I meet with many couples who are coming in feeling angry about things that have happened long ago, or have been happening for a longtime in their relationship with their partner. These hurts often have deep roots and can feel hard to move past, because resentment doesn’t happen overnight. Let me repeat that-resentment doesn’t happen overnight. These feelings of bitterness and pain often pile up after arguments gone unsolved, times you feel you’ve been treated unfairly, or unexpressed frustration with something your partner said or did, or is continuing to say or do. When these go unaddressed for long enough, they build up like plaque and take time, effort, and patience to chip away at.
It is not easy to have tough conversations, especially early on in romantic relationships. But when you can be more open and expressive of what goes on for you, you are setting your relationship up for success in the long run.
Here are three things you can do to help curtail resentments before they get a chance to start building.
- Clearly express expectations
The fastest path to bitter feelings is creating expectations that your partner is not aware of. We all have expectations of any relationship we are in, and many of these we may not be actively conscious of. Take a moment to think about what you expect from you partner and how you would like them to show up in the relationship. If you are married and have kids- think about what kind of parent you are expecting them to be. If you are moving in together- be aware of what you expect your partner to contribute financially and contribute to the household. How do you expect to be comforted or supported when things get tough? Getting clear on your expectations is the first step, letting your partner know what these are comes next.
- Share feelings in an authentic way
As human beings we can be really good at pushing away our feelings when they come up, especially ones that feel bad or uncomfortable. When this happens, we can become disconnected with ourselves or ignore something important that may be going on for us. Learning to address what we are going through and sharing that with our partner is important. It is often not only helpful to express a thought, but the impact and experience you have from certain things your partner does, or certain things that happen in the relationship. If a lot is going on for you and your partner doesn’t know, it can lead to a build-up of feelings and experiences that can feel more difficult to communicate later on.
- Identify and address needs
I am all about addressing needs in the therapy room. Whether I am seeing an individual or couple- it is so beneficial to get in touch with what we need in our relationships. Do we need comfort? Communication? Affection? Support? What are our deep needs we have of our partner? This isn’t to be confused with that you need your partner to do, but rather how you need them to show up (for example- not “I need you to do this dishes” but rather “I need a partner who will contribute equally”). Knowing our needs and being able to express them goes hand-in-hand with expectations, and helps keep the lines of communication open and running smoothly.