There are so many different causes of divorce. Some of the biggies I hear are cheating, substance abuse, growing apart and not getting along. But, I believe that all causes of divorce are symptoms of a much larger “root.” What is that root?
Every single couple on earth, from the happiest to the most miserable has some resentment. It starts the day we meet our spouse and continues through until the day one of the people dies (maybe even after.)
Resentment is impossible not to have, if you think about it. Little things about our spouse bug us, (that’s normal) and cause some negative feelings, and if we addressed every single thing to that person, it might be a long list, no matter how much we love the person!
But there’s a big difference between little things that bother us, (things we can live with and things that really aren’t a big deal,) and things that might affect our relationship long-term and end up being one of the causes of divorce.
The best way to really talk about resentment as one of the causes of divorce is to give examples.
Let’s say you and your spouse have a five month old, and you, as the woman have been changing the baby’s diapers and waking up with the baby for midnight feedings the entire time. Your spouse has never offered to get up with the baby. You are beyond exhausted. Every time you get back into bed after a late night feeding, you see your husband sleeping peacefully and you resent that. But, that’s just the way it’s always been, and he is the one working, so you say nothing.
Five years later, you still resent it. In fact, you will resent that your entire life. Does that mean you will end up divorced? Not at all. It’s just a fact that you will hold a little bit of resentment about that forever. Even if you go to marriage therapy and bring it up, that helps, but it’s still there and probably always will be. People have a hard time forgetting.
Another example of resentment: Let’s say you’ve been married for 10 years and all of a sudden, your husband starts making new friends and wants to go out with them. He suddenly starts drinking more than he used to, and stays out really late with these guys. He swears he isn’t cheating, but more and more, you find yourself home alone on Saturday nights.
Six months later, he gets tired of going out and drinking, and stops. But, you have resentment for the past. And again, bringing it out in therapy might help, but therapy can’t erase history.
One last example. Let’s say a spouse cheated. He told his wife about it, was deeply regretful, and begged her forgiveness. The two went to therapy and did some work on the marriage and ended up staying together. But still, she harbored resentment.
Here’s the point.
How you choose to handle your resentment could be the difference between whether or not you get divorced.
I think that when people feel resentment, they can act out in several different ways:
2. Drugs or alcohol use to numb their resentment
3. Acting blatantly angry and rude to their spouse
4. Passive aggressive behavior: sugary sweet on the outside, cutting on the inside
Kind of like, “it’s payback time,” whether they even realize what they are doing it or not.
If you end up doing one of the above 4 things, try to figure out if in fact you are doing it out of resentment, and what that resentment is specifically. Understanding your emotions and what is motivating the behavior is key to stopping the behavior.
My advice would be that if you are feeling resentful about anything, try one or both of these things: talk to your spouse. Communicate in a nice, productive way. Say something like, “I don’t want to get into a fight, but there’s something I’d like to talk to you about because I love you and I want us to be together forever…” or in the case of the woman whose husband cheated, “You know, it’s been a few years, and still I harbor resentment for your cheating. I’m having a hard time letting it go. I just want you to know how I feel.”
Sometimes just airing out your resentment is enough! Getting it out and feeling heard and validated might be all you need.
If your spouse tells you about his or her resentment, and you disagree, at least say that you hear what he or she is saying, and you feel badly that he or she feels this way. That’s seriously enough for a lot of people. When resentment turns into divorce, is when people hold it inside, harbor it, and then turn those feelings into anger and bitterness.
Therapy is also a great way to deal with resentment. It isn’t a cure all, but it really does help. Expressing how you feel in front of a third party can feel safe and easier, and the therapist can control the effectiveness of the communication and help the two people listen to each other.
Resentment is a little bit like cancer.
It can sit there for a really really really long time and then it begins to grow, until it is completely out of control if you don’t treat it in time. It’s tricky and manipulative.
People often say, “I just don’t even care anymore,” but I think they do. I think they build a barrier of self-protection because they feel beaten down, their resentment so deep in their core that they think it’s too late.
Talk to the person who caused the resentment before the resentment gets too big. It’s uncomfortable and stressful to tell your spouse something that’s bothering you, but if you do it in a healthy way, I bet you’ll be surprised at the reaction.
Your spouse might say, “Jee…I had no idea that bothered you. I’ll try to change that behavior.” Or, your spouse might get upset, but then think about it and weigh his or her options of changing the behavior or you not being happy. He or she might choose you. Or, your spouse might get really angry and disagree with you, and the two of you will find yourselves in a situation where you need to get help. As bad as that is, isn’t it better to have the resentment out on the table before it gets so big that there’s no turning back?
In closing, I know a couple who was married for 60 years. They were very happy and in love until the end, and they both told me that there was resentment on both sides. But, they were little things, things that didn’t warrant a divorce. The biggies were aired out on the table. They told me that was how they managed to stay together.