An Uncommon Truth About Resentment in Marriage

By Lauren Hall
August 30, 2023

Since January 1, 2023, more than 5,000 people have visited the First Things First (FTF) website in search of help against “resentment in marriage.” Terms such as how to overcome resentment, moving past resentment, letting go of resentment, and what to do when my spouse resents me have flooded the search bar. 

Resentment in marriage isn’t new

But, I wondered what was causing the spike in searches and if there were any other queries seeing a similar increase. After a little more review of Google trends and analytics, I found the term “self-care” also saw a significant spike over the last 3 months. While this could be a wild coincidence and have no correlation, this exercise gave me an “aha” moment about resentment.

When couples initially feel resentment in their marriage, they often correlate it with anger. But, resentment is not a function of anger; it’s a function of envy. 

Let’s break this down a little more through an example. Your spouse is watching TV and relaxing on the couch when you get home from work. However, the house is dirty, there’s no food to be eaten, and the laundry baskets are spilling over. You feel mad. Heat surges through your body. You may say something like, “Don’t you see all this stuff that needs to be done?” “Why are you just sitting there?” And if you’re not careful, you may become accusatory and use language such as “lazy,” “I do everything,” “you never help,” and the list goes on. 

A closer look at anger

In this example, you feel angry because of everything your spouse didn’t do, but here’s why that anger is actually envy: In your mind, your spouse has become the culprit for putting more work on your plate. The consequence of having more work to do is not being able to relax or do other things you wanted. On an even deeper note, you can’t help but notice everything that needs to be done around the house, and it’s hard for you to relax until it IS done. But, your spouse is obviously capable of relaxing, even when there’s a list of things to do. How is that possible? Why are they able to do this, and you’re not? This is envy. 

With this example in mind, the correlation between the increase in searches for “self-care” and “resentment” makes more sense. Spouses may feel resentment toward each other because self-care has become an obstacle in their marriage. This could look like one spouse receiving more time or having more energy for self-care or even one spouse just not needing as much self-care as the other.

Regardless of the circumstance, the key to walk away with is this: Resentment is a function of envy, not anger. This knowledge allows you to go one step deeper in overcoming resentment in your relationship. If you feel resentment toward your spouse for any reason, ask yourself these questions before giving in to anger:

  • How am I comparing myself to them in this situation?
  • Is there something my spouse is doing or receiving that I’m envious of?
  • Have I communicated my needs and desires to my spouse and explained why they matter to me? (e.g., I need you to do the laundry while I’m gone because I’d really like to relax when I get home, and I just can’t if the laundry is piled high.)

Understanding that resentment is a function of envy gives you a solid solution for how to handle it. Envy often comes from an unmet need or desire. Before turning to anger and blame, take a deeper dive within yourself. Over time, doing this can also change the way you see your spouse and your marriage.

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