How to Overcome Built-Up Resentment in Marriage

Even though it may be hard or even painful, a healthier relationship is worth the effort.
By Mitchell Qualls
July 6, 2022

Resentment in marriage is a dangerous emotion. It’s a silent killer of relationships. Resentment is bitterness at having been mistreated. It’s anger too, but it’s so much more. When you feel resentment, you’re reliving whatever caused the anger. This builds an emotional wall between you and your spouse.

Resentment is complex, and it doesn’t look the same for everyone. Resentment can be a mixture of anger, surprise, disgust, contempt, shock, and outrage.1  

Here are some common causes of resentment in marriage:

  • Being taken advantage of by your spouse.
  • Your spouse spends too much time with their family or friends and not enough with yours.
  • Your spouse is married to their job.
  • You don’t feel recognized or appreciated by your spouse.
  • Being put down by your spouse.

Any of these would cause you to be justifiably angry. When that anger is ignored or left unresolved, it festers and grows into resentment. Anger is a healthy emotion, but resentment is not. 

Built-up resentment doesn’t have to be a relationship killer. Your marriage can overcome it. It may not be easy, but it is possible.

Where do you start if you want to overcome built-up resentment in your marriage?

I’m so glad you asked.

Get to the root of the resentment.

To overcome resentment in marriage, you have to start at the root. Ask yourself, “When did it start? What happened that caused me to feel this way?” Maybe you feel there are several causes. Grab a notebook and start writing. Think through the timeline of your marriage. It may seem like you resent your spouse for several things, but there is likely a root cause. Remember, resentment builds an emotional wall between you and your spouse. Many issues may have compounded after that wall was built.

The intention isn’t to list all your spouse’s wrongdoings. Like a good detective, you need to gather the evidence. The exercise of writing down the wrongs will help you identify the root cause. Once you have identified the root, don’t let the other issues compound it.

Let yourself feel.

Resentment is an intense emotion. If you’re angry, be angry. If you’re sad, be sad. We often bottle up our feelings when we think others don’t care. Bottling up those emotions isn’t healthy or helpful. To overcome resentment, you must process the feelings that come with it. And as you work through this with your spouse, you must let those feelings be seen. Let them know how their action, or inaction, makes you feel. Remember to use “I” statements like “I feel hurt” or “I feel neglected.”

Focus on the good.

Your spouse is your partner, the love of your life. You may not always like them, but you married them because you love them. While resentment can cause us to dwell on the negative, overcoming resentment can only happen if we remember all the good in our marriage. Grab that same notebook and write all the good about your spouse and marriage. Write down what you love about them, how they care for you, good memories, and cherished moments. 

You’re going through this process of overcoming resentment because you cherish and value your spouse.

Talk to someone you trust.

Whether it’s a therapist, a friend, or a relative, you may need someone to talk with through this process. This isn’t about bashing your spouse. You must address your feelings first. You can’t fix someone else; you can only fix yourself. Surround yourself with a support system as you find healing. You may have someone in mind as you read this. Take out your phone, text or call them, and invite them to coffee.

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Acknowledge that we all make mistakes.

We’re all human. Mistakes are in our nature. If we want others to forgive our mistakes, we must offer the same to them. However, this doesn’t mean you should excuse your spouse’s behavior when they wrong you. It means you should acknowledge their mistake and look deeper into the circumstances. If the mistake is repetitive, intentional, or crosses a boundary and they refuse to address it, you should speak to a counselor to get guidance.

Work toward forgiveness.

Forgiveness is a process. It would be ignorant of me to tell you to just forgive your spouse. I’m not a person who easily forgives. It’s often easier to forget and distance yourself from the person who harmed you. But resentment hurts you more than anyone else. If you’re looking for healing, forgiveness must come. 

It may take a lot of time, depending on the depth of the hurt. When you choose to forgive your spouse, you decide to heal yourself. Take your time and be aware of your emotional well-being through the process. Don’t let anyone rush you to forgive. Let your spouse know your feelings and the cause of them. When you are ready, let them know you forgive them. Be honest with them. 

Holding on to resentment hurts you. If you want a healthy, happy marriage, don’t let resentment keep you from working toward that.

Other blogs:

How to Stay Motivated During Marriage Challenges – First Things First

What to Do When You Feel Disrespected in Marriage – First Things First

How To Have More Meaningful Conversations With Your Spouse – First Things First

Sources:

1TenHouten, W. D. (2018). From ressentiment to resentment as a tertiary emotion. Rev. Eur. Stud., 10, 49.

Miceli, & Castelfranchi, C. (2019). Anger and Its Cousins. https://doi.org/10.1177/1754073917714870

Additional articles:

Dealing with Resentment in Relationships I Psych Central

How to Fix Resentment in a Marriage | Loving at Your Best

5 Things to Do When You Start Resenting Your Partner

***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear that someone is monitoring your computer or device, call the hotline 24/7 at 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***

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