches the kids, or as complex as a business plan for a new venture.
- Notice and Appreciate with Gratitude. Sometimes we get so wrapped up in life, we miss out on appreciating our own accomplishments. Every day “wins” are the things that keep us going. Take note of your efforts and share them with your partner. As Tracy makes consistent progress on her website, her husband has a chance to cheer her on and appreciate the person she is outside of the relationship. Be grateful for the opportunities you’re building with your action plan. In fact, take advantage of any moment to express gratitude. Gratitude is like a superfood with multiple benefits. It generates good vibes, highlights the positives, and counters feelings of being taken for granted.
Resentment does not have to destroy your relationship. Overcoming it takes establishing new communication patterns and behaviors, and following through on an action plan that empowers you. Make sure you are also practicing good habits for maintaining a healthy relationship. Check out Five Pillars For A Successful Relationship and The Secret to Forever for tips on keeping your relationship strong. Remember that you and your partner are on the same team and commit to working through resentment together.