How to Overcome Built-Up Resentment in Marriage
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.
★We get it: Sometimes getting the help you need can feel like it’s out of reach for so many reasons. Here are some free/reduced options for counseling and help in your personal and relational wellbeing.★
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.
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
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
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.***
I’m Unhappy In My Marriage. What Can I Do?
I’m sorry to hear that you’re unhappy in your marriage. I don’t need to tell you that an unhappy marriage can lead to stress, depression, anxiety, and insecurity. That hurts. But the fact that you’re here is a sign that you’re looking for help. That means you’re still hopeful. Hold on to that hope.
Now let’s make a plan. (We’re going to look at your Marriage Mindset. It’s how you think about your marriage. There’ll be sources at the end to go deeper, plus a ton of practical help.)
If you Googled “unhappy marriage,” you know that most articles head straight to, “Should I stay or should I leave?” Fortunately, those are not your only options. This is a chance for growth.
Many “unhappy” marriages are actually feeling growing pains. They could potentially hit a growth spurt and go to a whole new level.
I recently heard someone tearfully say, “I want to be able to say I did everything in my power to make this relationship work.” I remember thinking: This person has the power to change the relationship and flip the whole story! (It looks like it’s working, too!)
Nobody knows you, your spouse, and your marriage better than you do. I won’t give you one-size-fits-all answers for your unique marriage. My goal is to walk alongside you and give you some things to think through. Together, we’ll discover actions to make tangible improvements to your marriage. (You may want to have a pen and paper ready.)
(1.) Is your marriage causing you to feel unhappy, or are you unhappy about your life in general?
These aren’t entirely unrelated, but they need different solutions. It’s easy to confuse the two. Settle in and give this some real thought. List issues in two columns on your paper.
(2.) Is this an “unhappy” marriage situation or an “unsafe” situation?
There’s a difference between “unhappy” and “unsafe.” If you feel emotionally, psychologically, or physically unsafe, please IMMEDIATELY seek out the professionals listed at the bottom of the page.*
(3.) Start with a positive mindset. (Before you roll your eyes, stick with me.)
We are what we repeatedly think. Let’s keep things positive and in perspective. Take a few minutes to write down five things each (about your life and in your marriage) that you’re grateful for. (If you can go past five on either list, keep going!) Look at both of those lists and try to immerse yourself in gratitude.
This is where it starts. Your marriage isn’t totally and completely terrible. See the positives for what they represent. The positives are real, concrete, and significant. It’s super easy to focus on the wrongs and overlook what’s right. Your Marriage Mindset can make all the difference.
Time Out For Some Optimistic Realism
Before we go any further, here are some things you need to understand for real, lasting change to happen. You may want to sit with these ideas a bit.
If you don’t believe you can be happy in your marriage, you won’t.
No one can make you feel anything without your permission. This doesn’t mean you’re responsible for your circumstances or your spouse, only that you’re responsible for how you respond to them – in your actions and emotions. We tend to misjudge our own power in these situations. What if you aren’t the Victim in an unhappy marriage? What if you’re the Hero?
If you don’t believe you and your spouse can change, you won’t.
Change in yourself is, by definition, change in your relationship with your spouse. Don’t underestimate that. As you change, you can be a catalyst for change in your spouse. (If you frequently fight, but now you’re aware of your words, it will help if you try to stay calm. It’s a powerful thing when you don’t escalate situations. Boom! Marriage-changer. And maybe a spouse-changer.)
If you don’t believe your marriage can change, it won’t.
Sometimes marriage feels romantic. Sometimes it feels like work. Marriages go through ups and downs and seasons. Make sure what you expect matches the realities of marriage.
Organize your thoughts.
Let’s keep keepin’ it real. You’re in an unhappy marriage. I want you to write down five things you wish were different in your marriage. Take your time. Now, look at your list.
How many things are mainly about your spouse? How many are mainly about you? And how many involve you both? What things can you control, and what things can’t you control? What things can you influence, even if you can’t control them? Which things are due to circumstances?
These aren’t just changes to your thought processes. These are radical perspective changes that can transform your marriage.
Assuming that many of the things on your list weren’t always that way, how have they changed? This should encourage you. Change works both ways.
Time to make a plan.
Take another look at the things you wish were different in your marriage. Where do you want to start? What would have the most immediate impact? More importantly, what can you control? How will you be the change?
