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The Therapist Couch: The Problem of Letting Resentment Build up in Marriage

As a couple's therapist, I see the gamut of marital dissatisfaction. Ideally people come to me before their unhappiness creates a massive canyon of disconnect and hurt feelings but unfortunately, this is not often the case. Couples still tend to show up in my either really angry or really shut down. Upon closer inspection, there are often unmet needs and unattended hurt feelings at the core of their distress.

Unexpressed dissatisfaction, resentment and bitter feelings in a marriage can have a way of blowing up like a balloon with too much air. We all know what happens to a balloon that is blown up with more air than it can handle. It pops! When couples "pop," it looks a little different every time but the bottom line is one or both of them has had more than they can handle.

One thing I often see is that people make the mistake of holding onto resentment. They either don't have the communication tools to express their feelings or believe that somehow if they minimize the issues to themselves, that they perhaps will stay swept under the carpet. Not so much.

The problem with letting resentment build up in a marriage is that it has a way of eating away at the insides of the person holding on - and eating away at the integrity of the relationship. Let's say John is unhappy for a year, feels left out of the family, disconnected from his wife and essentially perceives himself as whittled down to the financial provider. He might blurt out, "I'm just the family ATM to you people!" In reality, the underlying message underneath such a broad, provoking statement is, "I want to find my place here...I miss my wife...I am feeling sad."

How do you keep resentment from building up in your marriage? The best way to do this is to check in with each other periodically. Ask each other how you're feeling, if there's anything bothering either of you, if you're holding onto any upset that you'd like to clear up. Prioritize this together, even if it means a few minutes a week during a quick stroll around the block.

The end result will be each partner feels heard, cared for and as though the marriage really matters.


Lisa Brookes Kift is a couples therapist, writer and creator of The Toolbox at, with marriage tips, tools and advice by Lisa and other therapy professionals.

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