Staving Off A Marriage Killer: Resentment

“[Love] keeps no record of wrongs…” [1 Corinthians 13:5]

If you’ve been married for longer than five minutes than you have most certainly been disappointed by your spouse. The differences that you thought wouldn’t be such a big deal, and maybe even seemed humorous in the beginning, are now grating on your nerves. She is always late. He never cleans up after himself. Whatever the issue, if you let it build up long enough resentment is sure to set in. And resentment is a marriage killer.

What is resentment exactly? It is indignation or anger over being treated unfairly. Why is it so deadly? Left unaddressed it begins to pile up and create distance between the two of you. You begin to build a narrative about your spouse and then start to collect evidence to back it up. Labels follow pretty quickly: thoughtless, inconsiderate, selfish…

All of this is a recipe to kill intimacy and trust. If there is one rule to help keep a marriage strong it is ruthlessly eliminate resentment. But it is not always easy. Two people with different backgrounds, priorities, and preferences are bound to disappoint or annoy one another. So, what can be done?

As with most things in life, communication is the answer. Rather than building up a case or making assumptions, take the initiative and help restore harmony. Here are three things to keep in mind:

KEEP IT ABOUT YOU

It is easy to start pointing out all the ways your spouse is not living up to your expectations. But there is great truth in the saying that unspoken expectations go unmet. The problem is we often don’t know what will upset us until we are upset. So if there is a particular situation that is continually driving you crazy, start with self evaluation. Here are some questions to ask yourself:

What is actually bothering me?

Why do I have this particular preference?

When is the point where I start to feel disrespected?

What would I need to feel differently?

Let me give you a personal example. My husband Steve and I have very different speeds in the morning. I am an early riser who likes to workout, shower, read, and have everything ready to go before everyone else gets up. Steve, on the other hand, snoozes his alarm until the very last minute and moves rather slowly until he has had his first cup of coffee. All of this was fine, until we had a school-aged child who needed to get out of the house too. Whenever Steve would sleep late I would feel totally put out. Our mornings were not working well, and we had many contentious interactions. But I started to pay attention and I realized that I was fine until it hit 7am. So, I let Steve know that after 7am I began to get resentful if he was not out to help. I actually didn’t care when he woke up, if he showered before that time, or even if he was chipper in the morning. There was a lot that I could let go, but I communicated my limit. 

For you perhaps it is that dishes need to be put away right after a meal, or at the end of the night. Maybe you need your spouse to be ready to go five minutes before you leave the house and not at the very last second. Whatever it is, know the point where you cross over to resentment and communicate it.

SET THEM UP TO SUCCEED

When resentment begins to settle into a relationship it is easy to forget that you are partners in life. Communicating expectations and preferences should not come across as a hostage negotiation. Instead, once you know what is setting you off take the time to brainstorm with your spouse what will work for the both of you. Perhaps it is scheduling a specific time to pick up the house. Maybe it is going over your schedule at the beginning of the week and agreeing on times you want to leave by. It could even be as simple as delegating who will do what, especially if you have a very strong preference regarding a particular task. Working together to solve the conflict reduces resentment and rebuilds trust. 

For Steve and I we came up with an alarm schedule that worked for Steve (which allowed him room to snooze or even sleep to the last minute if he wanted) but still had him up by 7am. I had to let go of imposing my own preference for his morning routine in order for us to agree to what would work best for everyone. 

EXPECT TO RECALIBRATE AS YOU GO

Lastly, expect to have to revisit the issue…multiple times. You are two people with two different priorities and experiences. The boundary for your resentment is not the same as theirs. So, they will slip up given enough time. Eventually they will let the dishes pile up, or forget to let you know about a meeting, or push something to the last second. Just this morning I had to remind Steve of our 7am agreement when he moseyed into the kitchen after 7:30am. But instead of pouncing on him with built-up annoyance I was able to gently (and with a little humor) remind him of our 7am agreement. It is important that when you recalibrate you do it outside of a moment of upset, come with an open mind, and work together. Maybe the original plan isn’t working anymore, and you need to come up with a new one. Perhaps there is a tweak that needs to be made, or there are special circumstances to take into consideration. Work together to get back in track and restore harmony to your house.

What do you do to maintain harmony and set expectations in your marriage?