9 Signs of Resentment in a Relationship

How to let go of resentment in a relationship
on September 11, 2023
Read time: 10 mins
by Moraya Seeger DeGeare

Resentment in a relationship has roots. 

When such strong negative feelings are allowed to stew, it’s no wonder that they can have such a detrimental effect. Bitterness can make you blind to all the positive aspects of your relationship — with only your issues left on display. 

Even though it takes work, resentment can be uprooted by spotting the signs of these strong feelings and facing the situation head-on. 

What is resentment in a relationship? 

Resentment in a relationship refers to strong feelings of anger, bitterness, or displeasure that arise from unresolved issues, unmet needs, or perceived injustices. 

These feelings of resentment can build up and fester over time to taint an otherwise healthy relationship. This can lead to a growing emotional distance between partners, with these wounds taking some time to heal. 

Even though it can take time, resolving resentment in a relationship is crucial for its health and longevity. This process requires both partners to want to move past these negative emotions and start a new chapter together — which is not as easily said as done. 

What causes resentment in a relationship? 

Resentment can be very damaging in a relationship, as it tends to build up slowly, creating a chasm between partners that can be difficult to breach. 

Every relationship dynamic has different issues, with causes of resentment differing greatly from couple to couple. However, there are a few underlying causes that commonly lead to the build-up of resentment in romantic relationships. 

“Resentment happens when you have an issue that you feel stuck in with your partner and even after craving to change the stuck spot in the relationship, change has not happened. You might turn to feelings of resentment over feeling connected with your partner,” says Moraya Seeger DeGeare, a licensed marriage and family therapist and In-House Expert at Paired.

Causes of resentment in relationships

Lack of conflict resolution: If arguments aren’t resolved, this failure to address the issues can allow feelings of bitterness to build up. Even though the issue has been brushed under the rug, by failing to tackle the problem, one or both partners may feel their side was never heard — or that their partner is to blame.
Contribution imbalance: Relationships are all about balance. If one partner is shouldering a disproportionate share of responsibilities, such as household chores, it can cause resentment to build. Due to a lack of communication, this simple issue fails to be resolved and is allowed to fester and build into a much bigger problem.
Unmet expectations: At the beginning of a relationship, it’s important to communicate your emotional needs and expectations about your future as a team. If these expectations are not communicated, it can lead to misunderstandings and negative feelings.
Lack of appreciation: Feeling unappreciated or undervalued in the relationship can damage your self-esteem over time. This lack of attention or appreciation can make you feel resentment toward your partner, especially if they fail to check in or notice how you’re feeling.
Unhealthy boundaries: Relationships rely on boundaries for success. Without healthy boundaries in place, there is room for discontent to grow — with this eventually turning into resentment.
Financial issues: Money, or lack thereof, can lead to conflicts. Differing views on financial matters, such as spending habits or debt management can fuel resentment and lead to deep-rooted issues. As this ill will builds, it damages the overall health of the relationship.
Absence of physical intimacy: Lack of intimacy in a relationship is a common cause of resentment. For example, if one person is always initiating sex, and the other isn’t, it can cause bitterness and discontent. “Feeling consistently unwanted by the person that you crave to be close to can sink into a place of questioning your desirability and self-esteem,” says Seeger DeGeare. “Physical intimacy is a significant part of a romantic relationship for most people, not all, but if this consistently is something that you feel like you are not on the same page about.”
Personal issues: External stressors or personal struggles like mental health issues or unresolved traumas can easily spill over into a relationship. However, if these problems come to dominate the relationship dynamic — it’s easy for resentment to build up.

How does resentment ruin relationships? 

Harboring feelings of resentment wreaks havoc on relationships — destroying communication, intimacy, and connection. 

Research shows that resentment can impact the well-being of marriages, and is proven to be especially damaging when experienced by both partners in the early years of a relationship. 

"Relationships are not perfect, and neither are you, and that is normal,” says Seeger DeGeare. 

“To have a healthy relationship, it's important to be willing to create a life with your partner where you both feel valued. If resentment builds early on and is not addressed, it's like building a house with a faulty foundation. So, when you go through hard or significant events together, you may experience a deeper pain due to the underlying disconnection.”

If there are underlying issues in the relationship, it’s normal to feel discontent and bitterness toward the situation. However, it’s easy for this to snowball into animosity, hard feelings, and potentially even hatred. 

With such emotions in play, resentment can easily erase any clarity about your connection — making it seem like there is nothing good left in the relationship. Even though that’s likely just those negative feelings talking. 

9 signs of resentment in relationships 

If you’re in a relationship with a person who is feeling resentment towards you, it’s important to try and spot signs before it contaminates your future together. 

Or, if you start to taste bitterness for your partner, it’s not something to be ignored. For the sake of your relationship, look out for these signs of resentment in your relationship — before they take root. 

1. Constant arguments 

Even though it may seem obvious, arguments should not define your relationship. While every relationship has rough patches, communication shouldn’t always escalate to conflict. If even the smallest conversations trigger arguments, it could be a sign of resentment bubbling beneath the surface. 