Use the Principle of Replacement: Instead of __________, I’m going to __________. Set a reasonable goal(s) and go for it! Watch what happens!
Let’s get your spouse in on this!
Does your spouse know you feel unhappy in your marriage? Do you know how your spouse feels? Don’t be surprised if your spouse isn’t aware of how unhappy you are. Don’t be shocked to find out your spouse is unhappy, too. It’s time to talk.
How to have a productive conversation:
- Take turns talking and listening to each other’s needs and concerns.
- Use “I” statements (I feel, I need, etc.) and be respectful and kind.
- Avoid defensiveness, over-generalizing, trying to be “right” or “to win.”
- Work toward and commit to mutually satisfying compromises.
- You should each have a concrete list of 2-3 things to work on.
- Set a time to talk again to re-evaluate, make adjustments, and celebrate growth.
Be patient and gracious with yourself and your spouse. Lasting change doesn’t happen overnight. Give yourselves a month to work on these things. Be intentional during that month to work on being your best self, spend quality time together, communicate, and have some fun.
➤ Read 30 Tips On How to Have A Happy Marriage & 50 Marriage Tips From Couples Who’ve Lasted 50 Years.
Keep your positive Marriage Mindset. Restructure how you think about a “happy marriage.”
I want you to be able to say you did everything in your power to make this relationship work.
Effects of Conflict and Stress on Relationships
Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Relationship
Cognitive Restructuring for Stress Relief: Introduction
How to Survive in An Unhappy Marriage | Psych Central
The Five Stages of Relationship | Free & Connected
Does Couples’ Communication Predict Marital Satisfaction, or Does Marital Satisfaction Predict Communication?
Six Good Habits to Start for Your Marriage in the New Year – First Things First
5 Keys to Being Thankful in Marriage – First Things First
Is Conflict in Marriage Inevitable? – First Things First
*National Hotline for Domestic Abuse
Are you nervous or afraid to disagree with or displease your spouse? Do you feel safe? For a free, confidential, and clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here, or contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse, 24/7, at 1−800−799−7233.
What To Do When You’ve Lost Romantic Feelings For Your Spouse
You might phrase it differently, but when you’ve lost romantic feelings for your spouse, you’re probably feeling something like:
- That spark’s gone. I feel like I’m just going through the motions.
- I’m not attracted to my spouse like I used to be.
- I love my spouse, but I’m not in love with them anymore.
- Over the years, we’ve grown apart. We’ve become different people.
- My marriage hasn’t turned out like I thought it would.
- There’s no passion. No magic. No romance. I just don’t feel it.
That romantic feeling is going, going… gone now. What happened?
First, we need to make sure we are talking about the same things when using words like romance and love. These words can mean a variety of things, and that makes discussing them difficult. Let’s get on the same page. This might bring some clarity to what you’re feeling.
This will be our term for romance. It’s usually characterized by a strong desire to:
- be around your spouse,
- please them,
- enjoy them,
- be sexually attracted to them, and
- overlook their flaws.
This is what people usually mean when they say they are in love with their spouse.
Passionate love has a unique effect on your brain and body chemistry. Those fireworks! But some researchers claim passionate love naturally gives way to a deeper kind of love as your relationship grows. Other researchers argue that passionate love doesn’t have to fade.
Passionate love might come and go, and romance might ebb and flow… but it doesn’t have to disappear from your marriage completely. You might have to be more intentional and purposeful to keep that romantic spark lit.
This will be our term for what people generally mean by the word love. It’s usually characterized by:
- deep feelings of security,
- emotional connection and intimacy, and
- best-friendship in your marriage.
Some researchers call this companionate love.
Compared to passionate love, this love is often considered more stable, mature, and steady. It doesn’t feel as fun, euphoric, or exhilarating as passionate romantic love. But this makes sense. Because researchers have found that this love activates different parts of the brain – even different body chemistry – than passionate love. So, yeah, it actually feels different.
Perhaps your relationship has undergone a normal transition. Maybe it’s been creeping up on you. Maybe it hit you all at once. It’s not a crisis, but it can feel like one if you didn’t expect it. Now you’ve gained some perspective and can be purposefully passionate moving forward.
Perhaps conflict or circumstances have deflated your passionate love. This is less of a relationship transition you can accept and walk through… and more like relationship issues you can expect to work through. (Compassionate love can be the safe context to work through these issues.)
That romantic feeling is going, going… gone. Now, what happens?
