Resentment is one of the leading causes of divorce in long-term marriages. It’s true, and it gets worse.
The Gottman Institute cites resentment as one of the most likely indicators of a breakup — making up one-quarter of the Four Horsemen of Relationships.
The insidious thing about resentment is that you often can’t tell that it’s there until it is too late. That’s why it’s so important to watch out for signs that you may have resentment and to know how to prevent it from ever hitting your relationship.
You owe it to yourself and your partner to know how to avoid this sneaky relationship killer, but what even causes it in the first place.
What causes resentment in relationships?
Believe it or not, many of the most common causes of resentment are pretty easy to spot if you look at things from a different perspective.
These issues, in particular, tend to be the biggest causes of resentment:
1. Uneven workloads
Among cishet relationships, uneven workloads remain one of the biggest reasons for resentment to creep in. This is particularly true when you are in a relationship that has kids involved.
Statistics show that women still take the largest percentage of housework, even when both parties have full-time jobs. Eventually, when too much work gets put on one partner’s shoulders, they will start to resent the other partner.
This is especially true if the partner in question refuses to improve their workload or patently ignores what the other partner’s saying.
2. Abuse and/or cheating
Abusive and cheating behavior is generally a sign that you should not be together. This is true, even if you are the perpetrator and your partner forgave you. If you berated your spouse, cheated on them, or hit them, it’s time to call it quits.
Even if they forgive you, that resentment is almost always there. It’s healthier for everyone involved to split.
Everyone has a moment where they are not interested in having sex, and it’s okay to say no. That’s fine. What isn’t fine is when your partner keeps getting told no, is treated like a creep for wanting intimacy, and gets to the point where their confidence is impacted.
When your partner feels undesirable, there are going to be problems in your relationship. It’s impossible for near-constant rejection to not include some form of resentment. If your partner has been making comments about you rejecting her and her feeling unloved, she probably already resents you.
There is a certain type of person who tends to be taken for granted by others, even when they do more than what most people would tolerate. These types of people are known as “givers” and they often wait for a “thank you” that never comes.
The longer they wait for their partners to start responding in kind or saying how much they appreciate them, the more likely it is they are going to develop some kind of resentment.
5. Not being heard
Do you tend to brush off your partner’s complaints about the relationship? Or rather, do you say you’ll work on it and never do? If you’ve ever had someone who has been through this experience, you already know why many people who deal with this get resentful—often until they leave without a word.
6. Unrealistic expectations
Most people have met someone who has a “pie in the sky” type of outlook on life. In women, these tend to be the girls who get resentful when men aren’t constantly showering them with attention and high-end gifts. Unrealistic expectations are often easy to spot.
Unfortunately, you have to make sure that your partner isn’t someone who expects life to be handed to them on a silver platter. It just doesn’t work that way.
We all know that life gets in the way of focusing on the big things, sometimes until things are too bad to fix. However, we all tend to want someone to focus on us—even if it’s only an hour a week.
Imagine being with someone who you regularly give your all to, only to realize you’re the last priority they have. Many relationships end up having this issue when kids are born and when you work too many hours. But, it can also happen if one partner is way more successful than the other.
After a while, your partner may start to feel like an accessory. If it rests for too long, it will turn into resentment.
How can you tell if your partner is resentful?
Resentment is one of those things that’s not always easy to spot. In fact, it can be extremely difficult with women because they are often socialized to “keep sweet” until they can no longer take it.
However, there can be some clues that can help you figure out whether or not resentment is poisoning your relationship. The most telling ones include:
- Your partner’s demeanor has gotten increasingly icy and angry towards you. Does your partner seem increasingly uninterested in talking to you? Do you feel “iced out” by them or hear them saying mean-spirited remarks about how you treat her? This is a sign that resentment is probably already present in your relationship.
- There have been moments your partner admitted to feeling resentful. If your partner openly admits they resent you, you’ve been blessed with someone who’s assertive enough to admit when something is wrong. That’s rare! Unfortunately, this is a major cry for help and it means you need to address things fast.
- Others have warned you that your partner feels resentful. If your partner has complained to other people who care about you, they may actually start to try to talk to you. While your initial reaction may be to get defensive, the truth is that it may be time to focus on how to fix things.