2. Emotional distance

Your partner may be within physical proximity, but emotionally — they couldn’t feel further away. Without communication, relationships can quickly become defined by all the things you don’t say to each other. This emotional distancing could be a sign that your partner is resentful of a previous unresolved issue, and is guarding themselves from you as a result. 

3. Passive-aggressive behavior

Passive-aggressive comments may be your partner’s way of hinting at the bigger issues in the relationship. This kind of communication can set an unsettling tone, making it even harder to address the real problems under the surface. 

4. Lack of intimacy 

Physical intimacy is an important part of any romantic relationship. When resentment builds, it becomes more difficult to engage in sex or intimacy with your partner — with the trust needed damaged by negative feelings. 

5. Holding grudges 

As humans, we make mistakes. However, for the sake of a healthy relationship, it’s important to try and forgive in order to move on. If your partner is holding a grudge against you, or you find yourself keeping score on their own failings — it’s a clear sign that resentment has gotten the better of your relationship. 

6. Communication breakdown 

The build-up of resentment always comes back to one root cause — communication breakdown. If you have lost the ability to communicate openly and honestly, resentment is allowed to run riot in your relationship. 

7. Defensiveness

In a healthy relationship, both partners should be able to communicate honestly without feeling attacked or judged. However, if resentment is present in the relationship, the smallest critique can lead to defensiveness and hostility. 

"Defensiveness often creates a major obstacle to connection and communication in relationships," says Seeger DeGeare. 

"We often focus on our partner's actions that trigger this response in us, but it is crucial to focus on what is happening internally that feels vulnerable in these moments.”

8. Emotional tension 

Walking on eggshells in a relationship is a very emotionally draining place to be. Resentment can manifest as tension, with these emotions manifesting as anger or discontent. Even if it doesn’t always cause conflict, it feels like the tiniest thing could lead to an eruption. 

9. Lack of interest 

You shouldn’t have to ask your partner to pay attention to you. If your partner has grown resentful of the relationship, they may come across as uninterested or flippant about your life — signaling that their negative feelings have caused them to mentally check out. 

How to fix resentment in a relationship 

When you start to feel resentment towards your partner, it’s not something to feel guilty about. Getting upset or angry about issues in your relationship is completely justifiable — it’s how you choose to move forward that makes all the difference. 

If you feel that resentment has made communication impossible, it’s a good idea to get professional help. These therapeutic interventions may be just the thing you need to banish resentment from your relationship for good. 

Tips to resolve resentment before it’s too late

Communication: Remember all those things you left unsaid? Now is the time to say them. Opt for open communication to get it all out on the table. Just letting it all out makes it seem like a much more manageable issue.
Honesty: The truth hurts, and being completely honest with your partner can be a very vulnerable experience. Even if you feel that it may hurt their feelings, say exactly how you’re feeling. With honesty, it’s much easier to find a solution that really deals with the problem at hand.
Conflict resolution: What do you argue about the most? Why is this a trigger point? Instead of bickering and growing bitter, try and locate the root cause of your issues. Talking it out can give you more clarity. To prevent further conflicts, try and remain open to what you’re partner is saying — even if it means you have to agree to disagree.
Respect: In order to respect how your partner is feeling, it’s important to practice self-compassion first. Validate and accept your own emotions towards the situation — this will make it easier to respect your partner’s emotions in the same way.
Don’t hold a grudge: One game we don’t like to play? The blame game — trust us, no one wins. Once you have tackled your resentment head-on, you have to leave it in the past in order to move toward it.

Is it possible to forgive someone you resent? 

When you resent someone, it’s hard to imagine a scenario whereby you feel differently. However, if you’re truly open to forgiveness, resentment can fade. 

If both individuals are ready to tackle their feelings of resentment, there is no reason why you can’t move forward. 

"When resentment builds, we often feel unseen, uncared for, and misunderstood,” says Seeger DeGeare. 

“However, if your partner is willing to be open, see your point of view, and work on the behavior that is leading to the disconnection, you can move past it together.” 

“Resentment is built from a place that feels stuck and hopeless, but if you can move towards hopefulness with your partner as you progress forward, resentment is an emotion that can be overcome.” 

After all, seeds of resentment can’t grow on a clean slate. 

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Is resentment in a relationship toxic?

    When a relationship becomes contaminated by resentment, communication breakdown, erosion of trust, and lack of intimacy can easily turn a relationship toxic. In order to have a healthy relationship, it’s crucial to address and resolve these issues to ensure any toxic traits are not allowed to disrupt your well-being.
  • Can a relationship last with resentment?

    Even though a resentful relationship can trudge onward, it’s unlikely to be a fulfilling or sustainable partnership in the long run. While couples may remain together despite harboring resentment, the quality of the relationship will likely suffer, leading to various negative consequences.
  • Can you resent someone you love?

    Resentment is a powerful and complex emotion, and while it can occur in any relationship, it’s commonly directed toward those closest to you. Even though it may seem counterintuitive that you can resent someone you love, if you let them down or fail to put effort into the relationship — it’s easy to feel why these feelings grow. However, just because you may feel resentment towards someone you love, doesn’t mean that you no longer care for them.
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