You don’t have to pick between passionate love and compassionate love. Healthy, growing, long-lasting marriages have both.
Explore the depths of compassionate love. Enjoy the heights of passionate love as you keep cultivating those romantic feelings. Here’s a practical place to start – back at the beginning.
★ Here Are Some Things To Think About And Try!
Okay, today, you don’t have romantic feelings for your spouse. Look at all your yesterdays. Take a step back, like, all the way back to your wedding day. Rekindle old feelings by reviewing old memories.
1. Remember Why You Married Your Spouse.
Many counselors and therapists recommend listing what attracted you to your spouse in the first place and the reasons you wanted to marry them. What caused you to fall in love? Remind yourself of why you’re grateful for your spouse.
Take time to reminisce about the first time you met. How do you remember it? How does your spouse remember it? Similarly, talk about your first date. Can you recreate it? While on your date, talk through five things you appreciate about each other and your relationship. How did you get engaged? How did you propose/were you proposed to? What were the feelings surrounding that occasion? What was your wedding day like? Did everything go as planned? What were you feeling on The Big Day? What was your first year of marriage like? Share favorite stories. What were you naive about? How has your relationship grown since then?
You know your spouse better today, including their faults, annoying habits, and when they let you down. Yes, reality puts some big dents in romance. Reality also invites you to a deeper love that transcends romantic feelings and builds a stronger bond with your all-too-human spouse. This could be a huge marital growth opportunity.
2. Remember All The Things You’ve Been Through With Your Spouse.
What circumstances have changed since your wedding day? Children? Careers? Stress? Illness? It could be as simple as being busier now. It could be as complex as significant unresolved marital conflicts. Commit to each other to work through any obstacles as a team. And commit to shaking things up a bit. (In a good way.)
Have you talked to your spouse about how you feel? Are you creating the time and space to maintain your marriage so there’s room for romance? This probably doesn’t sound romantic, but frequently the effort comes first. The feelings often follow. You might be surprised by the romance conjured by a planned night out, the habit of taking a walk together after dinner or even scheduled sex. Do something different. Don’t let your relationship get in a rut.
- Try some of these 100 Cute Date Ideas So You Never Get Bored Again.
- Talk through The 50 Best Marriage Tips Of All Time From 50 Relationship Experts. What do you already have down? What do you want to start working on?
- Move beyond clichéd convos. Pick a question or two a day from these 200 Questions for couples.
- Let the big brains at Harvard give you some spicy Tips To Improve Your Sex Life, or Keep The Spark Alive In Your Marriage with advice from these other big brains.
- Change up your bedtime routine with these 10 Things Happy Couples Do Before They Go to Sleep.
3. DANGER ZONE.
Gut-check time. Have you entertained romantic feelings for someone other than your spouse? It’s difficult to have romantic feelings for two different people simultaneously. It can be subtle at the start. A friend or co-worker seems fun and interesting. Maybe you see some qualities in them you feel your spouse is lacking. That romantic feeling for your spouse starts to wane. This is the Danger Zone.
If this is the case, you need a reality check. You know your spouse, warts and all. It’s unfair and unrealistic to compare your spouse to someone you know comparatively on a superficial level. The grass isn’t greener on the other side of the fence. The grass is greener where you water it.
See those “feelings” for what they really are and refocus on your spouse. Nourish your relationship with your spouse and see what happens to your romantic feelings.
4. Start with you.
Maybe this isn’t about your spouse at all. You might be experiencing some changes in how you look at yourself and your life. Several things could cause this. You might not be experiencing success in your career like you’d hoped. Maybe you’re feeling the burden of financial stress. You could be dealing with physical or mental health issues. This could be a season of life thing. You could simply be aging and not handling it in a healthy way.
Do a personal inventory. You might need to take a good, honest look deep inside yourself. Many things may have changed or shifted inside of you, affecting how you feel about your spouse. You might not have noticed slow, silent repositioning in your perspective or personality. It might be helpful to enlist a trusted friend in answering these questions. See your primary care physician if you haven’t had a check-up in a long time. Our physical health and our feelings are bound up together. Don’t be afraid to seek out a counselor or therapist if you feel like you can’t quite understand what you’re feeling. Your spouse will thank you.
You’ve lost romantic feelings for your spouse. How you respond is critical.
