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Resentment is like Cancer to a Marriage

Angry couple, Couples counseling

Relationship expert, Dr. John Gottman, cites “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse: Criticism, Contempt, Defensiveness, and Stonewalling” as negative interactions that are the death knell to a marriage.

I agree that once partner interactions devolve into these behaviors, it is hard to turn the cart around. However, I think it’s important to note that these behaviors often arise from something growing deeper within the relationship:


It’s the resentments that begin to grow (in even a healthy marriage) which become the cancer that destroys the relationship from the inside. Resentments can be insidious and can creep in without much notice.

Sometimes resentments arise from small incidents or differences of opinion that turn into larger misunderstandings or on-going disagreements. For example:

- You feel criticized or unappreciated for your contributions to the family.

- Your spouse does not make time together a priority or ignores your needs.

- You feel like household chores are not shared equally.

- Your partner shows little interest in sexual intimacy.

Sometimes resentments arise from bigger events or decisions that impact the trajectory of the relationship:

- You move to another city for your partner’s job which takes you away from family or friends.

- You don’t agree on the decision about whether or not to have children - or to have more children.

- Your spouse has struggled with addictions and perhaps lied to cover up behavior.

These are all examples of unresolved issues lurking just below the surface or buried deep within the relationship. If these growing resentments aren’t addressed or even acknowledged they will begin to multiply and spread like cancerous cells in the body, affecting everything that was once healthy and good.

In my experience, the most malignant type of resentments are those that go unspoken. Some people keep angry feelings bottled up because they don’t want to rock the boat or because they feel silenced by their partner’s own angry expression of feelings. Those who tend to be passive communicators in the relationship often let resentments grow heavy within them, and silently heap more indignation on the pile with each passing injustice. Passive relationship behavior often turns into passive-aggressive behavior, which is why unspoken resentments sometimes bloom into infidelity.

So pay attention. What are you holding against your partner? What grudges have you been accumulating in the relationship?

Being aware of your resentments - being mindful of the angry feelings that surface again and again - is like cancer prevention screening. Early detection and treatment is paramount to the survival of your relationship!

-Valerie Allen, MEd, LPCC

A therapist can help you get your resentments out on the table and sort through them in a productive manner. If you would like to talk about how to let go of resentments and move toward resolution or forgiveness in order to create a stronger, healthier relationship, contact me at or 513-317-8113.

To read more about Dr. John Gottman and the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, click here.


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