resentment, couples, love, couple, relationship, relationships

Stop & think about how many times you paint a picture in your head about somebody else & later you find out how wrong you really were. We all use the shortcut of making assumptions to fill in the gaps. You know what they say about assumptions & it’s so true! We avoid the “risk” of asking real questions, so we can stay in the safe zone of not dealing with someone else. We have our imaginary conversation, we decide we know how it will turn out & we bail on doing it in real life. Authentic conversation requires real effort in real life. This is why couples don’t talk about their sex life with each other & there are even therapists who avoid the topic of sex..

Silent Resentments & Unasked Questions Are Engines of Unhappiness

Dig down underneath the resentments to communicate or begin the dead-end path to bitterness. Everybody has a choice about which direction to go in. We avoid the “risk” of asking real questions, so we can stay in the safe zone of not dealing with someone else.

Fear tinged imagination often is flailing around trying to cope with someone else’s otherness. So we decide someone is aloof instead of shy. We decide someone is charming & don’t see the emotional dangers that lie beneath the charm (I always wonder how Jane Austen learned this about charm….). The reason we decide we know aloof is not ok & charm is ok is because we love to be oh so certain. Certainty becomes a hunger that we need to feed with falsehoods. This is why there can be a comfort & a belonging in conspiracy theories, we want certainty so badly in this uncertain world. Certainty is a pleasure that like the ice in Antartica holds danger in the crevasses.

Some of our favorite secret pleasures are all about our hidden treasure troves of resentments. Think about the negative tall tales we tell ourselves because we are angry. We stay in our heads providing both sides of a conversation that almost always enhances our own position as good guy. These silent conversations can go on for years. I know this from personal experience in the family I grew up in, where silent grudges were an art form. There is a comfort & a certainty to telling yourself you did nothing wrong & aiming your blame at someone else always makes us feel deeply self-righteous.

When we aim blame we are avoiding the uncertainty of looking at ourselves, whew what a relief it’s not me it’s them!

When we aim blame we escape the risk of asking a question and avoid struggling with greater understanding. When we aim blame there is a relief in the certainty that we are right. 

Instead of the easiness of blame we need to risk asking questions. It’s a lot easier not to ask questions because questions can be messy… don’t know where they will end up. Avoiding uncertainty & messiness results in you really not seeing or knowing the other. So consider asking questions, here are just 3 possibilities; What’s the hard part for you when I talk about wanting to socialize more? What can I do to improve so you feel we are a team? Do you realize how often we do what interests you & sometimes it feels lopsided? 

Questions are about exploring the stories underneath our problems. Questions are about reaching a new understanding about someone else’s differences. Questions keep us humble & less judgmental. Questions are especially important to leave room for the partner who takes up the least space in the relationship to step forward.

Questions & answers are the only path to building real intimacy. Think about how rare it is to have a real dialogue. When was the last time you asked your partner what’s important about this to you? When was the last time you carved out time in the schedule to have a real conversation? How about making conversation in a restaurant while waiting for the food to come instead of both of you focusing on your phone, which honestly is a way to hide out from meaningful contact with each other. 

You must decide to make time for & give some of your precious attention to real conversations. This has to become a priority to both people, even if it scares you.

Being truly seen is the greatest gift you can give someone else……when you really get who someone else is, just how they are wired differently…..then you make real contact, real connection but first you have to go through the messiness of uncertainty & the anxiety of finding out or speaking up.

Real contact is illusive because we are all full of our own agenda. Think about how to say things with greater respect & perhaps a touch of grace. Just one example; You are really contact full when you say “Your priority is not letting sex disappear because you feel closer that way.” instead of the negative falsehood “All you ever want is sex.” 

Our negative assumptions that we feel free to fling around fuel a Grand Canyon of distance between people. By the time one partner dumps out “All you ever want is sex.” they have nurtured & polished this theory until it shines bright & fills up all the space like a missile of destruction. There is no room left to negotiate, to have the 25 to 45 conversations that might lead to real understanding. These missiles erase any possibility of connection. I’m going to repeat my example with the missile first “All you ever want is sex” which slams the door shut. Now listen to it with grace “Your priority is not letting sex disappear because you feel closer that way & I know testosterone is different & makes sex more of a priority.” There is a huge difference in adding the grace that creates greater respect for a difficult conversation.

RESENTMENTS DESTROY RELATIONSHIPS, especially when hoarded & collected over the years.

