Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: This is Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby, and you’re listening to the Love, Happiness & Success Podcast.
[Negative Thoughts by Duchess Says]
Yes, it’s the Love, Happiness & Success Podcast. And as you may have guessed from our musical intro today which was Duchess Says, by the way, with a song called Negative Thoughts. Today we are tackling yet again another difficult and incredibly common life experience, which is the feeling of holding on tightly with clenched fingers to resentment. Feelings of resentment for things that have happened in the past, things that are happening currently that are annoying, angering, hurtful, and feel very persistent. That’s what we’re doing today on the show.
Letting Go of Resentment
If you are in particular holding on to resentment about things that your partner has done or has been doing, this one is for you especially. Because holding on to resentment can make it not just difficult to enjoy your relationship in the present, I know, I know well from my experience as a marriage counselor, that resentment when it’s bubbling around in your relationship can create its own set of relationship problems. So today, this episode is all about how to let go of resentment in your relationship so that you can both move forward and just start having a good time again. Because you deserve that.
And before we jump in, I just want to thank you all for being here. And I have to tell you, I have been really enjoying all of your comments and questions that you’ve been tossing at me lately, both through the blog and growingself.com. And those of you that reached out through Instagram @drlisamariebobby on Instagram. I have been reading your questions. I have been recording your questions, and I have been thinking about how to answer your questions meaningfully. So that’s, of course where this podcast comes from, too. Because I’ve heard from a few of you that this is a major pain point in your relationship. Either you feel like you’re holding on to resentment or you’re feeling really frustrated because your partner seems like they’re not letting things go. So we’re gonna talk about both sides of this today.
And also I want to thank everyone who has left a review for this podcast lately. I haven’t looked at iTunes recently, but I looked the other day and there were so many nice reviews and comments from you guys. And so thank you so much for doing that. Not only does your leaving a nice review and comment, just kind of, you know, make me feel good personally, I like that. But it also more importantly, helps other people find the show. And that’s the only way that people find the show. This is not for profit, labor of love that I just kind of like doing. And so we don’t advertise. I don’t advertise, you know, sponsors or anything like that. So, the only thing we are doing here is really sincerely trying to help people and you’re leaving a positive review on iTunes or sharing this with others is the only way it grows. And so thank you for, you know, helping to bump it up a little bit in the eyes of iTunes and also to share this with a fellow traveler who just like the rest of us might need to hear some of these ideas from time to time. So, thank you.
How to Deal With Resentment
So hey, let’s dive in. And let’s talk about resentment. First, what is it? Where it come from? And then we’re going to turn our attention to the most important part, which is how to release it, and move on, and be free at last. So first of all, it is important to know that there are actually two different types of resentment. They can feel the same in the moment when you’re actually living it. But the origins are different. And it’s important to figure out what kind of resentment you’re feeling and where it comes from, because the path to dealing with them is different depending on the nature of the resentment.
So first of all, there is what I think of as current resentment. So current resentment is like this low greed kind of angry, annoyed, agitated feeling that happens when in the present day today, things are happening in your relationship that don’t feel good for you, that do not feel fair. You often have this type of feeling when your relationship is feeling out of balance or like you’re not getting your needs met. And that it feels very difficult to create change and you’re just kind of like living with it. So, you know, you’ve maybe talked about something and said, “I don’t like this and it keeps happening.” You start to feel resentful that it keeps happening and it seems to be persisting despite your desire to have it be different. So that’s what I think of as being like current resentment.
Now there is another type of resentment that is really more related to old hurts, usually big ones. And things that have happened in the past, often related to, you know, feeling betrayed by your partner or really let down in a big way by your partner. It’s what we think of is like, attachment wounds or something that happened that was so big that it really was quite emotionally at least traumatizing to you. And that it left a mark, you know. And when this kind of resentment is festering for months, years, decades, even after the fact, it means that you’ve probably agreed to kind of “Yeah, okay, move past it, we move on, that’s not happening anymore.” So you’re kind of sticking with it and want to let it go. But you can’t. It is not resolved emotionally. And until you do handle it appropriately and emotionally, it won’t be put to rest and you will continue feeling resentful, even though the original event may have happened like five years ago and is not happening anymore. The resentment experience tells you that there is unfinished emotional business that needs to be dealt with.
