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How to reduce resentment toward your partner – even if your partner won’t change!

Do You Have Resentment In Your Marriage?

Mary, age 40, came to see me recently for a consultation on how she could improve her marriage and deal with an angry husband who refused to see a marriage therapist. She was extremely resentful, unhappy and depressed. She had tried “everything” to get her husband to change- all to no avail.

The resentment Mary was feeling was normal when a partner has grievances toward their partner which are unexpressed – or- when your partner does not respond even when they are indeed expressed. Take our free Anger Quizto assess the degree of resentment in your marriage. Many times grievances are formed in a marriage because some essential needs are not being fulfilled – needs which you want satisfied through the marriage. After all, satisfaction of some of those needs are the reason you married in the first place.
Mind you, just because you have normal needs doesn’t necessarily mean you are “needy.” We all have needs, as a famous psychologist Abraham Maslow wrote about way back in the 1940s. Here is a simplified version of his needs diagram. In Maslow’s theory, lower needs (such as having enough to eat) need to be satisfied before higher needs such as “esteem” seem important.

The question is:to what extent should we look toward marriage to satisfy some of these needs?

According to Dr. Finkel, some people put too much pressure on the marriage to satisfy those needs without considering other ways to get them satisfied – so that the marriage can still survive and you can be happy again.

Fact is, many people never ask themselves exactly what their needs are and to what extent they expect their marriage partner to satisfy those needs. When I asked Mary what she wanted or needed out of her marriage, she looked at me like a deer in the headlights.

She had never asked herself that question; she only knew that she was very unhappy with her life – and very unhappy with her husband who never seemed to change even though she constantly expressed her frustration and resentment to him.

You may not be aware of some of your needs

In reality, it not a simple question to answer for a number of reasons. First, you may not be aware of some of the needs you actually have – like needing to feel safe or needing to be acknowledged often for your contributions. If that is the case, you might want to consult a psychologist to help you sort it all out. After all, it is unfair to your partner to resent them for not satisfying needs that even you don’t know that you have.

Need satisfaction is a moving target requiring re-calibration

Secondly, what partners need from each other often changes as the marriage goes through different developmental stages (yes, marriages have developmental stages just like children do). Successful couples find a way to adapt to these changes and strive toward satisfying these changing needs either through the marriage itself or in other ways.

This often requires a recalibration of your relationship which is accomplished by asking yourself some basic questions, rather than holding resentment toward your partner who isn’t changing despite your pleas.

Three questions to ask yourself about your needs:

  • What needs do I have that can only be satisfied through my partner? Some needs indeed can only be satisfied by an intimate partner. After all, that is why we got married in the first place. Examples of needs in this category are to develop and sustain a warm emotional climate in the home, have a steamy sex life, co-parent and enjoy your children.
  • What needs do I have that can be met through our partner or some “other significant other” (OSO) such as a friend or other family member? Examples of needs in this category are to receive emotional support when something bad happens at work, celebrate when something good happens at work, debate politics, attend cultural events, travel.
  • What needs do I have that can be met through our partner, through an OSO, or on our own? Learning to meditate, anger management, deepen relationship with God, learning to play the piano, writing that long-promised novel.

When Mary looked at her list of needs, she was shocked at how much she was asking of her marriage. With her therapist, she began working on a more deliberate plan for meeting her needs.

The most difficult part of course is evaluating what to do about needs that indeed can only be satisfied by one’s partner. The good news is that often through re-calibration, we can create a different vibration in the home so that our partner might respond by being more motivated to indeed try harder.

For instance, if your need is to have a warm emotional climate in the home, you might work on being less critical and more trusting by letting go of resentments caused by things done in the past. How do you do this? Through the process of “forgiveness.” You can learn to forgive either through therapy or through a a faith-based approach (all religions encourage forgiveness).

My husband and I never fight: How can we still have an anger problem?

The Marriage of Stacy and William

Married 30 years, from the outside looking in they have a perfect marriage. They never disagree with each other. They rarely conflict. They hold hands in public. They are always civil to each other in public. 

Behind closed doors, however, there is a different story. While they dine together, they share very little with each other about their day beyond superficial topics. After dinner, William typically watches football on the den television while she goes into her bedroom to watch her favorite shows. They stopped sleeping together years ago. He masturbates twice a week for sexual release. They do enjoy each other on vacations, but this is only once a year.

Believe it or not, Stacy and William have an anger problem in their relationship – even though it certainly isn’t obvious from the outside looking in. How could that be true if they never fight, there is never any yelling, shouting, or insults hurled, and they even show some public physical affection for each other?

Couples anger has at least six other ways it can be expressed without yelling or shouting

Some angry couples, of course, fight like cats and dogs – mean spirited, always arguing, putting each other down, and are downright nasty to each other. But couples also express anger to each other in at least six other ways. Although not as obvious, it is just as destructive in its other expressions as it can be for the high-conflict couple.

  • The Ostrich – Anger expressed as emotional avoidance. Ostriches withdraw when threatened and put their head in the sand. So do some marriage partners who refuse to deal with issues that are important to their partner or are insensitive to the emotional aspects of an argument. This often enrages the more “emotional” partner.
  • The Sniper – Anger expressed as constant or intense criticism. The sniper always thinks they are right or know better. They see their partner as a project to improve. They sometimes are put-down artists.
  • Shields Up and Red Alert – Anger expressed as defensiveness. This expression of anger is difficult to penetrate. Rather than deal with issues, partners spend all their energy defending themselves or what they have done (or didn’t do). They are not open to influence from their partner.
  • The Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing – Anger expressed as passive aggressive. The passive aggressive has much anger or hostility but is unable or unwilling to express it directly. So, they get you behind your back!
  • The Silent Volcano – Anger expressed as holding resentment. Some people hold resentment for years and silently or indirectly punish their partners who may not even remember the offense any longer.
  • Here Comes The Judge – Anger expressed as contempt. Some partners hold themselves to be morally, intellectually, or socially superior to their spouse. They constantly judge their partner and are not open to the idea that their partner’s opinions or ways of doing things might also have value.