Valentine’s Day! Causes the heart to flutter, doesn’t it? Champagne, chocolate, flowers… you know, go big or go home, right?
It is one of my favourite special days of the year. I love to celebrate love. But intimate relationships have an underside, and sometimes it is helpful to allow ourselves to see that, too.
We are capable of feeling resentful in many different situations, but in honour of Valentine’s Day, let’s consider it in intimate relationships.
Yes, we have all felt it. Even if we love deeply, there are times when – well, you can fill in the blanks. Even the most perfect partner is just not thinking of you all the time. Or they intrude on your space. Or they do nothing at all, really, just breathe, but somehow they trigger that disappointment that can twist our hearts and minds.
The dilemma is that resentment is delicious at first. It lets us assume our rightful place as the wronged person. When you think of it, it is weird to want to be wronged, but we feel absolved of responsibility for our negative feelings. Beware! It is a slow drip of poison that tastes good at first, but soon turns sour. That’s how the famous saying goes: Resentment is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.
If resentment festers, it can lead to distance, the enemy of intimacy. To express our resentment without owning it, we avoid eye contact, avoid physical contact, or avoid sharing our thoughts and feelings, often in a vicious cycle.
Unfortunately, resentment is a normal part of two people trying to share a life. So, what is to be done about it? We are more likely to address resentment constructively if we are honest with ourselves and acknowledge it. And that is easier when we do not have to feel guilty or ashamed.
Of course, the feeling itself is a problem, but what are you reacting to? Dig deeper. Have you figured out the underlying issue? And is there something that you can do to change it? Often, when we feel resentful, we have the sense that nothing can be different.
Maybe we are looking for change in the wrong place. For example, we can get stuck and resentful waiting for the other person to be different. But if we dig deeper, we question whether there is anything we ourselves can do differently.
We may discover that there may not actually be a problem outside of ourselves to solve. We can find ourselves stuck in a negative mindset, in which resentment becomes a habit and the default way of looking at the world.
We may also be dragged down by a strong sense that things should be different. But a brilliant therapist would certainly challenge our assumptions of ‘should’. He or she would ask, “Where is it written that your husband should want to move … or take out the garbage … or remember your birthday?”
The therapist’s work reminds us that of course we all have our ‘shoulds’. But if we challenge our own assumptions, uncomfortable as that may be, can we find an opening for changing our mindset?
Whether our resentment comes from a problem that can be solved, or from a deep attitude of disappointment, that question, of what can be different, is key. As long as we believe the answer is nothing, we are stuck. Sometimes this job is a tall order for us to work on independently and the best approach is to seek support.
Making a difference with one thing in our lives can make it easier to change another. It’s surprising how the action of making change makes our feelings follow suit too. We act so that our feelings will follow, rather than wait for our feelings to change so that we act.
If we develop options, options give choice, and choice gives… It is almost as if choice releases a different chemical in our brain – a more desirable, positive one. We want to be able to forgive others and also ourselves. We want to be able to find better solutions to the ordinary problems of living together and to feel more in control of our own lives.
Maybe we can’t avoid resentment, but if we accept it and confront it, we are more likely to have a Happy Valentine’s Day.
Have you felt resentment toward your partner? Was it about an assumption you had? What changed in the relationship? How have you confronted your resentment?
Tags Marriage After 60