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Spousal Resentment Meter

Late last week, we took our Spousal Resentment Meter (SRM) from a volatile 6 back down to a calm 0.

Psychologist Dr. Alison Poulsen has a great definition of resentment; “… is the feeling of bitterness, anger, or hatred resulting from a real or imagined wrong.  The key difference between resentment, anger and contempt stems from how a person perceives the status of the wrong-doer. Resentment is directed at people with perceived higher status; anger is directed at people with perceived equal status; contempt is directed at people with perceived lower status.”

Therefore in order to resent your partner, you have to feel an inequality or injustice in your relationship. Have you ever experienced that? For example, a stay-at-home parent may begin to harbour resentment toward their working partner because of the perception that he/she is more successful, has more social outlets, and more purpose to his/her days.

Resentment often masquerades as many other emotions; anger, jealousy, passive aggression, and contempt. Resentment tends to start off small but can grow quickly if unmanaged, with the resentment replaying day after day and even mutating into other issues. Some experts believe that resentment is the number one killer of relationships, the primary destroyer of respect and love and I agree.

Think of your Spousal Resentment Meter (or SRM) as a giant rubber band, wound between you and your partner with a range of tension from a loose zero to killer tight 10. If the stressors of daily life begin to impact the dynamics of your relationship, couples may find that the rubber band between them begins to tighten with anger, hurt, and resentment. The band will continue to get tighter and tighter until something or someone snaps. Permanent tension, like a couple that chooses to live at a constant SRM of 6, will eventually stretch and break the band too…

Ideally, in a perfect world, your relationship should be free of resentment. But have you felt moments of being used, taken advantage of, or being unrecognized for your hard work? Do you say little and internalize the negative feelings? If you do not address these feelings with yourself and your partner, resentment will prevent you from seeing the positive in that person or be happy for their successes.

Remember, resentment is a choice and has little effect on the person it is directed at. It’s often said that resentment is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. Yet the one who suffers is the person who harbors resentment.

Dr. Bob Navarra, a Gottman trained therapist, has explored “3 Categories of Resentment”. This is my quick summary of his interesting theory and thoughts.

Category 1 – Cloudy day – The small irritating stuff which you can let go of when your relationship is largely in a good place – “I could have used more help at our party but I know you were talking with an old friend…”

Category 2 – Thunderstorm – These resentments carry more negative feelings, and can blow up quickly if left unattended or unmanaged. While not threatening the security of a relationship, these resentments can lead to irritation, anger, or contempt (a definite winding of the SRM rubber band). Put on your MacGyver vest and disarm the ticking time bombs“The kids see you as the fun parent, while I am stuck always being the heavy…”

Category 3 – Hurricane – These resentments cause great distress and pain in a relationship – often perceived as a ‘fundamental flaw’ in your partner by triggering deep feelings or shaking core beliefs. These major storms, which often need the intervention of professional help, can cause a lot damage often leading to withdrawal or feelings of gridlock, hopelessness, and confusion – “You have always been lazy because your family had money and you don’t know what a hard day of work looks like!”

Like Gremlins and food after midnight, resentment feeds on our negative feelings, and becomes stronger the longer it is ignored. So how do we stop it?

5 ways to decrease your Spousal Resentment

1. Try to recognize and identify what is triggering resentment in you. (Identifying feelings of inadequacy, helplessness, or lack of power)

2. Talk about it with your partner. When you don’t talk about it, the bitterness and anger will only grow and fester, creating more distance and space between you. When your partner, in an attempt to repair, asks “What’s wrong?, stop saying “Nothing!” Be courageous and vulnerable, and share your thoughts… you are the one holding the burning hot ember of resentment in your hand, the faster you let go, the better.

3. Pick a time when you are both calm. Without attacking each other, you must tell your partner what you need using “I” statements. “When you spend more time with your friends, I feel rejected or unimportant. I need time with me to be a priority in our weekly plans…”

4. Remain solution focused and ready to forgive.

5. Take care of yourself and your needs. Exercise, eating healthy, and sleep are great resentment barriers.

It takes huge strength and courage to express and share our pain to the people that are hurting us. That is vulnerability at its core. We constantly need to be aware of the tension in our relationship because we all strive for harmony and intimacy. True intimacy occurs when we can express our deepest feelings to our partner and we feel heard and respected.

Take-away point: If you feel resentment building in your relationship, and your spousal resentment meter is nearing a 7 or an 8, don’t wait to let it explode. Pick a calm time and share your true authentic feelings – disarm the timebomb that is inside you.

American Journalist Joan Lunden claims “Holding on to anger, resentment and hurt only gives you tense muscles, a headache and a sore jaw from clenching your teeth. Forgiveness gives you back the laughter and the lightness in your life.”

Have you experienced resentment in your relationship?  How did you handle your burning ember of resentment? Or perhaps you have been resented?

Please share – I bet your feelings and experiences are shared by many…let’s start the resentment conversation!

Until next time…

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