So, two different kinds of resentment. But either way, when you have feelings of resentment inside of you, it will create issues in your relationship above and beyond whatever is leading you to feel resentful. So, regardless of what is triggering the feelings of resentment, what we know is that healthy, happy, satisfying relationships more than anything else require large doses daily of kindness, generosity, appreciation, gratitude, affection, warmth. You know, like that’s really the day to day fabric of a relationship are those things. And it is very difficult to be kind, generous, affectionate, warm, understanding, loving, with someone who you are feeling resentful of. And who you feel is either treating you unfairly in the present or has hurt you really badly in the past and no, you are not actually over it. You know, when you’re in this space, you are kind of low key angry a lot of the time. And you don’t want to give them more, and be more kind and more generous and more compassionate because you, hate is probably a strong word, but maybe sometimes you like hate them a little bit. You know what I mean? And you’re just sort of like walking around with that day to day. So it’s really difficult for you to be the person that you really need to be in a relationship when you’re feeling resentful.
And the thing to know about resentment, and, you know, the key takeaway from this whole episode is that resentment only happens because of stuckness. There is a stuck place that is leading to resentment. If it is a current resentment, you know, present moment based, it’s because you’re needing things to be different, and they’re not being different. And, you know, you may or may not be talking about this openly anymore, but it feels stuck. And that’s what’s driving the resentment.
And if it’s old resentment, if it’s, you know, old wound type resentment, it is even harder to talk about. And because of that, it remains stuck. You know, you may have agreed with your partner that, “Yep, that happened a long time ago and things are different now. And it’s in the past.” So maybe you don’t even feel like you can talk about it anymore. Or your partner’s, like, “Would you stop already? We need to move on when you do bring it up,” but it isn’t over emotionally and so there’s this stuckness. You can’t process it emotionally with your partner, you can’t get what you need because you feel like it’s in the past. And so it removes your feeling of legitimacy to talk about it or maybe your partner has a nasty reaction when you do, so you don’t—feels kind of pointless to talk about. It is just as what it is. And of course that stuckness supports, and festers, and feeds resentment. Stuckness and silence.
The Impact of Unresolved Bitterness and Anger
So, if you are experiencing resentment, if you are experiencing feeling resentful of your partner, and here’s the hard part, and you guys I know this is hard and take it in, it makes you start behaving in less than ideal ways in your relationship. You are not feeling good about your partner. You are annoyed, upset, irritated, and that impacts the way that you show up in a relationship. And your partner may or may not have any idea of what’s going on. You know, they might not be connecting it to the thing that happened five years ago or the fact that they said they would fold the laundry and it’s still sitting in the hamper on the bed. They might not connect the fact that you are now kind of being cold and quiet and stomping around the kitchen with either of those things. They just experience you as being kind of jerky and hostile and cold. And I’m telling you like it seems like a “of course they would know why I’m upset,” they really might not. And again, I have spent a long time as a marriage counselor, as a relationship coach, you would be amazed at what you may be experiencing that other people are not aware of. And they don’t know why you’re feeling the way you are, they don’t know why you’re acting the way that you are. But this is the reason why resentment is so incredibly toxic in a relationship and why it absolutely has to be addressed in a productive and direct way.
Because if it isn’t, it comes out through your behaviors, through your energy, and through your actions. Like, even if you’re not using words to say, “I am really angry, and here is why,” people still feel that anger, but they don’t—like connected to something that they can, you know, change or deal with. And so the narrative that starts happening in their mind is that, “This is just your personality. This is who you are. This is the kind of reaction I can expect from him because, you know, he’s just an angry person.” And that is where people go over time, if resentment goes unresolved. That is how the partner of a resentful person begins to perceive them over time. It’s not fair, it is also true. And we have to operate in reality.
So, anyway. So this is why we’re here. And this is why I wanted to really, you know, not just shoot off a quick little answer in the bottom of a blog post or, you know, say something. It’s not like a one sentence kind of thing that can be like, “Okay, here’s what to do. Yes, there’s resentment in the relationship. Let me let me tell you like one magic thing that’s going to fix it.” None of this is like that, honestly. So I wanted to, like kind of talk you through what it is, where it comes from, why it’s a big deal.
