Resentment in a relationship – aka hurting you, hurting me.

In my practice, I primarily use Gottman’s relationship tools and talk therapy to help couples navigate the ups and downs of living a life in partnership. In particular, I use their metaphor of the four horse-riders of the apocalypse to describe the actions primarily responsible for the demise of a relationship.

In Gottman’s parable, the horse riders’ names are Criticism, Contempt, Defensiveness, and Stonewalling. They are created from the experiences and learnings we bring with us from previous relationships and upbringing. But they can be controlled and even disappear altogether if fed a diet of understanding, self-awareness, active listening and communication. It is also vital to deny them their favorite snack food – resentment.

 What does resentment look like?

Resentment is defined in the dictionary as a feeling of anger or unhappiness about something that you consider unfair. In a relationship, resentment can occur whenever:

  • We feel that our partner does not consider our needs, or we always have to compromise to keep the other person happy.
  • Our partner says or does something that hurts us without apology or continues to do the same thing after apologising.
  • We do not feel able to communicate an issue to our partner or that our concerns are valid, i.e. you are told you are overreacting or imagining the slight received.
  • We hold on to feelings of injustice long after the event or an apology given.
  • We focus on a negative behaviour and let it cloud over all that is good about the partner.
  • We blame the other person for something that has not gone according to plan in our life because we ‘chose to be with them’ instead.
  • We keep a score of actions in the relationship and feel let down if our partner’s input is not the same as ours.
  • There is an imbalance of power when decisions are made that affect you both.

When we feel resentment towards our partner, we are more likely to:

  • Resort to anger as a way of dealing with conflict.
  • Withdraw from intimacy – physical and emotional.
  • Avoid or incite conflict depending on our learned behavioural response as a child/previous relationship.
  • Replay a resentment triggering event over and over in our minds until it is “blown out of proportion.”
  • Punish our partner through revenge or withdrawal of company.

Unfortunately, feelings of resentment do not go away by themselves. If left ‘untreated’, the horse riders are given free rein to retaliate, especially if resentment is already part of our behavioural response pattern.   

How can we get rid of feelings of resentment from our relationship?

The good news is that resentment is not a fixed behaviour, nor is it an automatic indicator that something is drastically wrong in the relationship and that you should ride off into the sunset alone.  However, vanquishing resentment will take time, communication, forgiveness and a willingness to change behaviour.

Often, letting go of resentment is as simple as asking for and dispensing forgiveness. In doing so, you can both “move on” and focus on the positives of being with each other. However, this simple action does require active communication and a behavioural change to avoid happening again.

If you find it difficult to forgive or feel resentment often, I recommend that you spend time (with or without the help of a therapist) working out why you respond this way. The ‘work’ can either be done alone or together if you both react the same way.

Open and honest communication is key to overcoming conflict and creating a solid relationship that can survive the hurdles that life throws at us. I am here to help you ensure the only ‘horse riders’ in your stable are ones that enhance the journey, not throw it off course completely.

As a couple, I can help you develop alternative strategies to resolve conflict and provide you with the tools required to create balance within your partnership and build a stronger connection to each other.

As an individual, I can help you work through any underlying reasons for resentment and develop new pathways for dealing with conflict. Book an appointment to discuss your situation and improve your relationship today.


Would you like to talk?

If something in this blog has brought up some issues for you, book a free inquiry call with Ann Jay.

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Ann Jay

Ann Jay is a Wellington Relationship Counselor who provides marriage counselling, couple's counselling, and relationship coaching for couples and women either in a relationship or single. Her goal is to help people create healthy, loving and fulfilling relationships and experience the love they deserve.