The #1 Relationship Wrecker.
You and your partner go out on a fantastic dinner date. You spend the evening having a great conversation, laughing, all of it is wonderful. Then you get home and the dishwasher is clean, ready to be unloaded. You go over and start doing so, thinking to yourself, I’m always the one doing this.
The baby is crying or needs a diaper changed, so you grab him or her and get the bottle ready or carry him or her over to be changed, feeling a burning in your stomach as you think, I am the only one who does these things.
You always share bites of your dinner with them whenever out to eat. Your love, leaning across and asking, “can I try it?” Yet, whenever dessert comes and you ask to try a bite of theirs, most of the time, they shake their heads and grin, remarking “no way, this is mine.” You find yourself feeling bitter and thinking, well fine, then I am done sharing my dinners with them since they never share their dessert with me.
You realize you are ruminating frequently about how you are always the one to take out the trash. You are sick of ever being the person to make the bed. You feel annoyed at always having to initiate sex.
Dr. John Gottman, one of the foremost relationship psychologists of the moment, is able to predict with a 97 percent accuracy rate after watching a romantic couple converse for just ten minutes about a mundane topic, whether or not their relationship will endure. The guy knows communication and body language. He is great at picking up on damaging relationship patterns.
Within his work, he identifies what he calls “the four horsemen.” These are four relationship behaviors and ways of thinking that, when they start happening regularly in your relationship, will destroy it. If you notice these things creeping into your relationship, that is not necessarily the end. But it’s a problem to be nipped in the bud immediately, or it almost certainly will lead to an ending (or, to a terrible, unhappy, resigned relationship).
(At the end of this article, I offer a link to a short article where you can read about those four horsemen, which I recommend doing).
In the meantime, I’ve come up with a fifth horseman: resentment.
Here is why it eats your relationship alive, from the inside out.
Occasional resentment, like maybe a few times a year? That is normal. We all feel occasional resentment with people we love (the keyword is occasional). But when it starts to pervade your weekly or even daily life with your partner, this is a poison. One that will seep into and destroy your love.
Over time, you will stop being generous and kind, and you will start keeping track.
Everything will be added or taken away from the invisible scorecard of who does what.
You will stop doing caring things for your partner because it delighted you to do so previously, and will begin withholding because, well, they don’t do it and I am sick of always being the one to do this stuff, you might think.
A few things on resentment and how to handle it:
Be careful about the words “always” and “never.” For most healthy and generally good relationships, each partner is doing a lot of wonderful things for the other. And some of these things, our partner might not always be entirely conscious of. It’s safe to assume, though, that in good, loving, respectful relationships, both parties are likely contributing and putting in a good deal of loving effort. In which case, your “always” and “never” thoughts are likely flawed perspectives. We all have them (some perspectives that are flawed). So while it might feel that way, it doesn’t mean it’s the reality. Plus, maybe you are usually the one to empty the dishwasher, but maybe your partner is the one who, most of the time, takes out the trash. So maybe there are certain things that one of you seems to “always” be doing but assume there are things they do and feel that way about too.
Have a conversation about this stuff. Maybe you, for whatever reason, cannot stand watering the plants and they don’t mind it. So, you switch on this task. Maybe you don’t mind mopping the floors, so you become the regular mopper while they vacuum or dust. You get the idea. There might be some things that, in particular, just really irk you to do, which your partner wouldn’t really mind doing. And then, of course, there are the things that none of us love doing but this is life. We all have to something do chores, errands, and other things that we don’t love, but it’s just part of everyday life.
If it’s actually true when you sit down and examine carefully, that you are the one who does almost everything? Well, then maybe your relationship is not as healthy or respectful as you thought and it might be time to reconsider it. In the exceptional cases where it is accurate that one person does almost everything and the other partner does little? Where the relationship is wildly imbalanced and this is not ok with one partner? This might indicate a respect problem, an issue of taking one’s partner for granted, an immature or selfish partner, or just not a very healthy relationship overall.
And in the case that, most likely, both of you do many great, kind, generous things for one another? Make a decision to stop scorekeeping. Stop keeping track. Decide to let go of feeling annoyed when you “always” empty the dishwasher, because maybe they “always” buy you a sweet treat whenever they buy some for themselves. The point is, more than likely, it all balances out in different ways. If one partner paid more for the groceries this week, maybe the other partner bought shampoo and bath soaps for both of them last week. Meaning, for many couples, resentment is the result of a perspective that might not be entirely accurate, and it’s one that will ruin the relationship if not checked. So instead, decide to let go of those lines of thought, to give your partner the benefit of the doubt, and to continue being generous and kind. This makes it way more likely that your partner will do the same.
When your relationship becomes a scorecard, this is when it stops being loving and becomes a bitter competition. And this will eventually pervade the aura of your relationship, and make it a miserable, unhappy one.
Feeling resentment semi-regularly or regularly in your relationship? Examine this closely now. Talk with your partner about it. Nip it in the bud STAT. This will save your otherwise good, happy relationship. And, if you realize maybe the relationship is not a respectful, loving, or healthy one after all, maybe it’s time to reexamine that too. Either way, resentment is a relationship killer. So deal with it, and keep it out of the house, so to speak.
For further reading, check out: The Four Horsemen by John Gottman.