Resentment is mentally re-experiencing past events and difficult feelings in ways that are emotionally, physically and spiritually destructive. Being resentful is literally stewing in old layers of anger that has not been fully processed and energetically eliminated from our organism.
Anger is usually activated in response to the following triggers:
- When we think that someone did something to us that was thoughtless or hurtful.
- When we think that someone did not do we what believe they should have done.
- When we think that someone have not done enough for us.
And when an episode of anger is not fully understood, processed, resolved with the other person when appropriate, forgiven and let go of, it gets buried into our organism. If we allow the cycle to repeat itself over and over, we build resentment. Then resentment coats our psyche like an invisible but dangerous layer of fuel; a simple spark is capable of triggering a five-alarm fire.
“Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.” (Nelson Mandela)
Although we might believe that we have been wronged and that the other party should be punished, the irony of resentment is that it actually emotionally, physically and spiritually hurts us; not the other person towards whom we feel resentful.
When resentment is directed towards our spouse, over time it slowly erodes our emotional connection to them, which can sadly lead to the ending of the marriage if no appropriate healing measures are put in place.
Choosing to let go of resentment is not a gift to our spouse, it’s a gift of healing to ourselves and when appropriate, to the relationship that we have built with our partner.
Interestingly, as I have listened to the confidences of multiples people suffering from resentment, I realized that the initial reaction in the chain of events leading to resentment often comes from very good intentions:
- A desire to be fair, accepting, or to promote unity in the relationship.
- A respect of the other’s person own difficult feelings in the moment.
- A belief that it’s fruitless to “complain” since facts can’t be changed.
How tragic it is to be engulfed in the suffering of resentment when it’s a good intention that started it all!
The mistake that is made in all of these situations is holding the belief that facts matter more than feelings and that some feelings are invalid or unfair. The truth is that feelings matter more than facts in intimate relationships, and that all feelings are always valid and fair even if we must remember that they are no accurate representation of the whole truth of a complex situation.
Therefore, at the core of resentment is a problem of not really knowing what to do with our feelings, a discomfort with our vulnerability, and sometimes a desire to control the outcome of a conflict.
Now, what can we do to purify our relationship from the poison of resentment?
Of course, the best approach is to not let resentment build up in the first place. Learning and using the following skills allow the cleansing of our relationship on a regular basis:
- Increasing self awareness by learning to identify our feelings in real time. Becoming able to identify which feelings are triggered from present events and which ones are activated from old wounds.
- Learning to listen well in order to understand the other person's point of view (it allows to discern intent from impact).
- Developing the courage to ask to be listened to patiently and to express our own feelings and experience of a situation, by making sure to avoid the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.
- Energetically letting go of the physiological and emotional components of the difficult feelings experienced.
- Radically forgiving ourselves for our own contribution and our partner for theirs. Forgiveness is real strength!
- Carefully choosing what to do next. Hopefully forgiveness is followed by a new beginning in the relationship, but sometimes forgiveness has to be followed by a graceful goodbye.
Now, if a relationship has been impacted by long-term resentment, it’s going to take a lot more work to heal it, because first you'll have to learn the above skills quickly and then you’ll have to go back in time with your partner and address one by one each issue and disappointment that was not fully processed in time. If there are decades of old stuff to process, it’s going to take a lot of time and energy and it’s going to feel painful before it feels better. It’s like a physical cleanse, the toxins have to come out before healing takes place and radiance is restored.
If you’re still committed to your relationship, if you are still compatible in values and lifestyle, and if there is still some love, you can work it out. Don’t give up quite yet. Roll up your sleeve, ask for support, and get to work!