If you can learn one thing about relationships, and one thing only, I believe it should be how to avoid resentment. It's toxic, and it's a relationship killer. Worse than that, it's sneaky, and it can creep up on you all at once. When I worked with couples as a Domestic Violence Victim Advocate and Planned Parenthood Certified Responsible Sexuality Educator, I saw these beautiful loving relationships where one day one person just woke up and realized they hated the other. Out of the blue, really. Why? Years of unresolved resentment piling up inside until the dam broke, and then so did the love.
I don't want your dam to break. Or your love. Instead, I want you to learn how to prevent resentment in the first place. Because it's much easier to avoid resentment than to fix it. And it can be hard to fix when there's years and years of it hiding in your guts. It can be done, of course. But it's difficult and it takes patience, commitment, and more communication that you probably want to do in two lifetimes. Best to avoid it up front.
The good news is, if you follow through with the tips in this list, you'll go a long way toward preventing resentments that come from the everyday events of sharing a life together.
1. Learn Each Other's Fighting Styles
Some partners are quick on their feet and like to stand and fight, right there in the moment. Some need time to reflect on what just happened before they really grasp how to move forward. And some just need to cool off before their tempers reach a boiling point. If you have one style, and your partner has another, you have to learn how to work together to resolve problems. Otherwise every fight will just add a little more resentment to your relationship. It can come from feeling misunderstood, bullied, steamrolled, or manipulated.
2. Learn Each Other's Communication Styles
Just like two people in a relationship can have different fighting styles, they can have different communication styles. There are endless examples, but one easy one is talkers versus silent types. Or yellers versus quiet types. Some people need or want you to be super direct and honest. Some want you to be more gentle. If you can't figure out how each person needs and wants to communicate, you'll bump heads a lot. And bumping heads on a lot of small issues is a fast track to big resentments.
3. Learn What Kind Of Cookies Your Partner Likes
No joke. I talk about this a lot, because it's an easy example to understand, but one time at the grocery store, my partner got the same cookies she always gets, and I had a total meltdown because I hate those cookies. It wasn't really about the cookies, though. I felt like it was selfish to always assume I wanted those cookies, even though I have repeatedly mentioned that I don't like them. I was so resentful over those damn cookies, and I never dealt with it or explained clearly to my partner what I did want, until one day it all exploded. Over cookies. Silly, but a prime example of how small acts can mean big resentments.
4. Do Something You Don't Want To Do
Let's say your partner is a dancer in a big dance company. Let's also say you hate dance performances. You hate dressing up, you hate your partner's artsy friends, and think the shows are boring. So you stop going. You're setting the stage (see what I did there) for some big resentment over the fact that you weren't there to support your partner while they were doing the thing they love the most. If dance is so important to them, it should be important to you. Apply this metaphor to any activity that's important to either of you.
5. Talk About Everything
You don't have to be an open book all of the time, and your partner doesn't get a full-access pass to everything you do or think, but you have to remember to fill them in when things happen. I commonly saw couples who felt resentment because they had to learn things about their partners from others. They felt like their partners didn't trust them, or didn't think enough off them to tell them things. .
6. Agree On The Huge Decisions
If you move, have a baby, change jobs, or make pretty much any other type of big decisions without both of you being one hundred percent on board, you're asking for resentments. And not just any resentments, but the kid that can kill a relationship. You might assume your partner feels the same way as you do about things because you're so close, but you might also be wrong. Big changes need big commitments from both people.
7. Keep Things Fair
If your partner held you down while you went to medical school or worked late hours to earn a promotion, you have to repay that favor. You have to step back at some point and say, "It's your turn. How can I hold you down?" Your life together can't be all about your goals and successes. If you don't have equal opportunities to follow your dreams, you're going to become resentful. And for good reason. Healthy relationships are made up of two healthy individuals, remember.
8. Encourage Each Other
I met a lot of couples who held resentment over their partners not supporting and encouraging their choices. One woman went to nursing school, and rather than cheer her on, her partner was always complaining about having to do double duty with the kids and never getting to do anything fun. The nurse felt deep resentment over the fact that she didn't feel supported. Her partner was kind of just a jerk. But this example illustrates how you need to be a cheer leader for your partner, and not selfishly focus on your own life, or your partner might resent you for it.
9. Work On Your Friendship
If you're building a life with someone, you should be friends. I don't believe your partner necessarily has to be your best friend, but you should genuinely enjoy each other's company. You should have fun together. You should "get" each other. Otherwise, resentments might creep in about not feeling understood on that next level, where friendship and love meet. You might feel resentful that your partner never took you somewhere or didn't get your jokes. Sometimes it's big things, but often it's just the little things that can lead to resentments.
10. Make Each Other A Top Priority
If you job comes first and your partner comes second, there's a good chance your partner will harbor a bit of (or a lot of) resentment about not being your top priority. Especially if your anniversary or their birthday takes a back seat every year to work events, or they're always eating dinner alone because you work late nights. Dating a career driven person can be lonely. Make sure your partner always feels like a priority, not just someone expected to be your constant cheerleader.
11. Avoid Betrayal
I know people don't really plan on betraying each other. But often times, before we do something that we know is a big red flag for our partners, we get that gut instinct or that flash of conscience that tells us to stop. If we can listen to that, we'll avoid a world of heartache, a bunch of drama, and a lot of resentment. Cheaters, I'm talking to you. Nothing adds fuel to the fire of resentment like betrayal.
Above all, just make sure to check in with each other a lot, and to be understanding when your partner has something difficult to discuss with you. That alone will go a long way toward preventing resentments.
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