Everything I’ve been describing is to explain the connection between false assumptions, the comfort of the negative stories that we tell ourselves & how it erases respect. You’ve heard me say respect is more important than love in relationships. Respect is the hard work of infrastructure. “I know I was a jerk to you & I respect you enough to own it & admit the truth.” think how rare it is to hear an admission of responsibility by someone who is not a hard working member of AA who is in recovery.

There is a quote by Peter McWilliams where he describes resentment as “anger at others for what they did or did not do.” I think this is accurate and the problem is the silence surrounding the anger. So the obvious cure is to let your partner know what they did or did not do. It’s the silent collecting of resentments that creates the damage. Again, short term it feels easier to swallow your anger & hurt & carry on, but the ugly truth is when resentments layer & build into an unspoken giant collection the relationship is doomed. 

Remember Betty and Don Draper, on the wonderful television show Mad Men, this tv show provides ample evidence that this is true. Betty has seethed with anger for 3.5 seasons, until she finally divorced him and found someone else in the middle of the fourth season. A more recent example would be the PBS masterpiece show called US that just aired. Connie announces she is leaving & there is not one conversation of substance with any specifics other than should we go on with the family trip to Europe? Clearly resentments that she was not living the life she wanted were stashed over the years. (The greedy therapist that I am, I wanted her to acknowledge to Douglas she had a huge part of the responsibility.)

Of course there is no guarantee that couples talking about what they did or did not do will work out. That’s why there might need to be 10 conversations. Finding the courage to have 10 conversations is not something many people do. One partner fails to say enough about how they are feeling and the other partner fails to find out what is going on. It takes two people to have 10 conversations. Collecting resentments silently is so much easier!

On the website I describe four ways to look at resentment. In general, it can be said resentments are not clean, straight or true emotions, because there is always a twist. The next time you are feeling resentful ask yourself which of the 4 fits:

1. You are preparing yourself to feel something again, and again and again, unwilling for the feeling to pass. Hamlet is a play of resentments. Hamlet becomes a ghost of himself because he is buried in resentments. He holds himself separate from everyone and against everything.

2. Resentments are about obligations put on you from the outside. Ask yourself who is on your back? Who do you need to shake off? Duty is to do what is due, based on your own insight. Duty is not imposed from the outside. People fail to make a distinction of what has meaning from within vs. pressure from others.

3. Guilt is often really about perceived pressure from other people. There are really resentments hidden underneath guilt. It’s “nicer” to feel guilty because you’re only hurting yourself. Unfortunately, too many people bury themselves under tons of guilt which is suffocating.

4. Resentments are really hoarded wants. For example: “If he/she really loved me he/she would know what I want.” The buried want is the desire for someone to love you without you having to risk anything. This is a clever way to avoid the responsibility of asking.

The only way to heal resentments is to make time for a lot of communication that can lead to problem solving. Dig down underneath the resentments to communicate or begin the dead-end path to bitterness. Everybody has a choice about which direction to go in.

Long term thinking means you have to take responsibility & speak up about what your partner did or did not do. Long term thinking means taming your fears enough to ask questions when something is missing or doesn’t seem right

instead of hiding out in the comfort of avoiding & hoping it will go away. Long term thinking means ditching the one sided imaginary conversations in your head and risk finding out what can happen in a real life conversation.

Long term thinking is a rare commodity in our world. It’s why the battle to prevent climate change wrecking havoc on our planet has not been won. I just finished reading a very difficult book, The Ministry of The Future about 2035 & it opens with the grizzly death of an entire village from a heat wave with one survivor. 

If you want your partnership to survive when the odds are not always in your favor then you have to value thinking long term & finding your courage to ask the hard questions about what could make things better. Keep taking the easy way out & escape every tough conversation & you will be doomed.


Let’s begin by asking yourself “Are YOU living the life you want?” for yourself & with your partner which is one way to explore hoarded wants that develop into resentments.

Then consider having that conversation with your partner because evaluating your priorities is always good to do.

What questions have you avoided asking about hard topics, often this might be about sex or money.

What negative attitudes about your partner have you been stashing? What stories polluted with your judgyness do you repeat in your head?

When was the last time you had more than 2 conversations about a hard topic? The last challenge question I have for you today is the last time you were gnashing your teeth & blaming someone else or the next time that happens ask yourself are you being fair & is there a more complicated story than the simple one of blame.

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About the Rhoda Mills Sommer

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