Resentment in relationships is one of the top things that can tear a relationship apart. Resentment is a feeling that lasts for a significant amount of time after the offense has happened. It tends to build over time when allowed to fester. It is the opposite of forgiveness; the very thing Christians are called to.
“Resentment: a feeling of indignant displeasure or persistent ill will at something regarded as wrong, insult, or injury.” ~ Merriam-Webster
Bitterness grows when someone continues to dwell on a situation for a long time and chooses not to forgive. It gets to the point where a person is “holding something against” another as a form of punishment, but in reality, it is hurting the person the most. It becomes toxic and eats away at a person — leading to more anger over time.
Situations that can lead to resentment in relationships
When a friend, family member, partner, or coworker breaks your trust, you may feel betrayed. Infidelity, sharing a confidential story, making an important decision (regarding you) without you, falling “out of love,” neglect, and even physical harm are all forms of betrayal. This can make a relationship lose its sense of safety, and the hurt left can remain for a long time.
This could range from teasing to emotional abuse. It was once said that “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” There is nothing further from the truth. Words cut and can cause a lot of emotional and psychological damage, and unfortunately, people are not as careful with them as they ought to be. Examples of statements from others that can cause harm and build resentment:
- You are lazy and stupid.
- You need to lose weight.
- You don’t know what you are talking about.
- You are a liar.
- You are nothing to me.
- You never change.
- Your work is not good enough.
- Your [sister, friend, etc.] did not do it that way.
Selfish behavior from the other person
When a person is the “giver” in a relationship and the other is the “taker,” resentment grows. People do not want to be in relationships with others who take advantage of them, treat them as though they are less than, and only think about themselves. Doing for those people is exhausting, and a person can only take it for so long. Over time, they do not want to be the one making all the sacrifices.
This is a form of betrayal, but anytime lies are present in a relationship, hurt follows. Strong relationships are built on trust, and when trust is broken, that hurt can grow into resentment.
These lies could be big lies, like infidelity or gambling away the family’s money, or less significant ones like lies about family chores, where someone is going, or what was spent on the shopping trip. However, all lies can break down trust. Trust is difficult to rebuild.
When someone places unhealthy and unrealistic expectations on another, and the person can’t consistently live up to them, resentment can grow between both parties. Some examples of unrealistic expectations:
- I need you to complete me.
- It’s your job to manage the house (do all the cleaning, cooking, taking care of kids, laundry, etc.).
- You need to say yes when I ask.
- I expect you to make no mistakes.
- You need to know how I feel without me telling you.
- I need you to drop everything to meet my need.
- I expect you to do this how I would do it.
If a boundary is crossed people will often feel disrespected and sometimes unsafe. If this happens more than once, a person can begin to think very negatively of the other, and bitterness can quickly take root. Some examples of a breached boundary are:
- Someone you are uncomfortable with hugs you
- Someone touches you inappropriately without consent
- Someone comes into your house without knocking
- Someone asks you a personal question that is not something you would ever tell them
- Someone borrows money and does not pay it back
- Someone blames you for something he or she did
How to Overcome Resentment in Relationships
Acknowledge that it is still there.
There is no overcoming or healing from resentment without first being aware of it and acknowledging that it is present. Be honest and look inward. Assess whether there is any bitterness or unforgiveness in your heart and if so, then either say it out loud to yourself, God, or another safe and trusted person.
It could look like this, “I am still hurt over this situation that happened,” or “I have not forgiven her for saying that to me,” or “I am the one who is hurting myself with this resentment.” Acknowledge it.
Write out how you were hurt and why it was hurtful.
The practice of writing is not only cathartic, but it also can be enlightening and clarifying. Write down who you have not forgiven, and then write out how they hurt you, and why that situation was so painful.
This may bring up a lot of old feelings and even some new ones, but it is vital to overcoming resentment because one “cannot heal what one conceals,” as it has been said. This practice will uncover what hurt has been festering, and what feelings need to be worked through.
Write out how it feels today.
Consider now as you think about this situation(s) how you feel today. Close your eyes and allow yourself to be fully present in the moment and notice how you feel when you go back to that moment. Give the feeling a name. Then consider what about the situation is still triggering this feeling.
Prayer a prayer of release.
One of the most effective ways to release resentment in relationships is through prayer. Though there are mindfulness practices that can also work, prayer takes it off of your shoulders, out of your mind, and places it at the feet of Jesus. It is an act of casting your cares upon him. A prayer of release could look like this:
I am hurting because of this situation.
But I am so tired of holding that hurt.
It is only making me more angry and bitter,
And I know that I cannot remain in that place.
Forgive me for holding onto this pain.
I choose right now to release it, to let it go.
Will you take this bitterness and resentment out of my heart?
I lay it at your feet.
Give me the strength to forgive this person.
Help me move forward from this with a new sense of freedom and peace.
And if I think about this situation again,
I will come back here.
And I will give it back to you.
As many times as it takes.
Forgive me, as I forgive this person.
If appropriate, let the other person know you are choosing to forgive.
Not all situations will merit this kind of behavior. Some people are not safe and some things are better left alone, but in other situations, it could be the right step to tell the person that you have forgiven them. This does not mean that their actions were justified, and it does not mean that you will forget.
It also does not mean that you have to reconcile with a person and move forward in a close relationship. It just means that you are choosing to let go of the hurt that you’ve held, the bitterness that you’ve held against a person.
It could be a simple statement like, “I have not told you, but when you ________________ I felt hurt. I should have told you then so that you would know it was not OK to treat me that way. However, I kept it to myself, and unfortunately, it turned into bitterness that was hurting me even worse. I have now chosen to let it go and forgive you.”
Don’t continue to let resentment in relationships take root. Bring it to the light, so that you can experience true healing.
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