Some people want a romance-based relationship. Ask yourself if that’s a reality-based relationship. You might not always feel that heady, passionate love. But as you experience that heavy compassionate love, the romantic feelings that follow might surprise you.
Don’t be afraid to take a hard look at yourself. Ask yourself the tough questions. Respond in a way that’s healthy for yourself and your marriage. Seek out help where needed. Lost romantic feelings may be complex, but they may also be very simple. Taking these steps is a great sign, and there is hope!
TAKE THE GUESSWORK OUT OF YOUR RELATIONSHIPS
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Keep Romance Strong in Marriage
Love and the Brain | Harvard Medical School
Brain Study Reveals Secrets of Staying Madly in Love | Psychology Today
The Dark Side of Believing in True Love – BBC Future
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The Psychology Behind Love and Romance
Thinking About Romantic/Erotic Love
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Getting It Right the First Time: Creating a Healthy Marriage
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Is Conflict in Marriage Inevitable?
Some things in marriage are inevitable, like conflict.
But wait. Isn’t the point of marriage to avoid conflict? To live in marital bliss and peace, happily ever after?
It’s commonly thought the less you fight, the healthier your marriage. As a matter of fact, both researchers and counselors seem to agree some conflict is not only inevitable, it’s normal. And it could even be good for your marriage.
That word: conflict; it’s tricky. Some might be tempted to picture marital conflict as a knock-down, drag-out, throwdown of debate and insults in the effort to “win.”
But if we’re to thrive in our marriage, it’s necessary to reframe how we think about marital conflict.
Conflict is simply disagreement. It’s a temporary inability to see eye-to-eye. Sometimes it involves strong feelings. But in no way is conflict some kind of omen for dysfunction. It’s just gonna happen, even in the healthiest of marriages. It’s, well, inevitable.
Side note here: There’s something to be said about the frequency of conflict in your marriage. If you find yourselves constantly at odds with each other, this could spell trouble. And it’s a possible sign that either: A. You aren’t handling conflict in a healthy way, or B. Other dynamics are eating away at your marriage. If this is the case, it may be a good time to consider seeking help from a professional marriage counselor.
So when it does come around (and it will), every married couple is tasked with handling conflict in healthy ways.
But how do you get there? Keep these ideas in mind:
- You and your spouse wear the same jersey. You’re on the same team. Even teammates have different ideas of how to get the ball down the field. But at the end of the day, you both share the same goal: Resolve the issue at hand and keep your marriage strong.
- Attack the problem instead of each other. In other words, keep the goal the goal. Nothing gets accomplished when you go after each other’s character. Avoid those four nasty responses to conflict described by researcher John Gottman: criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling.1 They kill communication and suck the life out of your marriage.
- Be aware of how you speak in a conflict. Avoid using harsh start-ups, launching into a tirade with your emotions driving the boat. Don’t start sentences with “You…” Instead, use “I” statements to own your feelings and opinions.
- This is going to require some listening on both your parts. Listening is key to working toward a resolution.2 Since you share the goal, you share in the solution. Listen to seek to understand the other person’s view, even if it doesn’t align with your own thinking.
- Know when to forgive, and perhaps more importantly, when to ask for forgiveness. It deters the lingering effects of a conflict, even when a solution is found.3 Forgive and leave the offense there.
If you and your spouse experience conflict in your marriage, don’t fret.
It doesn’t mean you’re doomed. It’s just a part of life and a part of the marriage journey. And evidence even suggests that conflict can be positive for your marriage.4
Although conflict is inevitable, it provides an opportunity for making change where it needs to be made. And working through an issue to find a solution creates a stronger sense of connection and intimacy between couples.
Don’t let conflict throw your marriage off track. Maximize it to find solutions and strengthen your marriage.
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4 Tips for Becoming a Team in Marriage
1Gottman, J., Coan, J., Carrere, S., & Swanson, C. (1998). Predicting Marital Happiness and Stability from Newlywed Interactions. Journal of Marriage and Family, 60(1), 5–22. https://doi.org/10.2307/353438
2Lachica, N., Stockwell, A., & Gamba, J. (2021). What did I just say? An individualized behavior skills training for listening behaviors of adult participants in romantic relationships. Sexual and Relationship Therapy, 1–24. https://doi.org/10.1080/14681994.2021.1922664
3Fincham, F. D., Beach, S. R. H., & Davila, J. (2004). Forgiveness and Conflict Resolution in Marriage. Journal of Family Psychology, 18(1), 72–81. https://doi.org/10.1037/0893-318.104.22.168
4Deutsch, M., & Coleman, P. T. (2000). The handbook of conflict resolution : theory and practice (1st ed.). Jossey-Bass.
