8 Ways To Overcome Resentment Before It Destroys Your Relationship

Relationship experts share their advice for dealing with this insidious emotion.
Ignoring negative feelings and hints of resentment only helps them fester and grow.
Moyo Studio via Getty Images
Ignoring negative feelings and hints of resentment only helps them fester and grow.

Being in a committed relationship often involves wading through difficult emotions like jealousy, grief and fear. But one of the most insidious feelings is resentment.

From an unequal division of labor to a lack of appreciation between partners, many conditions can create a sense of resentment, especially if you’ve been together for a long time. But left unaddressed, these underlying negative thoughts can spiral into destructive territory.

So how can you stop resentment from seeping into your relationship, and overcome this powerful feeling once it starts to take hold? HuffPost asked relationship experts to share their advice.

Don’t ignore bad feelings.

“The best way to avoid resentment is by addressing problems as they arise,” Damona Hoffman, the host of “The Dates & Mates Podcast,” told HuffPost. “Resentment usually appears after a problem has repeatedly been ignored, and we start to look at it as not simply a situation or incident, but a flaw within our partner overall or a pattern that we are stuck in.”

Rather than let frustration and disappointment build up, tackle issues with your partner through open communication and mutual understanding. Ignoring a problem just allows it to fester and become more entrenched ― and thus more difficult to resolve.

“Don’t make the mistake of thinking the best course of action is no action,” said Tracy Ross, a licensed clinical social worker specializing in couples and family therapy. “If resentment is rearing its head, don’t ignore it. If it’s brief and short-lived, that’s one thing. But if you find yourself in a pattern, or noticing certain unsettling feelings and ways of relating to one another, make a conscious decision to brave the discomfort and address it.”

Hold regular check-ins.

“[Hold] regular check-ins with your partner that aren’t emotionally charged, so that you can build trust and clear communication with your partner before you get to a point where the four horsemen arrive and you’re having to walk back years of resentment and frustration,” Hoffman urged.

You don’t have to have these conversations every day, and they don’t have to be huge, daunting endeavors either.

“Carve out time for intentional relationship check-ins once per month, and put it in your calendars so that it becomes an honored priority that doesn’t get pushed off or rescheduled,” suggested Samantha Burns, a couples therapist and relationship coach. “Try to keep it to 30 minutes so that it doesn’t become overwhelming, or too big of a commitment that you can’t keep.”

Use ‘I’ statements.

“Express your feelings and concerns openly and honestly,” Hoffman said. “Use ‘I’ statements to avoid sounding accusatory, and try to leave questions as open-ended as possible.”

She recommended starting the conversation with statements and questions like “I have noticed we are less intimate than we used to be. Are you feeling this too?” or “I feel like you have seemed angry with me lately. Have I done something to upset you?”

“Rather than assuming your partner is resenting you, just name what you’re feeling and experiencing and let them fill in the gaps,” Hoffman said. “Then try to drill down to specifics. If they engage with you on the open-ended questions, look for specific actions, situations or words that seeded these feelings and see if you can work to repair those specific things.”

Resist the urge to keep score.

“Compromise fairly when you have conflicting needs,” said Mabel Yiu, a marriage and family therapist who is the founding director of Women’s Therapy Institute. “Don’t keep score. Resolve conflicts fully, and aim to forgive once it’s worked through.”

It can be tempting to keep track of your partner’s missteps to use as ammunition in times of conflict, or to frequently bring up past grievances as part of a tit-for-tat strategy. But this kind of score-keeping isn’t healthy.

Keep in mind that you and your partner are on the same team, and focus on nurturing your relationship.

“Try to remember that you should be each other’s biggest supporters and cheerleaders, rather than criticizing and breaking each other down,” Burns said. “Resentment tends to build when you don’t feel that your partner hears ... or empathizes with you.”

She recommended telling your partner in a calm moment that you want to work together to overcome the negative feelings that you’ve noticed creeping into the relationship.

