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Coping with Resentment

Can I get over my resentment?

This is a common question that couples ask. Hurt, anger and frustration, when not dealt with, turn into resentment. When this builds up over years, resentment can feel insurmountable. Resentment erodes trust and trust is the bedrock of a relationship.

The first thing I help couples to do is to understand and acknowledge the feelings that lead to the resentment. It is important that the partner of the person harboring resentment acknowledges these feelings too. That doesn’t mean he or she needs to agree with what happened in the past but simply recognize how his or her partner feels. We all crave recognition. It is truly food for the soul. “I’m sorry you felt so alone.” “I know how hard things have been for you.” In order to be recognized, it’s important not to accuse, “you did this to me” but rather “what you did had this impact on me”. These statements are very different because the second doesn’t blame but rather acknowledges a joint responsibility.

It’s also important that the hurtful behavior/s be put in context. Partners rarely have mal-intent (it happens but is uncommon) so that understanding where the behavior came from can help. Take a spouse who feels resentful because she feels her partner had been largely absent, especially when their children were young. She feels her partner was neglectful and selfish. But, why was he absent? Was he depressed and hence withdrawing from the family? Did he feel overwhelmed by parental responsibilities, or his role of providing for his family financially. These are not “excuses” but rather ways to put his behavior in context so that his partner can understand his intent wasn’t simply to neglect her and abandon the family.

Nothing can change the past but couples can look to the present and future. Once feelings stemming from the past have been understood, the couple needs to look ahead. How can you prevent the feelings that led to resentment from recurring? What behaviors need to change? These questions need to be answered in order for the couple to move ahead.

This process isn’t easy or quick…but it is possible. What’s needed is a commitment to the relationship and to making things better.

If you would like to discuss this issue in person please contact my office.