What is one issue that has been a common theme that hurts and even destroys relationships?
I would define it as a marriage killer. The issue is resentment. Even working a lot with affairs, addictions, and blended families; resentment has over and over again caused the end of relationships.
So why is resentment such a big marriage killer?
If someone has enough resentment built up in a relationship, the relationship is no longer about what it feels like now, but it is about what has happened in the past. For example, a couple came to my office because the husband drank too much. He soon quit drinking after starting counseling. After some time without drinking mentioned to his wife how hard it had been to quit and she got very angry. Why you ask? She said “how dare you tell me it was hard to quit drinking after all of the issues it has caused in our marriage.” She had so much resentment built up about the drinking, that her husband was being exactly who she had continually asked him to be, but she could not see it because it was being filtered in through a lens of the last 15 years of their relationship.
This is what makes resentment so dangerous.
It is not about the present, it is only about the past. If this wife couldn’t work through the resentment she felt, the marriage did not stand a chance of getting to a healthy place. It is important for you to take a hard look in the mirror to see what resentments you may be feeling about your spouse.
So how do you work through the resentment you feel?
I have three ways to start this process. It is important to realize that resentment takes years to build, and it also takes years to work through. Although these steps are a start in the right direction, it takes patience and guidance to really heal resentment.
- Realize that resentment actually is hurting YOU way more than the person who you are resentful towards. Malachy McCourt said, “resentment is like taking poison and waiting for someone else to die.” Resentment is a heaviness in your heart that you have to carry every day. Resentment is taking the joy out of your life and relationships. Learning to let go of the resentment you feel will help you feel lighter and happier. It will help you be more present in your relationship.
- Having resentment towards someone often takes the focus off of them and what they need to work on and puts it onto you. Often when we have resentment towards someone we get reactive and angry at them. We hold a grudge and take it out on them. Then all of the sudden that person gets to look at you and say, “hey, why are you treating me this way.” Being able to be stronger in discussing the issues that you see in the present and talking about how you feel in the present will help the focus stay, where it needs to stay. On the person stuck in an unhealthy behavior.
- Most importantly and probably the hardest piece of working through resentment is to understand how you contributed to the system of your relationship. Issues and unhealthy behavior do not happen in a vacuum. The woman mentioned above that was married to the alcoholic had to take a hard look at how she had contributed to where her marriage had gotten. Not that she in anyway had to take blame for his drinking, but to see how she had contributed to the dysfunction. She had grown up with an alcoholic parent, so unfortunately for her it was familiar for her to be in a codependent/addict relationship. She had enabled his drinking for many years.
If you are feeling resentment in your relationship now is a great time to start to work on letting it go. Do it before it consumes you or your relationship. Your happier and healthier you awaits.