Is Resentment in Marriage Normal?

What is at the root of resentment?
on May 07, 2024
Read time: 10 mins
by Moraya Seeger DeGeare

Marriage is full of ups and downs, with a range of both positive and negative emotions associated with this ever-changing rollercoaster! 

While conflict and even anger are to be expected in any relationship, resentment in marriage can’t exist without detrimental consequences. If you’re harboring feelings of resentment for your spouse, it can erode your emotional connection over time — leaving only negative feelings behind. 

Resentment is a very human emotion, and in many cases, we can’t help it. However, how much resentment is too much? And how do you repair your relationship after such a strong tirade of emotions? 

Key Takeaways
  • Resentment is a natural human emotion but, if left unchecked, can have detrimental effects on a marriage. It's crucial to distinguish between transient feelings of annoyance and deep-seated resentment, as the latter can erode emotional connections and leave negativity in its wake.
  • Resentment is more intense and enduring than anger, persisting until perceived offenses are addressed or forgiven. It often reflects underlying relationship issues, such as unmet needs and insecurities, highlighting the importance of mutual understanding and support.
  • It is possible to love someone while feeling resentment towards them, but these feelings can overshadow the love and lead to relationship deterioration if not managed.
  • Marriages can recover from resentment with mutual recognition of the problem, commitment to addressing underlying issues, and willingness to change relationship dynamics. The recovery process can be significantly aided by couples therapy, which offers a structured approach to resolving resentment through improved communication, problem-solving skills, and emotional support.

Why do I resent my husband?

Resentment in any relationship is not a good sign, but when you start to question your feelings toward your own husband or partner — this never bodes well for the future. 

So, what causes resentment in a marriage? 

The root cause differs from couple to couple, as every marriage is faced with a myriad of hurdles and issues along the way. While some relationships sail through these issues and focus on their future, sometimes it’s harder to shake your discontent at past problems. 

“As a couples therapist, it’s challenging when a couple comes in and resentment and contempt are present emotions in the room,” says Seeger DeGeare. 

“This is why seeking out more support early on in your relationship will help it thrive.” 

While you may have accepted their apology at the moment, part of you refuses to move on. Whether it was infidelity or even a minor comment, if you don’t tackle these issues, they can easily transform into a more deep-rooted resentment over time. 

Common causes of resentment 

  1. Unmet expectations: When one partner's expectations — about household responsibilities, emotional support, lifestyle choices, or future goals — are not met, it can lead to feelings of disappointment and bitterness. 

  2. Communication issues: Poor communication can lead to misunderstandings, assumptions, and unaddressed concerns, all of which can fester into resentment. For example, if you’re dancing around certain topics for fear of upsetting your partner, it can lead to miscommunication and malcontent. 

  3. Imbalance: If you’ve said the sentence “I make all the effort in this relationship!” or “You never do anything for this relationship”, it’s a clear sign there is some imbalance at play. Whether it’s emotional or even financial, one person can’t be expected to carry the weight of the relationship long-term. 

  4. Lack of appreciation: Feeling unappreciated or taken for granted can cause one partner to harbor resentment towards the other. This is especially common when one partner's contributions are consistently overlooked.

  5. Infidelity: Infidelity, whether emotional or physical, is one of the most common causes of resentment in relationships. While you might have opted to work through it and carry on with the relationship, you haven’t really tackled the resulting hurt and trust issues that these actions caused. 

  6. Dependency issues: Situations, where one partner feels controlled or overly dependent on the other for financial, emotional, or decision-making matters, can lead to resentment. For example, while one partner may have opted to stay at home to mind the children, this sacrifice can lead to resentment down the line as they are now totally dependent on their partner from a financial perspective. 

  7. Jealousy: While some jealousy can be healthy if you find yourself jealous of your partner’s successes or achievements — this can naturally foster resentment over time. This is especially true if you might be insecure about your own achievements or feel that you can’t compete. 

  8. Unresolved conflict: Old wounds and unresolved issues can linger beneath the surface, contributing to a buildup of resentment if not properly healed. While you might have tried to brush it off, it’s usually better to have it out than let it grow into something more!

What emotion is behind resentment?

According to research, resentment is a distinct feeling from anger or indignation, and while it may feel like anger at first it’s viewed as more intense. While anger naturally diminishes with them, resentment persists “until the offense is punished”. 

Therefore, instead of letting go of all the little grievances that naturally present themselves in a romantic relationship, feelings of anger turn to bitterness as the past hurts every new interaction. As these negative feelings build, they soon turn to feelings of resentment that contaminate the relationship and make it difficult or impossible to move forward. 