So anyway, so now that we’ve understood the origins of resentment and why it is so massively important to deal with, let’s talk about what to do with it. So that you can actually move into a better place and let it go so that your relationship feels better for you. But also, so that you’re not, you know, creating a little dark negative engine and your relationship that will over time really, really damage it because of unresolved resentment—absolutely legitimate feelings of resentment, I would like to add. But you got to do something with it. We can’t stay here is what I’m trying to say.
So, anyway. So for current resentment, things that are happening day to day that are, you know, from mildly, moderately to severely annoying. The path out of resentment is, first of all, to listen to those feelings and figure out what they are attached to—like, specifically. It can be very tempting to stuff our feelings, to dismiss them, to deny them, to talk yourself out of them, especially many times for women, but also many times for men, particularly very nice men. You know, you will have a flash of resentment or annoyance, and that very next thought is, “No, I want to make a big deal out of it. It’s fine. She’s had a long day, whatever.” And what that does is over time, it leads to this buildup of resentment. So step one, we need to listen to the feelings. Let it in, go ahead, make contact with your anger everyone. It’s okay to be angry. Listen to it. It’s not always okay to act on anger, but always okay to listen to your anger. And then pick up wisdom and guidance from your anger.
And then really think about, “What am i angry about? What does not feel good?” Many times this like current resentment is often attached to feeling like your relationship is out of balance in day to day stuff. So things like, you know, one person feeling like they’re holding the bag with regards to parenting, housework, work-life balance stuff. You know, if a relationship is non-egalitarian, meaning that both partners aren’t on the same page about what needs to happen and who’s doing what. Often what happens is that one person who often does less will feel like everything is just fine. They’re just doing what they’re doing. And the person who feels like they are doing more will over time become increasingly stressed, and anxious, and resentful.
You know, say one of you has a super stressful job and you are working your butt off nine to five or longer these days if you’re working from home, and then as soon as you’re off the clock, you get handed a toddler. And your partner’s like, “Good luck with that. I am going to go play video games for the balance of the evening.” Like, you know, that can be the reality in a lot of families. And hey, you know, a stay-at-home parent, especially now without the respite of child care and anything else, is also going to be struggling. But unless you guys are really talking about it, and creating agreements around what feels fair for both of you, it is almost inevitable that one of you is going to start feeling resentful over time. Or kinds of other things like, you know, you figure out how to get the groceries home, you make the dinner, and then you’re standing there washing the dishes while everyone else is going off and watching a movie. And you’re like, “Damn it. I feel resentful right now.” I mean, like, you know, it’s legitimate.
Other engines of resentment, a lot can actually happen around sexuality. When one partner perceives the other as being, you know, not interested in sex or rejecting even. Especially if they feel like they can’t ask for it or have it be okay that they would like to be intimate with you, that can lead to feelings of resentment over time. Not being in alignment around goals or priorities. You know, what I’ve actually seen a lot of is one person in a relationship starting to feel really resentful when they don’t feel like they have a lot of time with their partner. And then they see their partner going off and having like, you know, girls’ weekends. Or like spending a lot of time with their friends on the phone, or whatever, FaceTime these days. That can lead to feelings of resentment, too.
And, you know, it really always when you unpack resentment, they’re always very, like much more poignant feelings underneath. Like people feel, their feelings are hurt, or they feel uncared for, or not important. I mean, so like, there’s a lot of soft stuff. But on the surface level, it’s like this, “Dammit. I’m annoyed right now,” feeling. And we’ve talked about a lot of hate just, you know, garden variety super ultra normal couples stuff. And it is normal. It is so common, but it also needs to be fixed. Because if it is not fixed, again, it can turn into a really yucky stuff in a relationship especially over time.
And so, the goal with this kind of circumstantial current resentment is to figure out what it is that is making me feel resentful. And what would I like this to look like instead if this was feeling more balanced for me? What would be happening? What objectively needs to be done day to day in order to keep the show on the road and keep our household going? And then, how can we divide that up equitably? And it’s really a matter of sitting down and saying, “I am not enjoying the way that we’re doing this right now. Here’s what I would like to do differently. What do you think about that?”
