Being the best partner — 03 December 2011
How to prevent feeling resentment toward your spouse

Some people harbor old hurts about their partner’s actions/inactions or words that render them feeling unworthy, rejected, abandoned, shamed or humiliated. With time, these unspoken resentments create ongoing misery and erode the couple’s love connection. Great effort must be made to prevent these harmful patterns.

The basic premise of committed love is that each partner has been wisely selected above all others. The expectation is that throughout their life together, each will be treated with consideration, sensitivity and primacy. When certain behaviors invalidate this basic tenet and violate one’s specialness, they cause deep emotional pain that may lead to harbored resentment.

Classic examples of invalidating a partner’s specialness include: unavailability during a major illness or childbearing, absence during one’s recognition of excellence, putting work ahead of acute family needs, being disparaging of a mate’s ideas or contributions, discounting the spouse in front of others, sharing the couple’s intimate secrets, insisting on one’s way when it is unacceptable to the spouse, shaming, attacking or disrespectful language. These behaviors violate the recipient’s essence and are emotionally destabilizing.

To preserve couple’s unity, or due to one’s personality style, some individuals refrain from voicing their hurts and dismay. Yet, they harbor the negative memories that create ongoing anxiety, fear, loss of trust in the mate and a compromised sense of security about the relationship. Often, the “offending” partner is unaware of the cause for the distance he/she senses in the relationship and feels rejected and unloved as well.

When partners do share their disappointments, they often do so through accusations and righteous indignation. In “Marriage Problems: Resentment and the Decline of Interest,” Steven Stosny clarifies the futility of this avenue. “Couples miss the absurdity of resentment because they succumb to the urge to justify it by pointing out how unfair the other is. Convinced that they have a right to feel resentful and to express it (which only makes them more resentful), they miss the sad fact that their resentment has made them just as insensitive as the partner they resent.” The author advocates replacing resentment with compassion.

Compassion may be helpful to defuse one’s anger, but fails to correct the partner’s behavior that left the offended spouse feeling violated.  The tools above facilitate the reduction of resentments.

To prevent feeling resentful:

  • Avoid withholding your hurt feelings. They will transform into simmering resentment and harm both of you.
  • Preface your unhappy emotions with an empathic statement.  “I respect how hard you work and I felt hurt when you were late to drive me to the doctor.”
  • Specify what you need and offer a future solution to the situation. “I feel nurtured and cared about when you accompany me to my medical treatments. Next time, if you get detained, please let me know that you are sorry about it and I will get another ride.”
  • Model caring, sensitivity and respect for your partner. It creates a culture of mutual support and love.

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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