Resentment often highlights relationship problems, if your spouse feels that their needs are unmet, they can start to feel unappreciated and unloved. This can unearth insecurities and issues that start to fester, as resentment starts to take root. 

The build-up of resentment is often unavoidable in a relationship, as conflicts and compromises naturally arise. However, allowing these feelings to fester can turn fixable relationship issues into deep-rooted negative emotions.

Can you love someone and still resent them?

Feeling resentment is a very powerful experience, as it can start to taint every aspect of your relationship. As resentment builds, it can make it difficult for married couples to remember the love that binds them together. 

While not everything negative in your relationship or life is your partner’s fault, feelings of resentment can make it feel that way! Common signs of resentment include a lack of conflict resolution, unmet expectations, and a lack of physical intimacy.  

It’s possible to still love someone and resent them, but if you don’t forgive them and focus on healing resentment — feelings of love alone won’t save the marriage. 

How to let go of resentment in marriage?

While everyone says healing and letting go of resentment is essential to make a relationship work — how do you fix resentment in reality? 

Letting go can be easier said than done, especially when you consider the different causes or triggers for resentment. However, there are some strategies that couples can try to get past resentment and restore their emotional connection (without too many eye rolls!) 

How do you communicate with your spouse about feelings of resentment?

Healthy relationships revolve around effective communication and a true understanding of how to set and hold healthy boundaries. However, if resentment is contaminating a relationship, even simple conversations can feel like you’re walking on eggshells. 

If your partner feels like they’re being blamed for your issues, there’s a natural defensiveness that arises — which can often escalate toward conflict. Instead of pointing fingers at your lack of sex life or your need for validation, take a deep breath and try to communicate openly and honestly without the need for blame. 

Telling your spouse that you’re feeling resentful toward them will never be an easy pill to swallow. Even though it might sting, it’s the essential first step in repairing your relationship and starting to work on restoring your emotional intimacy.

These conversations are the first key building blocks in ridding yourself of resentment and learning how to start fresh with your partner. 

What are effective strategies for dealing with resentment towards a spouse?

  1. Self-reflection: When you’re feeling resentful toward your partner, it can be difficult to see beyond those negative feelings and look inward. Instead of just playing the blame game, take the time to pinpoint specific events or behaviors that trigger feelings of resentment or cause you to feel underappreciated or unloved. Is it an unmet need, a repeated behavior, or perhaps an imbalance in responsibilities?

  2. Communication: Lack of communication will only make things worse when it comes to resentment. However, it’s important to vocalize how you feel to move forward. Choose a good time for both of you to discuss these issues calmly and without distractions. Communicate your feelings to your spouse using "I" statements to express how certain actions make you feel, rather than blaming or accusing them.

  3. Establish relationship boundaries: Boundaries in a relationship are so much more complex than what cheating means to you. A boundary should be a discussion with your partner about your own actions and intentions. Setting boundaries is not an opportunity to tell someone how they should behave. 

  4. Joint solutions: Work together to come up with strategies to address the sources of resentment. This might involve redistributing chores, dedicating time to each other, or seeking external support like couples counseling. 

  5. Growth: When letting go of resentment, it’s important to focus on both personal and relationship growth. A professional marriage counselor can provide tools and strategies to navigate through resentment, improving your relationship’s dynamics.

  6. Forgiveness: Healing isn’t linear! As a team, couples should focus on working toward healing and forgiving their partner. Remember that resentment can actually be more damaging to yourself and your mental health than anything else. Letting go and moving on has untold benefits for both your relationship and your overall happiness.

Can a marriage recover from resentment?

The short answer is yes, marriage can recover from resentment. 

However, this healing hinges on several factors — namely on the couple's mutual recognition of the resentment they’re holding on to and what’s causing these negative feelings. 

By addressing the root causes of the resentment in the relationship, it’s easier to come up with effective strategies to move forward. Since this can be a large undertaking, remember that this journey doesn’t have to be undertaken alone. Couples counseling doesn’t have to be seen as a defeat but as a necessary step toward reconciliation and recovery. 

How can couples therapy help with resentment in marriage?

Couples therapy or marriage counseling can help provide a structured and supportive environment for tackling resentment in a healthy, productive way. 

A therapist provides a neutral space where both partners can feel heard and understood without judgment. Therapy sessions focus on improving communication skills, enabling partners to express their feelings, needs, and concerns effectively without escalating conflicts. 

Therapy also provides couples with tools and strategies for effective problem-solving, allowing them to address conflicts constructively rather than letting them fester. As you tackle these issues as a team, the therapist can remain as your support network to guide you through these changes (and their challenges) and hopefully help you achieve forgiveness and renewal.

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