Woman sitting on her bed feeling resentful.

How To Talk To Your Spouse About Resentment Without Starting An Argument

It doesn’t make sense, really. Somehow, beneath the blood-boiling seething, you’re supposed to know how to talk to your spouse about resentment. That’s right. Talk about the resentment in your marriage, but don’t show resentment or start an argument.

It’s a tall order when you think about it. You need to get this bitter indignation off your chest. The unfairness you feel has taken root at your core, and it’s eating you alive.

Or maybe it’s the other way around. Maybe it’s your spouse who is exuding resentment. And that pernicious antagonist is now infiltrating every aspect of your relationship.

One way or another, you know this elephant-in-the-room can’t be ignored any longer. Resentment builds and lingers and can bear lasting destruction, both to individuals and to relationships.

You can practically feel contempt hanging in the balance. And you know the time to act is now if you’re going to keep your marriage off that slippery slope.

But grrr! How do you even break the ice when you know there is so much anger standing between your hearts?

Perhaps it’s safer to stay quiet. After all, what if your effort to communicate leads to more resentment?

Tempting. But if you’re asking how to talk to your spouse about resentment, your query is more than just research.

You may be afraid to bring up the topic because you don’t even know how to communicate with your spouse without fighting. And that problem may be fueling this problem.

The solution, however, doesn’t involve a departure from other conflict-based communication. The principles are the same, assuming you are motivated by the same intention to save or revitalize your marriage.

Resentment does, however, have some attributes that distinguish it from other sources of dissatisfaction and conflict.

Chances are you have resented someone at some point in your life — a boss, co-worker, parent, friend, company, authority figure.

But now one (or both) of you are experiencing it in your marriage.

And I’ll bet it’s “the unspeakable.”

It’s that feeling you can’t quite put your finger on, perhaps because it sweeps into its clutches all variety of assumptions.

He doesn’t love me. If he did, he wouldn’t (whatever) or would (whatever).

She loves the kids more than she loves me. I’m just an ATM machine.

I haaate it when s/he does (whatever).

It makes me so angry that s/he gets to (whatever), and I don’t have a minute to myself.

Logically I shouldn’t feel this way, so it’s better if I just say nothing.

It’s that last assumption — that it’s easier and better to simply say nothing — that should send off a “ding-ding-ding.”

And how are you ever going to figure out how to talk about resentment to your spouse if you continue to bottle everything up inside?

Even couples who love one another with deep commitment can find themselves surprised by resentment.

Do you fit this description? If you have the assurance that both of you are equally vested in the success of your marriage, then dealing with the resentment is essential.

If you are the one who feels resentful, take some time to write about the feeling. Writing has an amazing way of rendering clarity to confusion.

What are the behaviors that make you feel taken advantage of? What are you not getting that you need? What feels unfair or unbalanced in your relationship?

Now ask yourself the tough question of whether your expectations are in any way unrealistic or unfair. They may not be.

But, if they are, you will have gained insight as to how you may be at least a partial source of your own resentment. And that insight will inspire humility and compassion when you address the issue with your spouse.

Also think about what it is that would give you the satisfaction and sense of fairness you crave. Is your request reasonable and balanced? And is there something you can do to make your request seem like a mutual investment and benefit?

Approaching your spouse is, of course, the difficult part. S/he may be completely unsuspecting that anything is wrong, so approach with kindness, love, and respect.

This is the time to turn away from hiding your feelings. It’s imperative that you are honest about them. After all, no one is a mind-reader. And expecting your partner to be one can fuel its own resentment.

It’s also imperative, however, that you express your feelings responsibly and with language of personal ownership.

“You make me feel…” is 180 degrees away from “When you stay late at work and don’t call, I feel angry. I have to do everything for the kids and the house, and I imagine you going out to dinner and forgetting me.”

Likewise, “When you take the time to clean up after the kids, I feel understood and appreciated” tells a different story than “You don’t care.”

You may be surprised by your spouse’s surprise. S/he may have had no idea you were feeling this way, and never would want you to.

You may also be surprised by your spouse’s willingness to pay closer attention to behaviors that might be hurtful to you.

And you may be pleasantly surprised by his/her willingness to make changes that will make you happy.

Now let’s turn the tables….

What if it’s your spouse who seems to be resentful?

If s/he hasn’t taken the initiative to address the problem, you have a wonderful opportunity to take that burden.

Using your intuition to express concern for your spouse’s feelings and needs is incredibly loving and intimate. Don’t miss out on that opportunity.

Think about how you would want to feel if you were harboring resentment and didn’t know how to express or resolve it.

Now lead with that intention.

Tell your partner that you have noticed a shift in mood, connection, and/or behavior. And make it clear that you are there as an emotionally safe place to express his/her feelings and dissatisfactions.

Know that you may not like what you hear. You may learn that something you do without thinking has been a source of sadness, frustration, or anger for your spouse.

Know this going into the conversation, and genuinely set your intention to hearing and learning from your spouse. 

After your spouse expresses his/her feelings of resentment, lovingly ask for a potential solution. Assuming you are not being asked to violate a moral code or create a new imbalance, embrace the opportunity to increase your beloved’s happiness.

By taking the lead to open the dialogue, you are setting the tone for how the two of you can resolve this issue. And that is true regardless of whether you are the one feeling resentful or your spouse is.

You are also setting the standard for how to communicate better with your spouse even when you’re angry.

And that’s the kind of growth and transformation that makes marriage so powerful and healing.

Mary Ellen Goggin offers relationship coaching for individuals and collaborates with her partner Dr. Jerry Duberstein to offer private couples retreats. To learn more about working with Mary Ellen and how she might help you learn how to talk to your spouse about resentment, schedule a ½ hour complimentary consultation.

Mary Ellen Goggin

Mary Ellen is a highly skilled and intuitive relationship guide. She brings over 35 years’ experience with individuals and businesses as a lawyer, mediator, personal coach and educator. She received her J.D. at University of New Hampshire Law School and a Master’s Degree at Harvard University. Mary Ellen co-authored Relationship Transformation: How to Have Your Cake and Eat It Too with Jerry Duberstein — and they were married by chapter 3. Mary Ellen brings a unique blend of problem-solving, practicality, and warmth to her work. She’s a highly analytic person, with geeky and monkish tendencies. She’s a daredevil skydiver, a voracious seeker of knowledge, and an indulgent grandmother. Her revolution: helping people become the unapologetic rulers of their inner + outer realms. Read more about the retreats