Karen, age 48, had been married to Kyle for five years when she found several letters from his former live-in girlfriend in his dresser drawer when she was putting away his clean clothes. She reflects, “I wasn’t looking for trouble but it presented itself to me and our marriage went sideways after that. I was so angry, jealous and fearful of Kyle leaving that I shut him out and wouldn’t listen to his side of the story.”
One of the biggest problems with ongoing resentment in a marriage is that it often leads to withdrawal and a lack of vulnerability. And if you’re bottling up feelings of anger, sadness, or disappointment often, this can lead to feelings of resentment. Along with this comes less warmth, affection, and over time less fondness and admiration for your partner. However, forgiveness can allow you to move on with your life and to embrace love, trust, and intimacy.
After visiting her sister in another state, Karen came to the realization that Kyle deserved a chance to explain his side of the story and she sat down with him over dinner at their favorite diner. When Kyle explained that Sarah, his ex was going through a bad divorce and wanted advice since he is a social worker, Karen apologized for overreacting, stopped feeling resentful, and forgave Kyle over time. However, it was important to her that he set firmer boundaries in his relationship with Sarah and discontinue writing letters or responding though email on a regular basis.
Trust is an essential element of any close relationship. If you lack trust than you believe that your partner no longer has your best interests at heart. In other words, you have stopped giving your spouse the benefit of the doubt and you have lost faith in his or her intentions. Honestly, you can’t love someone or be close to them emotionally if trust is destroyed.
If you’d like to rebuild trust in your partner, I would take an inventory and determine whether or not there have been other occasions when you’ve had reason to mistrust him or her. Ask yourself: Is it possible that he or she simply made an error in judgment by their mistrustful behaviors? Where their behaviors intentionally hurtful? Or, is it possible that your partner felt he or she couldn’t be completely open and honest with you because you’ve expressed jealousy in the past and he/she feared losing you?
Finally, do you believe it’s possible to rebuild trust and let go of resentment toward your partner? Are you willing to forgive him or her? Most experts believe that letting go of resentment toward someone is as much for the person who feels injured as the person who is causing the pain and/or breach of trust. These tips can help you let go of resentment if you decide to give your spouse a chance to regain your trust and forgive them.
8 ways to prevent resentment from ruining your relationship:
- Acknowledge your feelings and practice being vulnerable in small steps so you can build confidence in being more open with your partner. Discussing minor issues (schedules, meals) is a great place to start before tackling bigger matters such as intimacy issues.
- Communicate honestly about key issues in your relationship. Be sure to be forthcoming about both of your past relationships, and concerns about present ones.
- Take responsibility for your part in the conflict or dispute. One person’s ability to do this can change the dynamic of the relationship. Dr.’s Julie and John Gottmanwrite: “one person’s response will literally change the brain waves of the other person.”
- Apologize to your partner when appropriate. This will validate their feelings and promote forgiveness and allow you both to move on. Be specific and start with taking responsibility rather than trying to justify your behavior. For example, saying “I am sorry that I lost faith in you and went behind your back and called your boss when you were late coming home,” rather than “You shouldn’t have been late: what choice did I have?
- Don’t allow wounds to fester. Challenge your beliefs and self-defeating thoughts about holding on to hurt feelings. When you listen to your partner’s side of the story, you will gain information about their intentions and feelings. Processing what happened briefly will allow you to let resentments go so you can move on to a healthier relationship.
- Express thoughts, feelings, and wishes in a respectful way. Resentment can build when couples sweep things under the rug, so be vulnerable and don’t bury negative feelings.
- 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 and give it less power over you. As you take stock, you will realize that all people operate out of the same basic drives, including self-interest.
- Practice forgiveness. Learn to think like a forgiving person. Avoid holding a grudge and declare you are free to stop playing the role of victim. After all, we are all imperfect. For some people, genuine forgiveness is not possible, but acceptance is a worthy goal.
If after considering the merits of letting go of resentment and forgiveness, you decide that your spouse is a keeper, you may find that your relationship moves to a deeper level of intimacy. As you learn to reveal your thoughts, feelings, and wishes in an open and honest way, you’ll be better prepared for the ups and downs of an intimate relationship.
Follow Terry Gaspard on Twitter, Facebook, and movingpastdivorce.com. Terry’s award winning book Daughters of Divorce: Overcome the Legacy of Your Parents’ Breakup and Enjoy a Happy, Long-Lasting Relationship is available on her website.
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.
I’d love to hear from you and answer your questions about relationships, divorce, marriage, and remarriage. Please ask a question here. Thanks! Terry