When you’re feeling disconnected and distant from your partner, there can be many reasons. Perhaps you two have grown apart, or there are trust issues undermining your prior closeness. However, one significant contributor to a couple growing about can often be overlooked if it isn’t discussed openly. Resentment — that corrosive feeling of imbalance and disgruntlement at past behavior partners carry around — can be the underlying cause of relationship issues. There are ways to figure out, however, if this is what is sabotaging your relationship.
Signs of Resentment
There are many reasons why resentment may take hold in a relationship, but these are some common indicators that your partner may resent you:
- Sarcastic or mocking remarks that occur frequently, even in front of others
- Bringing up issues from the past that you thought were long resolved
- Comparisons between you and your partner, where they act as though your life or circumstances are preferable to theirs
All of these behaviors signal that your partner is brooding over some past or current grievance, and allowing this to poison your relationship together.
Common Causes of Resentment
As a couples counselor, I see many couples struggling with resentments that threatens to overpower their relationship. The most prevalent causes of resentment that I observe in my practice include:
- One partner thinks the other is doing less work around the house, with pets, with children
- One partner is sick of the other’s behavior when intoxicated or abusing substances
- The partners feel that finances aren’t handled fairly in the relationship
- One or both partners are angry about how the other has handled family or friends
- One partner feels that the other is not on their side
- One partner feels the other is not prioritizing their needs
- One partner has a much higher sex drive than the other and feels that their sexual needs are not being met
Reading this list you may see one or two (or more!) that jump out at you as a potential cause of your partner’s resentment. And of course, although these are the 7 most common reasons that I see in my practice, there can be resentment about almost anything in a relationship.
How to Bring Up Potential Resentment
It is imperative to discuss resentment openly with your partner, whether you or they (or both!) are the resentful one. Here are some ways to broach this topic sensitively with your partner.
- I notice that you seem distant lately. Is there anything you want to discuss with me?
- Is there something you are angry with me about? I have been trying to be close and feel like it is difficult lately.
- I feel sad lately because you feel far away from me. Is there a way I could make things better?
In all of these, you are using “I” statements and your own observations, and being careful to use a non-attacking, non-critical, but open and curious tone. You want to show that you genuinely want to know what is bothering your partner, and a warm and open stance will allow them to come forward and share a potentially sensitive issue with you.
Also, if the above list resonated with you, feel free to ask your partner if their distance is due to one of these underlying issues. They may be much more willing to engage on a topic that you bring up first.
Ways to Resolve Resentment
Many partners will respond to your entreaties to tell them what is on their minds, particularly if it is done in a kind and non-attacking way. It is important to hear your partner out, and empathize with their perspective, even if you don’t share that perspective yourself. Empathy and validation are keys to allowing your partner to feel heard, which will facilitate eventual reconciliation.
If your partner does not share what is wrong, then counseling can be very useful. Don’t just push the problem under the rug, because it will fester and lead to worse outcomes. Clients come in with years’ worth of resentment, but it would have been far better had they started therapy much earlier, before the resentment as long-standing and hardened. While it can be difficult to discuss these sometimes years-long resentments, know that speaking about them — whether just with your partner or with a licensed therapist — is the best way to get them resolved.