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Before a couple walks down the marriage aisle, they often dream of what their life will look like together.   They envision adventure and fun.  However, in the excitement and celebration, couples often overlook preparing themselves emotionally for the challenges they will eventually face.  One of the most dangerous emotional threats to a marriage is resentful support or in other words, saying you support your spouse in what he/she does but actually resenting them for it.  According the Cambridge Dictionary, the word resentment means “a feeling of anger because you have been forced to accept something that you do not like.” Resentment can build when we are not fully supportive of something causing an endless cycle of arguments.

To give some context, here are examples of Resentful Support:

While driving to the airport a couple begins to fight because a husband is going on a business trip and his wife is staying home. The wife feels upset because her husband is leaving town although she understands he must travel for work, she resents that he gets to travel.

A wife accepts an incredible job that she has always dreamed of.  Her husband tells her to go for it but then complains when the family schedule changes and resents that she is not home as much.

After a couple welcomes their first child, they agreed it would be best for the wife to stay at home to care for the newborn. After a few weeks the husband begins to come home frustrated because after working all day he expects the house look a certain way. He supports his wife being home but feels like he’s pulling more weight than she is for the family.

Adding support while being resentful is a combination that can wreak havoc on your marriage. The sad thing is that this happens in marriages all the time. Marriage is about building each other up and supporting each other but resentful support causes conflict and is damaging to the marriage relationship. Oftentimes, this resentment is not dealt with in a healthy way because couples fail to address the true cause of the issue.

So instead of addressing what is really going on we respond in ways like this…

– Shutting down communication

– Guilt

– Comparison

– Shame

– Passive aggression

– Manipulation

– Complaining

– Unfair expectations

– Withholding intimacy

So how do we fight against resentful support in our marriage? What is the best way to address resentful feelings before they spiral into an endless cycle of arguments and frustration? If we can recognize it and shut it down early, it will save us from walking down some hard roads in our marriage. Here are two starting points to look at when you see resentful support emerge.

1. Assume The Best

We must assume the best.  Assuming the best of your spouse, means you choose to believe that his or her intentions are not to harm or hurt you.   If you are constantly upset and resentful towards your spouse, chances are you have built some patterns in your marriage that assume the worst.

In the example of the wife accepting a new job, the husband wanted to support her opportunity to pursue her dream, but he selfishly didn’t want to take on additional family and household responsibilities. In his selfishness, he would work himself up each day and when his wife would come home, he would put on a smile and ask how it went but in his heart he was fuming. Each night the resentment kept building and building until the end of a week and they had a huge blow up fight. They never talked about adjusting their expectations the wife just assumed the husband would adjust. They never talked about how much a new job meant to the wife, the husband just assumed she wanted to get out of the house and away from him and the kids.

In order to assume the best there are some questions we can ask of ourselves to process our emotions. Here are three questions to ask yourself before you have the conversation.

1. What am I feeling? (Name it)

2. What are all the possible intentions?  Make a list of possible intentions that your spouse may have.

3. Name your assumptions. (write them down)

Processing through these questions before you approach your spouse to help de-fuse a lot of emotion and avoid the trap of resentful support.

2. Make Everything “Discussable”

My wife and I have a rule in our marriage that everything can be made “discussable.” Nothing is off limits, especially when it comes to our feelings. In order to make something discussable we agree to avoid attacking or defensive words and actions. After some practice of doing this, we now can pause mid-argument to address our emotions and feelings.  Acknowledging how we feel in the moment, helps us bring an argument to a disussable state.  It also helps us recognize that our spouse has emotions that we need to understand.  In order to make something “discussable,” try asking the following questions.

If you are the one holding onto resentful support, you must ask yourself what is the real source of my resentment?

If you feel like you are receiving resentful support, you must ask yourself what am I missing?

Then talk with your spouse about those answers.

In the example above of the couple going to the airport, the wife was supportive of her husband because this business trip was very important. However, she never told him that she hates being home alone. Her anxiety of being home alone turned into resentful support. She wants to support what he is doing but holds anger towards him for something he didn’t know about. When they finally talked about it and put meaning to their feelings it de-fused the conflict, and they were able to make a plan for the next business trip and their ride to the airport was much different.

Agree to make everything discussable, even if it feels silly to say it out loud. If you make everything discussable the foundation must be built on trust and acceptance. Sometimes we don’t want to talk about things because we are afraid of being vulnerable and telling the truth. The key here is that you are not hiding or holding out. Discuss emotion and avoid allowing resentment to build.  Eventually, this practice will help you not only avoid conflict but will draw you closer as a couple.

Pro Tip: To make it discussable, come up with a keyword in your marriage that when spoken means that it’s time to talk. It could be simply “Can we make this discussable?” or something silly that is an inside joke like “Pots and Pans.” Whatever keyword you choose, both of you know that in that moment it’s time to talk. To go to the hard places and share deep down without judgement or frustration.

Bobby Cooley
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