And often, it can be hard because the person who is the ‘causer’ of the resentment, so to speak, is oftentimes absolutely not aware. That, you know, and I don’t want to get all like ‘gendery’ on it because this certainly happens in, you know, the other ways. I mean, male partners can absolutely feel resentful as female partners. This also happens in same sex relationships. And it is also not uncommon for men and women to be socialized differently in terms of their roles in the family. You know, little boys who have loving and incredibly competent mothers who have perhaps had a vocation out of staying at home and being moms have, you know, many times had a lot of stuff done for them. And they arrive in adulthood having zero idea of what it actually takes. It is not really magic elves that wash the socks and match them and put them back in the drawer. It is oftentimes the efforts of a woman who loves them very much and wants to take care of them. And that stops working when they are now in a relationship with a partner who has other ideas about equality and what that looks like. And wants them to match their own damn socks because she has enough other stuff to do.
So it’s having those kinds of conversations, getting on the same page about who does what, and also having honest conversations that, you know, perhaps the person who is—I’ve also seen this happen—you know, seething with resentment about all these things that are not being done that should be done, feeling very overwhelmed and, you know, like they’re left holding the bag, can also have a growth moment where they can come to realize that maybe some of the things that they learned through their own childhood socialization about things that should be done and that are important, are actually not important or meaningful to their partner. And as this couple comes to create their own family, they need to, you know, come to some agreements around, “Maybe we can let some of this stuff go too. You know, maybe we can put the clean socks in the drawer without them being matched. You can just put the socks in the drawer. Nobody has to patch the socks. That is okay too. That is absolutely okay.”
When to Consider Denver Marriage Counseling, Online Couples Therapy or Relationship Coaching
But so it’s like this exploration of figuring out, figuring it out together and coming to agreements, and then following through with those agreements. It is absolutely possible to have these kinds of conversations by yourself at the kitchen table. And I will also tell you that an indication that you might need to take this in front of a marriage counselor or relationship coach is when you try to sit down and have a conversation about, “You know, I’m not feeling real good about this,” and it leads to a lot of defensiveness, and denial, and minimization. So it feels difficult to have that conversation in the first place. Or if it turns into big conflicts around who’s right, and who’s wrong, and what should actually be done, and it’s very difficult to get on the same page—that would be another reason.
And then lastly, another reason why it can be important to come and get a third party involved is if you guys do make agreements and everybody’s like, “Yep, we’re gonna do that,” and then there is not the follow-through. There could be a need for, you know, either an accountability partner, or someone to help you take this a little bit deeper to figure out what’s really going on. Because many times when there isn’t the follow-through, it’s either a lack of skills or the presence of other ideas, your feelings—conscious or subconscious—that are not being discussed. So we need to get those out into the open so that everybody can do what they’re supposed to do.
Anyway, so those are indications that you might need help. And also, please take it seriously. I know that the things that we’re talking about right now are absolutely garden variety. They are things that every couple deals with, and they seem like small things. You know, who matches the socks, whether or not the socks should be matched, whose job that is—it seems so trivial. And if you don’t create agreements about how we operate, and if it doesn’t feel relatively balanced and equitable, and resentment continues to fester, resentment will grow, and over time it will grow into hostility and mistrust, and it will damage a relationship. It will take down a marriage for the reasons that I described at the beginning of this podcast because it turns into a malignant force that erodes the fabric of a relationship.
So, I’m probably sounding incredibly dramatic right now, but I really want you to hear this so that you avoid the fate of so many couples that I have worked with who, you know, when you go back and talk to them about like, “When did you start feeling this way?” “You know, like four years ago.” When they’re now, you know, sitting on my couch or my marriage counseling office, literally on the brink of divorce and like, “When did this start?” And, you know, oftentimes it goes back to feeling persistently resentful about things that, you know, “I tried to talk about how I was feeling and nothing changed. And, you know, we could just never get on the same page.” And then what happens, again, is that when people feel resentful, they start behaving differently in a relationship. That behavior creates a negative reaction in their partner, and then it just turns into this snowball, where people are now behaving badly with each other and creating stories about highly unflattering stories about who each other are, and that it’s not possible to change. Anyway, it can get really bad—so take it seriously.
