Don't Let Resentment Destroy Your Relationship

HELP! I'm in a Relationship! If you have issues that you are not speaking up about, you run the risk of building up your resentment levels so high that you no longer want to give your partner love or intimacy.

This is not uncommon. It is a little bit like not taking out the emotional trash for a long period of time. If you forget to take the trash out one day, it is not a big deal, but a week or a month or longer, and you have unwelcome visitors.

We all want love in our lives -- to give it and receive it. There's nothing more precious than a healthy, loving relationship. But most relationships have aspects of them that periodically make one or both partners wish they could pick up the phone and call "Relationship 911!":

"Help! I've fallen in love and I can't get up!" is a joke, but often true.

But it is no laughing matter when there are unhealthy dynamics in an otherwise loving relationship. Unhealthy patterns can become slow poisons, diluting and polluting love. Two of my clients, Brenda and James, had been married for twelve years before they discovered one of these dynamics I call emotional rescuing.

If one partner is feeling dissatisfied or resentful over a longterm, and if he or she feels unable to discuss these resentments with their partner, they may slip into the pattern of becoming an emotional rescuer. Brenda recalled a typical conversation that went like this.

BRENDA: I'm really tired tonight. I don't feel like doing the dishes.

JAMES: Uh huh. (He flips through the channels.)

BRENDA: You're probably tired, too.


BRENDA: What if I just stack the dishes? Would you...?

JAMES: Yeah, just stack them. You can do them in the morning.

BRENDA: Yeah. I guess I'll just do them in the morning.

JAMES: Okay, fine.

Sound familiar? This conversation was not an argument. Nobody raised their voice or said nasty comments. Yet, it is clearly a sign of trouble. Brenda never asked directly for what she wanted, which was to have him do the dishes, so she had almost zero chance of having her needs fulfilled. Because she went into the conversation feeling like the victim who always had to do the dishes, she automatically began playing the role of victim. Without realizing it, she read her victim lines right on cue. The result was she felt unappreciated and dissatisfied with James.

She knew James didn’t want to do the dishes any more than she did. So she saved him from having to do the dishes and even admitting he didn’t want to – but left herself feeling burdened and resentful. Over time, this rescue routine will cause resentment which will eat away like termites at the foundation of love. Have you been acting like an emotional rescuer who makes everything easier for the other person, but doesn’t take care of your own needs? Here’s how to find out:

Seven Signs of Unhealthy Emotional Rescuing:

• Do you believe you must do something for your partner that he or she can do for him or her self?

∗ Do you avoid asking for what you want – because you are afraid of being turned down?

∗ Do you just do things yourself that you do not want to do – then feel resentful?

* Do you treat your partner as if they were incapable, casting them in the child role and you in the parent role? (Putting yourself in the parent role may result in giving unsolicited advice, giving orders, nagging or criticizing.)

* Do you contribute more than fifty percent of the effort to activities that are supposed to be mutual? (Including housework, earning income, making dates or social plans, initiating lovemaking, carrying the conversations, giving comfort or support).

* Do you focus on your partner's feelings, problems, satisfaction, and happiness more than your own?

• Do you feel let down, rejected, cheated, depressed, disappointed, or otherwise dissatisfied by your partner more often than not – and then you don’t mention these feelings?

These seven signs are indications of an unhealthy rescue dynamic. You need to begin to break this pattern. To begin, the first step is to recognize that this pattern is occurring. You may think you are helping the other person, hence the term rescue. But no one is being helped with this behavior. The second step is to commit to stop this defeating cycle. It takes time and patience to break old habits, but it can be done. The third step is to actually change the behavior, by doing something different.

Start by asking for what you want in a direct way. For example, Brenda learned how to say: "Honey, would you please do the dishes tonight, I'm really tired." This was very hard for her at first. James had been used to having everything done for him, and at first he balked. But Brenda stuck to her guns, by not fixing everything and doing everything herself. James learned to not ignore her requests if he wanted to eat on clean plates. He came around when he saw that his helpful efforts made Brenda more loving and less resentful.

It doesn't matter how long a problem has been in place. What matters is that today you decide to change it! You can do it! Ask yourself: What one step can I take today to make my relationship more loving and healthy for myself and my partner?"

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