Working Through Resentment With Your Spouse
I have been a resentful spouse. My spouse has also resented me. Coming up on 28 years of marriage, my wife and I have five children, and we’ve seen it all. From socks that never made it to the hamper, to financially disastrous decisions, to weaponized sex, to disagreements about parenting, to not getting simple tasks done around the house, to navigating personality quirks. And did I mention infidelity? Yup, infidelity.
There are tons more examples, big and little. It’s not a contest. Whatever brought you to this blog is the biggest thing in your world. Nobody is dealing with resentment exactly the same way you are. But no matter why or how you arrived at this blog, resentment is a tumor in your marriage, and without proper treatment, it will keep growing.
Tumor?! Why would I refer to resentment with your spouse as a tumor? Resentment is a negative emotion that builds up over time. If you don’t deal with it, it will poison more and more of your relationship. It will come to dominate your marriage, making romance, compassion, and intimacy all but impossible. And the sooner you catch it, the easier it will be to treat.
Resentment cannot be taken lightly, but it does have a relatively straightforward solution. Each spouse will have to communicate – probably in a series of conversations. Each will have to express themselves appropriately and honestly. And each will have to listen to the other in good faith. The goal is to compromise and implement a plan. The plan will no doubt be revisited and modified. Resentment should yield resilience.
Compromise and a Plan
The beauty of compromise and a plan is that they’re tangible and measurable. Ideally, as you see your spouse working toward compromise and following the plan, you can be confident. Perhaps confident enough to let go of some resentment and rekindle that spark you once felt. And when your spouse feels that spark, it’ll feed their efforts. Watch that positive cycle go!
So how can you put together a plan and work toward compromise? Here’s a 6-step process you can use as a guide. This isn’t an end-all-be-all on how to stop resentment. But instead, use these steps to help guide you and your spouse toward a compromise and a plan you both agree on that works for your relationship.
A Plan for Working Through Resentment With Your Spouse
1. Catch it early.
It’s much easier to manage and process through resentment before it builds.
2. Communication is everything.
This assumes you feel safe communicating in your marriage. You might need an older, wiser mentor couple. You might need a therapist or counselor. And you might need to establish some rules:
- Each person gets to speak uninterrupted for 10 minutes.
- Try to separate the person from the behavior.
- Use “I” statements: I feel, I need, I’m hurting.
- Don’t escalate with volume, tone, sarcasm, or words meant to just inflict hurt.
- Focus on being a good listener. Remember your body language.
3. The source of the resentment in your marriage needs to be front and center.
- “When you do _____ it makes me feel _____.”
- “I’m having a hard time moving past _____.”
- “I don’t think you understand how much _____ hurt me.”
- “We’ve talked about changing _____, but it hasn’t changed.”
4. Compromise is the goal. Both spouses need to win so the marriage wins.
5. Develop a plan for handling the situation(s) in the future. Write it down.
- Think through different scenarios and have a plan for them.
- Set goals.
- The plan is the accountability and enforcement, not the spouse.
- You can always revisit the plan and modify it where necessary.
6. Last but not least, start again with a clean slate. In good faith, you move forward.
The clean slate is going to be the hardest part. You’re hurt and you’re defensive. You’re in survival mode. Trust may have been broken. But if you really want to deal with resentment in your marriage, you have to move forward in good faith, with patience, believing the best, and extending grace. And hopefully, you will watch the downward spiral of resentment slowly stop as the positive emotions pick up some momentum.
For my wife and I, we’ve gone so far as to say, “THAT marriage is over. We start a new marriage TODAY.”
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5 Ways to Tell If You’re a Passive-Aggressive Spouse
Has your spouse accused you of being passive-aggressive? Maybe they say you’re manipulative. Maybe they tell you that you never speak your mind. Sometimes it may seem like you’ve gained the upper hand in disagreements, but it still feels like the relationship never wins. Are you passive-aggressive or being falsely accused? Well, let’s look at a few ways to shed more light on whether you’re passive-aggressive or not.
What is passive-aggressive behavior?