Try to talk about it and make changes, and if it feels like that’s harder than it should be, just go ahead and get some help. Particularly, if you catch it early, you could literally have four conversations with a marriage counselor, and it will be over and done. Seriously, like my husband and I, I remember when we went to marriage counseling—oh my God, what year is it, like 20 years ago now. It was exactly the stuff that was making us both feel so bad. And we, I think, met with a marriage counselor six times, eight times? I don’t know, but we walked away with like a plan. “This is what I do. I clean out the refrigerator, you change the litter box.” We have lived by that plan for the last 20 years, and it has been pretty good ever since. So anyway, get some help if you need it.
Now, let’s also talk about old resentments because these are different, as you may imagine, from how to handle the current resentments. Old resentments are resolved through a different process. As I mentioned at the beginning, if you are feeling resentful about something big that happened in the past, it means that you did not heal after that experience. And again, this is really common for many reasons. I think the biggest one is that people actually do not know how to heal after a big wounding event, and they do the best they can, they do what they know how to do, and many times it is just not enough. Because it doesn’t incorporate the ingredients of healing that people actually need.
So, for example, you know, if there was a betrayal or an emotional affair, or maybe even a capital ‘A’ affair, right? Or another thing that happened that can really create the same kind of emotional trauma is experiencing your partner as dropping the ball in a major way. Like, so for example, say your partner went through a really serious major depressive episode where they were not functioning for a while, and they maybe didn’t treat you well or left you, you know, kind of on your own to take care of everybody and do everything because they were so unwell. Or maybe they had, you know, substance use disorder. You can see this kind of thing if somebody had struggled with addiction in the past and is now better.
What are some other things? You know, I think I’ve seen this come up in couples like around pregnancy, and childbirth, and baby stuff sometimes. Like, you know, I’ve talked with couples where the female partner had a very difficult pregnancy, and maybe even was hospitalized, or something happened, and the birth was very traumatic. Or even like in the postpartum kind of months, if the other partner, you know, often the man, does not really recognize the level of trauma, or fear, or need that their wife has during that experience, and they’re, you know, kind of not adjusting to the role of father in the same way because they don’t have to. You know, when you are pregnant or when you’re a postpartum mom, you’re sort of chained by biology to the experience. And where a male partner can say, “Hey, I was thinking I was gonna go golfing with Jack on Saturday”—the way that he has done for the last five years, and it hasn’t been a big deal. But like, you know, if they’re partners, you know, had a baby three weeks ago, and it’s healing from a C section, and they’re like, “What do you mean you’re going golfing with Jack?” That doesn’t articulate that in the same way.
I mean, these are, again, small, small moments—they seemed small—they don’t seem like they would be as fraught with meaning as they really are. But, if someone is going through something really, really hard, and the other person feels emotionally unavailable or not fully understanding of what their partner is going through, it can create a terrible rupture. Even the other way, you know, like I mentioned, the kind of rupture that could happen if someone goes through a really serious major depressive episode that leaves them not functioning that well for a while. You know, the partner who isn’t depressed can certainly feel abandoned because it feels like their partner’s just withdrawn and dropped out, and that can be an issue, but it can go the other way too. You know, I’ve also seen partners who went through a very serious major depressive episode, or they had an anxiety flare-up. Grief can be another one. Like, say, if they lost their mom or their sister, they had some really serious loss, that their partner didn’t understand the magnitude of, which, again, is understandable.
I mean, these things are hard to talk about. It can be difficult to articulate the level of your devastation when you’re going through it and so many reasons why this can happen, but the end result is that one person feels abandoned, betrayed, uncared for in their moment of deepest need. And even after the crisis has passed, and maybe they’re feeling better, or their relationship has become more functional again, or, you know, in the instance that one partner was engaging in a relationship-disrupting behavior—like an addiction or an affair. Even after that has passed, and people are now in a place where they’re doing what they should be doing again, and everybody’s okay, the legacy of the wound will live on in a big way, and that’s very, very common. So, that’s why it happens.
