Sitting in my office, Felicia, 35, described the bitterness and resentment she has toward Erik, 37, because he invited his mother to visit for two weeks without consulting her. She has never felt close with her mother-in-law, who she feels is intrusive and gives unsolicited advice.
As is the case with many mother-in-law and daughter in law relationships, Felicia feels like she has to walk on egg shells around Erik’s mother, Karen. Their relationship is very complicated and has been a touchy topic throughout Felicia and Erik’s ten-year marriage. Felicia feels that Erik gets defensive when she brings up her feelings about wanting to set boundaries with his mother.
Felicia put it like this, “I told Erik when we were engaged that I’m a private person and that I was worried that I would clash with his mother who has no filter. When she visits, she often gives me advice about how to raise our two young children and I resent it. It makes me feel that she is judging me. Erik had no right to invite her to stay with us for two weeks without checking with me.”
Erik responds, “My father died last year and my mother just sold our family home. She’s getting ready to move into a retirement village and needs a place to stay while the escrow closes. When she asked if she could stay with us, I didn’t have the heart to say no. I realize that I should have checked with Felicia first but she won’t let go of her resentment about it and it’s destroying our marriage.”
Truth be told, many mistakes are not intentional, so it is best not to make them into something they’re not. One of the biggest problems with ongoing resentment in a relationship is that it often leads to withdrawal and poor communication. And if you are bottling up feelings of anger, sadness, or disappointment often, this can lead to feelings of resentment.
If your resentment toward your partner is persistent, it can cause you to hold a grudge, which is usually deep seated and often the result of an injury or insult that has occurred. People hold grudges due to both real and fancied wrong doing. Either way, the bitterness that comes with a grudge – even if understandable – comes with a price because it can lead to emotional distance between partners.
5 Ways to Let Go of Resentment Toward Your Partner
- Write down three ways your hurt feelings have impacted (or are still impacting) your life. Gain awareness of the emotions you experience about your past hurt. Talking to a close friend or therapist can help facilitate this process.
- Find a way to dislodge yourself from negative emotions. Examples include therapy, yoga, improving your physical health, and practicing expressing thoughts, feelings, and wishes in a respectful way. Resentment can build when people sweep things under the rug, so be vulnerable and don’t bury negative feelings.
- Take small steps to let go of grudges or grievances. Repair the damage by finding ways to soothe hurt feelings. This might include writing a letter or release to the person who injured you – even if you don’t mail it. Your letter might read something like: “I release you from the pain you caused me when we used to argue.”
- Don’t let wounds fester. Challenge your beliefs and self-defeating thoughts about holding on to hurt feelings. Processing what happened briefly will allow you to let resentments go so you can move on to a healthier relationship. Keep the big picture in mind.
- Accept that people do the best they can and attempt to be more understanding. This does not mean that you condone the hurtful actions of others. You simply come to a more realistic view of your past. As you take stock, you will realize that all people operate out of the same basic drives, including self-interest.
Studies show that letting resentment fester can lead to depression, anxiety, and also a variety of health problems such as cardiovascular disease, immune system problems, and put you at a higher risk of stroke. In Felicia’s case, her resentment was causing emotional distance and bitterness between her and her husband Erik. Even though Erik apologized for his ack of thoughtfulness when he invited his mother for a long visit, Felicia was unable to forgive him.
Rather than holding on to resentment, it’s a good idea to practice forgiveness. Do your best to listen to your partner’s side of the story, and avoid blaming or criticizing him or her when you confront them with your concerns. Apologizing and granting forgiveness are about giving yourself and your partner the kind of future you and they deserve. It is about choosing to live a life wherein others don’t have power over you and you’re not dominated by unresolved anger, bitterness, and resentment
Follow Terry Gaspard on Twitter, Facebook, and movingpastdivorce.com. Her book Daughters of Divorce: Overcome the Legacy of Your Parents’ Breakup and Enjoy a Happy, Long-Lasting Relationship is available on her website. Feel free to ask a question here.
Terry’s book, The Remarriage Manual: How to Make Everything Work Better the Second Time Around, was published by Sounds True in February of 2020.