How to Let Go of Resentment In Your Relationship

A couple sitting on the couch looking away from each other, appearing frustrated, need to let go of resentment in their relationship

Here are the signs that you might be harboring resentment in your relationship, and how to let go of it.

Key takeaways:

  • It’s true that many couples argue about money and sex, but resentment is actually a huge underlying driver of many fights.

  • When we have empathy for our partners, our behavior towards them is different than when we are feeling resentful of them.

  • There are many causes of resentment in relationships; some of the more common ones are infidelity, feeling unheard or unsupported, inequitable division of household labor/finances, and frustration about unresolved issues.

  • Signs of resentment include changes in your sex life, passive-aggressive behavior from one or both partners, living as roommates instead of romantic partners, and feeling a disconnect from each other.

  • Resentment can cause withdrawal, fighting, or even abuse/neglect.

  • Healing resentment in a relationship is possible, but it requires the commitment and dedication of both partners.

  • Couples therapy may be able to help a lot.

There’s a famous quote by Nelson Mandela about resentment: “Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.” Resentment is indeed a poison…and it can be a relationship-killer. While it’s true that money and sex are two of the most common things that couples fight about it, resentment is one of the sneakiest, most pervasive underlying emotions that could be driving these fights.

When we have empathy for our partners, we are able to listen to them, hold space for them, and validate them. But, when we start becoming resentful, we stop doing those things, the hurt begins to accumulate and compound, and things can take a turn for the worst – hello, toxic relationships!

Everyone makes mistakes and that includes you and your partner. Harboring resentment towards each other for these mistakes can ruin your relationship. Here are the signs you may be harboring resentment in your relationship and how to let go of it.

What causes resentment in a relationship?

There are so many things that can cause hard feelings and resentment in a relationship, but there are generally some common culprits. Here are some of the frequently seen scenarios:

  • Infidelity

  • Mismatched libidos/unsatisfying sex lives

  • Inequitable division of household labor/finances

  • Feeling unheard/unsupported

  • Frustration over arguing about the same issues repeatedly

  • A lack of intimacy

  • A lack of trust/connection

  • Inability to communicate clearly and effectively with each other

If you or your partner have experienced any of these situations in your relationship, it’s possible that there’s unhealed resentment festering.

Tell-tale signs of resentment

Each person and every relationship is unique, and thus resentment may make itself known in different ways for different couples. Still, some tell-tale signs commonly occur when there is a lot of it being harbored in a relationship.

Here are some signs to look for:

  • Feelings of tension or distance between you and your partner

  • Passive-aggressive behavior by one or both of you

  • Your sex life has been impacted

  • You’re living as roommates and not as romantic partners

  • You don’t have any meaningful conversations or spend any quality time together

  • There are discussions or comments made about breaking up (may be disguised as “jokes”)

If you see some of these things happening in your relationship, it’s definitely time to sit your partner down for a heart-to-heart conversation.

How Does resentment impact a relationship?

Resentment that’s not dealt with and left to fester will only grow, and likely eventually foster bitter feelings on both sides. It can impact a relationship in many ways, but here are some of the most common ones:

  • Withdrawal: Resentment can lead to one or both partners distancing or withdrawing from each other. Over time, this can result in a dissolution of the relationship.

  • Fighting: Healthy conflict resolution is part of developing safety in relationships, but when resentment is present, there usually is no resolution of the conflict. The wounds continue to fester, and this can lead to bickering and fighting – and the fighting can get ugly.

  • Abuse or neglect: Abuse and neglect can be a cause for resentment, but resentment can also lead to eventual abuse or neglect. (Although couples therapy is discussed as a potential solution for resentment in relationships, you should never attend couples counseling with an abuser until both parties have been in individual therapy and the therapists deem it clinically appropriate to proceed with couples counseling).

There are many other ways that resentment can manifest itself in a relationship. If abuse or neglect is present, please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-7233 or visit their website.

How can we address resentment in our relationships?

Once you’ve recognized that there are issues with resentment, you need to take action to confront and correct it. Here are some helpful considerations for yourself and/or your partner:

  • Get clarity on the cause(s) behind your feelings.

  • Do some introspection and ask yourself if it’s justified.

  • Even if it is justified, learn to give each other grace.

  • Decide if you can get past this or not.