Anger is a natural response to stressful or frustrating situations. Everyone feels anger sometimes, even toward the people they love. The way we process and deal with the anger is what draws the line between a healthy and unhealthy marriage. Anger and resentment can be serious problems in a marriage, but there are ways to resolve these issues. If you’ve been struggling in your marriage, you should understand what anger and resentment are, what triggers these feelings, and what you can do to work through them.
What Is Anger?
To resolve anger, it’s important first to understand what anger truly is and what causes it. Anger is an instinctive response to an unfair situation or wrongful action. It plays a role in the “fight” component of the fight-or-flight response in the sympathetic nervous system.
Anger happens because of specific triggers, but other factors contribute to the emotion as well. Some people react strongly to triggers because of certain personality traits like competitiveness and low frustration tolerance. The pre-anger state can affect the severity of the emotion, too. For example, if you were already feeling anxious, upset, or tired before the trigger event, your response is likely to be more intense.
Anger is instinctive, so you cannot choose to be angry or not to be angry. Researchers even believe that anger can be beneficial because it motivates us to bargain more effectively and get what we want. This may be why humans evolved to feel anger.
However, excessive anger does take a toll on your physical and mental health, especially when it’s directed toward your marriage partner. Here are some of the possible consequences of chronic anger:
- High blood pressure
What Is Resentment?
Anger and resentment are closely linked, but the two emotions are not exactly the same. While anger is an immediate response to triggers, resentment is usually a recurring, long-term feeling of bitterness. Resentment doesn’t usually have specific triggers. In many cases, resentment is a state of fear or anticipation of an attack.
Sometimes, resentment happens when the emotions linked to one particular event are never fully processed. Sometimes, the feeling builds up after repeated unfair actions or other triggers. Everyone experiences resentment differently, too. While some people may avoid bringing up their feelings with the person who hurt them, others may lash out.
Resentment in a marriage can manifest in a number of different ways:
- Withdrawing and decreasing communication
- Never asking for support or assistance
- Mocking or insulting comments
- Passive-aggressive behavior
- Lack of affection or intimacy
- Feelings of hopelessness or sadness
How to Resolve Anger and Resentment
Anger and resentment in a marriage don’t go away on their own. If you and your partner don’t address the issues, these negative feelings can grow and grow until they become unbearable. Fortunately, it is often possible to work through this problem and restore the positive feelings in your marriage.
Here are some steps you and your partner can take to resolve these challenges in your marriage:
Discover the Triggers
You may be able to recall the specific triggers that made you angry, but it can be more difficult to discover the underlying issues that lead to long-term resentment. For example, your partner forgetting to do the dishes may be the reason you got angry one night, but the reason you feel resentment in the marriage may be that you think your partner doesn’t care about doing their share of the chores.
Some of the most common triggers of anger and resentment in a marriage include an unhealthy work-life balance, an imbalanced power dynamic, selfish behaviors, and unfair or unrealistic expectations for the other partner. It takes a lot of self-reflection to get to the root of resentment, but figuring out the cause is the first step toward resolving it.
Use “I Feel” Statements
When speaking with your partner about your concerns, avoid using accusatory language. Even if you feel resentful about their actions, try to focus on how you feel. For example, instead of saying, “You never listen to me,” you can say, “I feel unheard.”
Accusing your partner of doing something wrong or labeling them with a negative trait will make them feel defensive. To work through the issues together, the conversation should be about how both of you feel.
Don’t Respond Immediately
If your partner says or does something that causes a strong reaction from you, take a step back before you respond. Take some deep breaths, count to ten, or excuse yourself to another room for a moment. This extra time can help you find clarity and choose your words carefully to avoid an unnecessary conflict.
Be an Active Listener
During a confrontation, most people try to plan their response while the other person talks. This is especially common when you feel resentment toward your partner because your natural inclination may be to argue with them.
Instead of listening to respond, listen with the intention of understanding what your partner says. Make sure you truly know what they mean and where they’re coming from before you worry about your response.
One of the best ways you and your partner can practice active listening is to restate what the other says. Phrases like, “I’m hearing that…,” and “It sounds like you’re saying…,” can help you and your partner avoid miscommunication.
Empathy is one of the most important qualities in a healthy relationship. After long-term problems with anger and resentment, you and your partner may struggle to empathize with each other. If you actively work on empathy, though, you and your partner can regain this feeling.
Active listening is a great first step toward developing empathy. When your partner speaks about their struggles or concerns, try to put yourself in their shoes to understand their experience. Pay attention to any emotional or physical reactions you have when imagining the situation.
Empathizing is also easier when you see the good in your partner. Try to identify one positive quality in your partner every day.
Work with a Counselor
Resolving resentment is difficult, but a therapist is a neutral third-party who can be incredibly helpful. It’s impossible to view your own marriage objectively, but a counselor can take an unbiased look at your relationship and give you actionable advice to resolve the anger.
Counseling is also an opportunity for you and your partner to speak to each other in a structured and safe environment. The counselor will make sure both of you have a chance to speak about the problems in your marriage, and they’ll make sure you understand each other. This open line of communication can help you and your partner discover the triggers of the anger and resentment and develop ways to prevent them.
If you’re considering marriage counseling in the Los Angeles area, reach out to Dr. Howard Samuels today. Dr. Howard Samuels is a licensed marriage and family therapist who has decades of professional experience. He is happy to help you and your partner address any concerns in your marriage.