Resentment is defined as “Bitter indignation at having been treated unfairly.” (Wikipedia, 2013) Feeling piqued and angry, indignation takes energy, is depleting, and taints the truth. This is usually what prompts the need for marriage counseling. Someone in the relationship is experiencing a great deal of anger and resentment and feels like the answer is either in a therapist or a divorce lawyer.
Experiencing anger at this level is plenty of reason to seek counseling. If you’re feeling that the only way you’re going to stop feeling angry is to leave the relationship and find another, or worse, write off relationships all together forever, then what’s the harm in seeking some advice or entertaining a different perspective? It certainly can’t get any worse! According to you, you’ve got nothing to loose. If you’re certain that you’re perspective is the only truth, then no other perspective will change your mind. In the small chance that a therapist could offer a different perspective you can’t see, it might be worth keeping an open mind, right? What’s there to lose if your worst nightmare is already coming true? Nothing. You can always get the attorney afterwards.
Understanding that the person who is experiencing the resentment and anger can no longer unconditionally love is an important concept. Wrap your mind around this experience. You, the “resented” partner are no longer experiencing a supportive, loving, open, vulnerable, understanding, or honest spouse. It is not possible to be both loving and resentful! You are essentially going to become starved for affection, love, and support. Your partner, doing the resenting, is emotionally unavailable because of the resentment. Sex, finances, entertainment, children, family, all are influenced. The resentment started as a small nuisance. One that continued for a long period of time, until such time that it became the poisonous anguish in your relationships. The belief or perspective could be “he doesn’t love me”, “she is being dishonest all the time”, “he is lying all the time”, “she is always selfish.” Whether you are the partner of someone who has had an affair, is emotionally distant, harbors resentment towards you, has lied, has been selfish, the fact remains that no one is selfish ALL the time, is unloving ALL the time, is unsupportive ALL the time. ALL THE TIME would be a sociopathic type of personality. Which can be assessed if necessary.
In my experience, most people are responsible for creating the life they have chosen due to family history. How you learned to handle conflict, not getting your needs met, intimacy, self-esteem, all come from childhood experiences. It takes work to be loving, understanding, forgiving, and to try and trust where there has been little trust built. Your partner is not “treating you unfairly” because they are unable. You are experiencing the normal dysfunction that occurs in marriage. Your partner has their own issues and struggles with making a mends and re-connecting because of who they are, not because of who you are….so you can get off the other person’s emotional roller coaster and ride your own. Yes, you the “resenter” are not the image of perfect love. You have also abandoned, left your partner emotionally, and are riding on the cork-screw roller coaster….one hurt does not deserve another. What comes goes around, is not a good tool to use in marriage. Resentment breeds bitterness, harmful distancing, and unsafety.
Yes, you, the person with the resentment, you have your own emotional roller coaster that adds to the relationship challenges. It’s not helping to accomplish anything. You may believe that your partner is much more unhealthier than you, but that is part of the illusion that comes from resentment. Holding onto resentment breeds anger. Anger is a defense mechanism, a reaction to a feeling. The desire to fight/flight is about fear. It is primal. Anger says, “I hate this, this is detrimental to my existence. I need to fight or run!!” A relationship issue will not be the death of you. But anger challenges your ability to see your spouse clearly.
There are better tools than just anger and resentment to protect yourself. Boundaries, healthy sharing, healthy ownership, knowing yourself, and knowing your emotions are advanced, grown-up ways to help yourself become empowered. Resentment keeps you trapped, paralyzed, like a young child. Real emotions are more vulnerable, closer to the heart, not a reaction. Emotions can be shared with your partner, are not judgmental or accusatory towards your partner. You own your experience with your partner, “I go through x,y,z when you do this.” If your partner can make room for your experience along side their reality, then they respect your perspective, will want to make changes, and do not want to risk the loss of the relationship. This is a possible outcome after coming to therapy. It’s a better alternative to a divorce lawyer.