So in order to go back and get that emotional resolution, and to be able to release the resentment, you really do have to go back into the past, which people do not like to hear that. They’re like, “It’s different. We’ve moved on. That was a long time ago.” I’m just telling you that that is not how this works. You do have to go back into the past and process what happened together in a productive way. There is quite a process that happens with this. I have addressed it at length in another podcast, I think, which one is it? Well, I’ve actually done a couple, one is like affair recovery. I talked about the process. And I think I did another specific to how to restore trust in a relationship that really digs into like step-by-step, here’s what needs to happen. And so if you’re interested to learn more about the process, I would invite you to go and check out either of those.
But, you know, speaking generally what needs to happen is a series of conversations that often need to be facilitated by a marriage counselor in order to help you guys like stay in the ring with the painful parts. Because there’s a natural tendency to get defensive, or dismissive, or like, “That was a long time ago,” and every time people do that, it stops it—it stops the healing. And so people really need a lot of support to like stay in that place with each other, and we need to have lots of conversations, oftentimes, over a period of weeks, if not months. If the wound was huge, like in the case of an affair, it might be longer than months—it might be years.
And just so settle in, wrap your head around the fact that this is a process, and we need to really go back into what happened—how it felt, why it hurt, what the legacy was—and having the person who was hurt really be able to talk about this in a very real way, often, experience the pain and the anger and the sadness all over again. And have the person who perpetrated the hurt, really understand on a deep level, and let it in emotionally, and allow themselves to have all of the expected feelings as a result of that. And oftentimes, you know, even before that part happens, people need a lot of coaching and help in learning how to be emotionally responsive to someone in distress and how to really bump up that empathy and learn how to be validating and kind of learn how to interact with their partner in a way that will allow for healing, which in itself can be very difficult and take weeks or months to even create the foundation to set this stage for those difficult conversations to happen. Like there’s pre-work.
And of course, so this is definitely the kind of thing that you need to get help with this—what will very predictably happen with couples who try to go back and address the old really deep, painful things is that the person who was hurt will invariably start expressing a lot of pain and anger. And the other person will get really defensive, and it feels intolerable, and they will shut it down, and defend, and minimize, and so you just go right back into the stuck place where resentment lives on because you haven’t gotten that emotional resolution. And it just will be there forever basically until you do. So, do not mess around with this. Take it to a marriage counselor, particularly one who really understands an evidence-based form of marriage counseling called Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy.
This is the only one that I am aware of that very specifically has a model and a process to help couples figure out how to have that empathy, validation, emotional responsiveness and then walks them through a process of readdressing unfinished emotional business for the purpose of having healing experiences with each other, that allows them to really feel that it is complete, they have healed, they have reattached, all is forgiven. And then they can move on really without resentment—and it is an experiential process to do. It is not a cognitive like thought shifting sort of thing, although that can certainly be part of it, but it’s really very experiential. And at the end of this process, you will actually feel differently. It is not something that you’ll have to make happen; it is something that happens as a result of the successful work. So, again, and it requires the facilitation of an expert in Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy.
And there’s the path to healing, and it’s possible, and I’ve seen lots of couples do it. And it’s absolutely gorgeous and glorious when it does because it often, you know, along the way people do a lot of learning and growing about themselves, and there is laughter; there are tears. And at the end of the day, the couples really genuinely often stronger than ever before, and it’s a beautiful thing—and you deserve to have that experience. So I hope that you just take those ideas into consideration that it offers you some guidance about how to really resolve resentment if it’s linked to old, old unfinished stuff.
Okay, so lots of information today. But I really hope that this discussion has helped you understand resentment differently—what it is, where it comes from, why it needs to be addressed, the different types of resentment, and the path to resolving both of them. If you have asked a question on this topic, I sincerely hope that this discussion has answered it. And of course, if not, let me know.
Like, if there’s a follow-up question, you can reach out to our website growingself.com. Cruise over to the blog, leave your comments in the posts. I do read and answer every one of those eventually. And also, Instagram @drlisamariebobby and through Facebook at Dr. Lisa Bobby on Facebook. I will eagerly await your follow up questions and comments. And I’m going to try not to check the iTunes reviews too often to see if anyone has said anything else nice to say because I don’t want to be that person. But otherwise, I will be back in touch with you soon with another episode of the podcast.
In the meantime, Duchess Says with the song Negative Thoughts to help you, you know, make contact with the anger because that is actually always the first step. All right, talk to you later, you guys.