“Rather than starting this conversation off by pointing out all of the hurtful things your partner does, or the ways they get under your skin, try beginning by acknowledging how they might be feeling, or taking accountability for the ways you’ve been contributing to the toxic dynamic,” Burns said. “This will help them be more receptive, soften, and ideally provide some empathy and accountability back.”

Challenge yourself to show empathy and openness to your partner's feelings, and resist the urge to get defensive.
BraunS via Getty Images
Challenge yourself to show empathy and openness to your partner's feelings, and resist the urge to get defensive.

Validate your partner’s emotions.

“Resentment can be avoided when there is a willingness to acknowledge and validate how your partner is feeling,” said April Henry, a licensed marriage and family therapy associate at Millennial Life Counseling.

She advised paying attention to the narrative that you might be creating about your partner in your head, and being willing to challenge it. Establish reasonable and realistic expectations for your relationship and show openness to what your partner is expressing.

Most importantly, resist the urge to get defensive.

“Don’t tell your partner why they shouldn’t be feeling the way they do,” Ross said. “Take it in even if it’s a little painful or brings up feelings of shame. It is very powerful to take in another person’s experience, to really listen and validate. Listen more, talk less. Try to internalize what they are saying.”

Lead with curiosity and compassion.

“Examine your communication style ― are you asking open-ended questions and listening with curiosity, compassion and a genuine desire to understand, or are you being critical or shutting down?” Ross said.

Along with listening more and talking less, make sure you aren’t mentally preparing your response while your partner is speaking. Be curious, not accusatory and defensive.

“Be genuinely interested in hearing what your partner has to say, what they are feeling, how they experience what is happening in your relationship, what would they like to understand,” Ross added. “Ask questions if you don’t understand, but don’t interrogate.”

Showing vulnerability and openness creates a safe environment for healthy communication.

“Try to get the person into a neutral, comfortable space — not in bed right before you go to sleep, or in the place where you had your last argument — and then think about how you would want to be approached, what would make you open up, what would feel like an invitation to share because the other person really cares,” Ross said. “Communicate in a way that doesn’t make your partner feel they have to put up a guard. Listen, reflect and don’t attempt an immediate solution or remedy.”

Show appreciation and gratitude.

“Express appreciation for each other’s efforts,” Yiu advised. “Don’t take each other for granted.”

Your regular check-ins can be a good opportunity to show gratitude and appreciation for your partner.

“Each partner should prepare topics in advance so that they’ve spent time reflecting on how they are feeling and how they think things are going,” Burns said. “I suggest structuring the conversation as follows: Each partner should share two things they feel grateful or appreciative for that their partner did over the past month, two things you specifically and consciously worked on based on your check-in from the prior month, and two concrete issues or behaviors that are bothering you that you want your partner to work on in the coming month.”

Remember that you’re having these check-ins to nurture your relationship because you value it so much. Think about all of the things that you appreciate, and remember to express these positive feelings frequently.

Reflect on your own feelings and needs.

“Moving past resentment is an inside job,” Henry said. “We may think it’s up to our partners to alleviate our resentment. However, resentment ends when we choose to go inward.”

In moments when you feel resentful, she advised asking yourself questions like “In what areas have I been unclear about my boundaries? What have I committed myself to that’s not my responsibility? What emotions am I having a hard time sharing with my partner?”

Reflect on your wants, needs, values and expectations in a relationship so that you can communicate them and set proper boundaries. Dig deep to identify the underlying issues in your life and relationship, and what might be exacerbating them.

“Sometimes when we are in a state of resentment, we aren’t able to identify that our subconscious triggers are coming from a buildup of unresolved trauma in our past and it’s been triggered in our relationship,” said Alysha Jeney, a relationship therapist and the founder of Modern Love Counseling. “Now, there may be an event that happened between you two that was never resolved, but it could also be compounded by past trauma that is leaking through and being subconsciously projected onto your partner.”

For example, you might have trouble asking for help with household tasks because you have been taken advantage of in past relationships, and have therefore developed a sense that you need to do everything alone. Or you might have experienced childhood trauma related to feeling unseen and alone. These are issues that you can work through with your partner and by yourself with mental health counseling and other self-care efforts.

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