Resolving resentment and bitterness in long-term relationships

Long-term relationships are beautiful, and can be an adventure for both parties. However, they can also harbour hidden resentments and bitterness. These negative emotions can erode the foundation of love and connection, and can be break what was once a happy relationship. Resentment often arises when partners feel neglected or emotionally suffocated and when this resentment thrives, passion fades away. This is often when many couples experience high conflict and end up seeking help.

Let us start off by looking at something we call ‘Negative sentiment override’. This occurs when negative emotions that have been piling up colour our perception of our partner’s words and actions. It’s like wearing tinted glasses that tend to distort everything that we see. Take for example, your partner being late several times and you have felt that your concerns are ignored or overlooked. As time goes by, resentment builds up, and now even innocent remarks trigger defensiveness.

Resentment accumulates silently. The seemingly small unmet needs and concerns that go unaddressed begin to pile up. Your partner may feel unimportant, unwanted and even unloved owing to repeated actions (or lack of) that keep hurting them.

Research by the world-famous Dr John Gottman was carried out on 96 newly-wed couples. Dr Gottman and his team observed the couples’ interactions, and noted that even neutral or what were considered low-intensity negative messages, were perceived negatively by the partners. Negative sentiment override can actually create a vicious cycle where conversations and intimacy between partners become increasingly difficult.

So how can this cycle be broken, using practical steps?

  1. Acknowledge resentment

Both partners need to start by recognizing and acknowledging the feeling of resentment and how it is impacting their relationship. They need to avoid dismissing each other’s concerns and instead validate each other’s feelings.

  • Open communication

The couple then needs to create a safe space for an open dialogue, in which they use the “I” statements (elaborated in previous blog posts). Remember, being able to communicate clearly and respectfully is important in resolving any challenge within a relationship. At this point, the goal is to express individual feelings without blame, so that the intended result doesn’t raise defensiveness or breed even more resentment.

  • Attempt to repair

When conflict arises in a relationship, it is important to make attempts to repair. Apologize with sincerity and seek understanding and clarity. Your partner needs to feel safe in the relationship, and so do you. There are certain personalities that struggle with holding on to hurts, and it helps to consciously learn how to address these feelings, forgive and keep working on the health of the relationship.

  • Seek professional help

As a trained and qualified Marriage and Family Therapist, I recommend getting support to guide you on carrying out conversations that can trigger healing in your relationship / marriage. Couple’s therapy isn’t just for times of crisis, but can also be used as a maintenance tool through different seasons in your marriage.

Has resentment affected your relationship? It can be draining, I know. But it is possible to reconnect through shared experiences, showing compassion and affection – reignite a desire for one another, a desire to connect and communicate your needs effectively. It is also important to encourage each other’s individual growth even as you grow in your relationship together. Pursuing friendships, hobbies and interests outside the relationship also contributes to individual growth.

Resolving resentment and bitterness requires intention, vulnerability, and compassion. By applying insights from research and relationship experts, you can break free from negative sentiment override and create a healthier, more fulfilling bond with your partner.

It is never too late to heal and grow together.  Never too late to create a MARRIAGE BY DESIGN.