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How to Prevent Resentment from Poisoning Your Marriage

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Young woman sitting on sofa, looking at distressed man at table
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Resentment, a build up of anger brought on by the feeling that your husband or wife is repeatedly wronging you, can poison your marriage. "Resentment can kill feelings of intimacy, attraction, and love," says Patricia Pitta, clinical and family psychologist in Manhasset, N.Y. "It builds distance."

Purging your marriage of resentment is not easy, even when you're still newlyweds supposedly still in the honeymoon phase. Two factors make newlyweds vulnerable to resentment. First, many people go into marriage with a number of expectations that they never communicate to their spouses. Second, newlyweds tend to get swept up in the notion that life should be all about romance, so they avoid difficult conversations and suppress negative feelings with a smile to avoid arguments.

Newlyweds must protect their marriages from resentment from the beginning. "Relationships are like a flame," says Thomas Bradbury, professor and co-director of the Relationship Institute at UCLA. "You have to keep the flame alive. If there are strong winds blowing, it's hard to do. If the wick isn't strong, then we become vulnerable." Here are some ways to protect your marriage from resentment -

Communicate with one another.

Like most marriage problems, the build up of resentment becomes more of a likelihood if you and your husband or wife lack communication skills. The experts stress that couples, especially engaged and newlywed couples, have to have hard conversations about the big issues, including sex, money, in-laws, household chores, and babies and parenting. Ideally, you've already dealt with these issues. If not, you should start talking.

Learning how to communicate better, however, is a good idea for all couples. Pitta says that people should listen to their spouses without interrupting them, validate what they say by repeating their words in a loving way, and then respond. She adds that you should ask questions instead of "invading the other person's head." For instance, instead of saying, "I know you refused to come to my mother's house because you always hated my family," you should say, "Why wouldn't you come to my mother's house the other day?"

Newlyweds must also be careful about expecting their new spouse to read their minds. People go into marriage expecting their relationship to magically become perfect. A wife might expect her husband to take out the garbage, while she cooks the meals. And her husband might think that she should be the one doing all the housework, including the garbage. Then, the wife starts to feel angry every time she has to bring the garbage outside and to the curb. But she assumes her husband knows what she wants. That's how resentment starts to build. Tell your husband what you want and see if you can't come up with a compromise that works for both of you.

Manage stress.

If you are feeling stressed out, you will bring those feelings of anxiety and tension into your marriage. You might snap at your husband or wife or find yourself arguing about nonsense. When this happens often, you risk poisoning your marriage with resentment. Try to pinpoint what is stressing you out, find ways to address those issues, and do things to unwind, such as yoga, meditation, resting, taking a bath, having sex. Different things work for different people.

Bradbury offers ways in which couples can manage stress to keep it from hurting their relationship. Some of his advice includes scheduling times to take walks together, and giving each other slack when pressure seems to be mounting for one of you.

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