When you and your spouse hit rough times, it seems that no matter what you do, things get worse.
You blame your spouse; your spouse blames you and nothing changes.
Out of desperation, you eventually step back from your situation and try to think more clearly. And thankfully, when you aren’t mired in the muck, you actually figure out more productive ways to handle your differences. You are determined to do better the next time a challenging situation rears its ugly head.
And then it happens. It feels like a déjà vu. The same old argument starts unfolding.
You and your spouse have been there so many times before.
And although you promised yourself that you would take the high road this time- to remain calm and loving in the face of controversy-your anger and resentment have another plan for you.
You are going to do the same old thing because you’re mad and resentful as hell and your spouse doesn’t deserve better treatment. All the brilliant planning for a better outcome goes right out the window.
Resentment wins. You lose. Sound familiar?
If you want to improve your relationship, you have to find ways to triumph over resentment so you can live up to the promises you make yourself to approach your spouse in more productive ways.
But the sixty-four thousand dollar question is, “How?” The following are five tips for rising above resentment.
- To prepare for the next challenge, ask yourself, “How will I resist the temptation to allow resentment to run my life?”
Most people believe that feelings are the trigger for how we behave.
If we are fearful, we should avoid anxiety-producing situations. If we are shy, we must stay away from people.
If we anticipate failure, we need to avoid challenging activities.
But psychology has taught us that the best way to overcome negative emotions is to push ourselves to do the very thing we resist.
When we face our demons, the demons go away.
And it is then that we realize that feelings don’t have to run us. We can choose our how we act and react despite our feelings.
The same is true for dealing with long-standing resentment in relationships. You can feel resentment and still behave in loving, productive ways toward your spouse.
You can notice that you feel angry, but you can choose what you do next. In those testy moments, ask yourself, “What can I do to resist the temptation to give into this resentment?”
You might need to take a few deep breaths or go for a walk. Perhaps asking your spouse for a time out would work.
You might notice what that little voice inside your head is saying when you are angry. Is it fueling the fire by telling you your spouse is trying to make you angry?
If so, turn down the volume of that voice. It’s just a thought and it isn’t helpful. Decide to replace it with a more positive thought such as, “She is doing the best she can right now.”
- Understand your role in things spiraling down
You might be wondering how you can beat resentment by understanding how you contribute to the problem. Here’s an example.
George was extremely unhappy about his sex life. He and Fran made love once a month. If George had his way, they would make love three times a week. Clearly, there is a sizable desire gap in their marriage.
If you ask Fran whether she likes sex, she will tell you, “Yes, but I don’t like having sex with George when he is angry.” Fran needs to feel close to George emotionally before she wants to be physically close.
But George insists that he is angry because Fran won’t have sex. The angrier George becomes, the less Fran wants sex. The less Fran wants sex, the angrier George becomes. You get the picture.
This is obviously the case of two rights. If George wants Fran to desire him, he has to be nicer to Fran. If Fran wants George to be nicer to her, she has to consider his need for touch.
But even if George knows that he needs to be nicer to Fran, he might say that he can’t because he is so resentful about Fran’s blatant disregard for his feelings. However, if he can understand that part of Fran’s withdrawal has to do with his irritability, he can empathize with her and feel less resentful.
When you feel resentful towards your spouse, ask yourself, “What are my steps in the dance we do together when things aren’t going well?”
“What could I do differently that would, in turn, change our dance entirely?”
And once you acknowledge that you really do have something to do with the problematic situation- and the solution- you will feel more compassion toward your spouse.
Compassion helps you rise above resentment.
- Focus on results
Rather than pay attention to your feelings of resentment, when things go haywire, ask yourself, “What do I want to have happen?” “What’s my goal here?”
In the same way that George realized that he had to be nicer and kinder to Fran if he wanted her to be more affectionate, he didn’t always feel like behaving that way.
However, over time, he started to connect the dots…”When I’m kinder to
Fran, she wants to be closer to me physically.”
Observing the results of your behavior as opposed to the feelings you have inside is a sure-fire way to increase the odds you will get more of your needs met.
And once that happens, resentment dissipates.
Judging your spouse harshly and feeling angry isn’t helpful. In fact, it’s downright harmful.
Even if your spouse is making mistakes, it doesn’t mean he or she is doing it purposely. Poet and sage, Maya Angelou says (adapted a bit), “People do the best with the tools they have. If they knew better they would do better.”
I totally believe this.
If you truly believed that your spouse isn’t out to hurt you and that you are willing to wipe the slate clean, you will feel better and start acting in ways that signal you are ready to let go of the past.
No one can free you from the shackles of resentment. You have to do it yourself.
It doesn’t just happen. It requires a conscious decision to forgive and move forward.
Once you realize that holding a grudge is really hurting you and your marriage, you can choose forgiveness and resentment will gradually melt away.
This will make it easier for you to stick to your marriage-strengthening plan.
- Remember, you are not perfect either
I’ve heard it said that people who think they’re perfect have lousy memories.
And isn’t that true? Everyone makes mistakes, even you and me.
Remembering that you are great but not perfect will make it easier to be less judgmental of your partner.
We are all imperfect beings.
Don’t feel guilty about your mistakes but on the same count, don’t hold your spouse to a higher standard. If you do, you will have a hard time letting go of lingering feelings of anger and resentment.
- Have compassion for both of you
Here’s a personal challenge. The next time you feel resentment welling up in you, implement one or more of these five tips and see how much better you feel.
It’s a formula for success.
© Michele Weiner-Davis, all rights reserved. firstname.lastname@example.org 303.444.7004 PO Box 271 Boulder, CO 80302