Daniel K. Hall-Flavin, M.D says, “Passive-aggressive behavior is a pattern of indirectly expressing negative feelings instead of openly addressing them.“1
Think of it this way: You’re expressing your negative feelings aggressively, negatively. Often, this asserts your control, power, or desire to punish your spouse. However, it’s done passively or indirectly. If you’re not directly naming it, your spouse may not be sure what the real issue is.
Aggressive doesn’t necessarily mean loud, forceful, or demonstrative. But it is often intentional and pointed directly toward your spouse.
Different Levels of Passive-Aggressiveness
1. Passive-Aggressive Moments.
Many people have moments of passive-aggressiveness. Sometimes, you just don’t have the emotional energy to deal with a conflict, so you use passive-aggressive behavior to keep control of the issue. You may not demonstrate this behavior often, but every now and then, you might pull it out of your bag of tricks. You probably know it’s not the healthiest thing in the world, but the alternative at the moment isn’t worth it.
2. Passive-Aggressive Habits.
Being passive-aggressive is your primary way of addressing issues with your spouse. You may even find it hard to initiate a conversation about an issue head-on. You may have become “effective” at passive-aggressive behavior. It seems to get you what you want.
3. Passive-Aggressive Personality Disorder.
The American Psychiatric Association defines this as a “pervasive pattern of negativistic attitudes and passive resistance to demands for adequate performance in social and occupational situations.” 2,3 This person feels impossible to tackle conflict with. Their passive-aggressive nature spreads throughout every part of their life.
What does passive-aggressive behavior look like?
Here are some ways being passive-aggressive may play out.
1. Sarcastic, snarky comments.
On its own, the comment you make may sound like a compliment. But the context is clearly meant to be negative. You and your spouse haven’t had a real conversation in weeks, but you hear your spouse chopping it up with one of their friends. You say, “You two sure do have a lot to talk about.” On its own, it seems innocent. Perhaps you’re hoping they feel the sharpness of your emotions. You feel neglected, maybe a bit jealous. However, instead of coming out and saying what you feel, you make a sarcastic remark.
2. Half-doing tasks.
Your spouse’s schedule has changed, and they aren’t doing things around the house, leaving it to you. You resent their schedule change, or you feel like they’re taking you for granted. Instead of bringing it up, you half-heartedly do the tasks like yard work, laundry, or cleaning. It’s obviously not up to standard. You’re trying to prove a point.
3. Silence or distance. (I struggle with this one.)
You gain control by not talking about anything of substance. Your conversations become surface-level or just about facts. Nothing personal or vulnerable. You build a wall between you and your spouse. You’re expressing your anger, resentment, displeasure, etc., through silence. This gives you control of the situation or at least makes you feel like you’re in control.
4. Agreeing, but not really agreeing.
Your spouse wants to go to the in-laws, but you don’t want to go. Your spouse knows you don’t want to go, and you can’t even believe they’ve asked you to come along. Instead of sharing your true desire, you agree to go not out of compassion or being a team player but out of resentment. You’re upset because they should know that you’re not ok with going.
5. Ignoring, putting off, or procrastinating.
Your spouse has asked you to do something. Your negative feelings toward your spouse may have nothing to do with what they’ve asked. However, you choose to express your negative emotions by continually putting off their request while never sharing the real reason.
Signs You May Be Passive-Aggressive… Self-Reflection Questions
While you self-reflect, consider…
- How do you address conflict in your marriage? Do you clearly communicate your thoughts, emotions, and desires, or do you drop hints? Do you exhibit any of the previously mentioned behaviors? Is ist possbile that you simply avoid conflict while sending sharp signals that there is conflict?
- Do you have negative thoughts about your spouse that motivate how you respond to them? How do they know those thoughts? Or do they? Is it possible you have built-up anger or resentment that comes out through simple requests?
- Do you usually control the when and where you deal with marital problems? You may be using passive-aggressive behavior to control or manipulate your spouse instead of working together.
Understanding how you deal with issues in your marriage can help your marriage thrive through difficult times.
If you come to the conclusion that you are a passive-aggressive spouse, that’s progress! Even if you don’t, this can open up meaningful conversations with your spouse to figure out how to handle conflict well in your marriage. The ultimate goal here isn’t about pointing out faults; it’s about transforming conflict in your marriage into building blocks for intimacy. Becoming a better version of yourself in that process is a strong byproduct I’ll take any day.
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1What is Passive Aggressive Behavior? What Are Some of the Signs?
2 The Construct of Passive-Aggressive Personality Disorder