“He just doesn’t get it! It’s not that I’m looking for constant praise, but just some appreciation would be nice!”
“All I want is for her to notice everything that I’m doing. I feel I do everything I can for this family and yet I still get told I’m not doing enough.”
“If I wasn’t around, I dread to think how they would cope. I am in charge of all the birthday presents, the school schedule, organising our social life, planning holidays- everything. It’s overwhelming.”
These are the words I hear so many couples bring to the therapy room.
Words of overwhelm. Of frustration. Of not feeling appreciated. All their hard work and efforts feeling unseen.
Over time, all these feelings build up into one big relationship problem: resentment.
Resentment isn’t always obvious. On the surface it can look like the relationship is operating well. There aren’t any arguments or bickering. Life is busy. Everyone has their role and the day to day life of the couple is seemingly functional.
However I think of resentment as a silent killer. Usually one person is feeling increasingly resentful, but for whatever reason feels unable to voice their feelings. So they stay silent, they keep going. They keep doing everything that is expected of them, over and over and over, until… well, until they can’t stay silent any longer.
That’s usually when the arguments start. And wow, these arguments can get explosive pretty quickly, because they are not based on the here and now, but being fuelled by years of built up tension and anger.
Letting these feelings of resentment build up, unexpressed for a long time gives them extra power. Imagine a spring that keeps being wound up tighter and tighter for a long time- after a while, it is going to bounce back hard.
This can often be upsetting for the partner on the recieving end:
“I never knew you felt this way! Why didn’t you say?”
“Hold on a minute, if it was so bad, why didn’t you say something 5 years ago?”
“How can you still be holding that against me, after all this time?”
There often feels like there isn’t much they can do in the face of all this anger and resentment. They might feel very defensive, and what’s the best form of defense? Attack of course…
And so round and round they go, attack, defend, attack, defend. They aren’t listening to each other. They are each feeling angry and hurt.
I help couples just like this every day. These patterns are very common, especially in the early years of parenting when gender roles might be especially reinforced, and where everyone is tired and overstretched.
That’s often the best place for couples like this to start. To accept that they both are overwhelmed. That they both are distressed about the balance of responsibilties in the relationship. That they both want to stay together and build something better in the relationship.
Getting both partners on board together is key. Teamwork like this helps build compassion and understanding, and stops the game of ‘find the bad guy’ which usually just results in more negative cycles.
Once you’re in a place of mutual compassion and teamwork, you can start to listen. To hear each other. To step back from your defences and offer your connected self to your partner.
It’s not always easy to do this but working with a qualified couple therapist can really help.
Please do DM me if you want to discuss working together this way.