- You know you treated your partner poorly. This is never a good thing. The “treat ‘em mean, keep ‘em keen” adage doesn’t work in healthy relationships.
- Your partner acts more like a roommate than a lover. Do you have a dead bedroom? Resentment will turn the idea of having sex with you into a major turn-off for your partner. If your partner seems disgusted by the idea of sleeping with you, resentment may have a role to play in this.
- It feels like you need to walk on eggshells near them. Is your partner prone to blowups when you try to talk to them? It’s probably resentment.
- Your partner has repeatedly begged you to do (or stop doing) certain things but has recently stopped asking despite there being no change from you. At this point, your partner has probably mentally checked out of the relationship. The resentment is there, they are probably just waiting to wash their hands of you.
- Your partner has made “jokes” or threats about hitting you, leaving you, cheating on you, or harming you. Though they may be jokes, there is often truth in humor that people don’t want to admit.
How to address resentment before it kills your relationship
One of the reasons why resentment is so insidious is that it lingers before it actually gets to the point where it’s visible. In many cases, it is not possible to fix a relationship post-resentment. Even so, it’s possible to try. Here’s how.
1. Start by assessing if it’s worth fixing or capable of being fixed
If the resentment has seriously impacted your quality of life together, you may have a serious issue to work on. The thing is, you can only have a functional relationship if you and your partner both are open to working on it. In other words, you have to have a willing partner before you can work on things.
You need to talk to your partner about the resentment you feel in the relationship without getting defensive. If your partner’s reaction is to blow up, get angrier, and just shut you out, it may be time to call it quits. On a similar note, if you notice that you’re getting resentful of her too, it’s time to end the relationship.
Many abusive relationships start with someone who uses resentment as a weapon against a partner. If you feel cornered, alone, controlled, hurt, or insecure about yourself after interacting with your partner, you might be in an abusive relationship.
Abusive partners are not people you want to try to work things out with. If there are warning signs of abuse in your relationship, now would be a good time to work on leaving your partner.
2. Discuss what the issue is, and don’t get defensive
In many cases, your partner may have already made you aware of what made them feel resentful. It’s all about listening at this point. Have they told you repeatedly to stop doing something? Have they explained that they feel overworked in the past?
If you aren’t sure what caused it, it’s best to be open about it.
Say, “Hey, I’ve been getting the impression that you’re resentful of me and that you’re not happy in this relationship. I love you and I want to fix this before it gets out of control. How can I do better? What are you feeling right now?”
The next step? Actively listen to your partner and take note of what she’s saying.
3. Get to work to figure out how you can make things better
Once you hear her out, it’s time to listen to her and actually show follow-through. If you are not willing to consistently work and change your habits permanently, this will not work. But, what does this mean?
- “I feel undesired.” If you haven’t been initiating sex with her, do so. Moreover, remember that sexuality isn’t just about the poke. It’s about romance and foreplay too. Remember why you love her, and work from there.
- “You’re not helping out with the chores, even when I’m doing XYZ.” If you want to save your relationship, you will need to pick up after yourself, occasionally scrub the floors, and also run errands for her. This is not “women’s work.” This is functional adult work!
- “I haven’t been a priority for you for ages.” Start putting her needs first, and start booking a weekly date night. If you have money to do so, outsource some housework.
- “It feels like you only want me for sex.” This often has a lot of different issues that boiled into one. Couples’ counseling is often the best way to reignite the spark, but it may also be that she feels like you only bond physically with her.
- “You say a lot of really hurtful remarks about me.” If she says you’ve hurt her, counseling or careful mediation may be the only way to fix things.
4. Start working on fixing the issues
It’s great to say that you’re working on the things you need to do, but you actually have to do them and form a habit of doing them.
More importantly, you shouldn’t just do these things for your partner. You should do it because it’s important to be a better partner. It makes you a better you.
One of the hardest things about having a relationship where your partner resents you is the loneliness you may feel. In many cases, this is one of the most common moments where men feel out of control and unsure of whether their relationship can be saved…or even if it’s worth saving.
Having a male mentor who understands the struggles of relationships can prove to be vital. A mentor can give you the perspective you need, not to mention the advice that you may need to hear.
Mentorship can also help you regain the confidence you may have lost, focus on being the best man you can be, and eliminate problems in your life. Are you ready to take that next step?